Friday, April 17, 2009


A correspondent, who deserves the anonymity she requested, has asked me: "OK, Mr. Big Shot, what would you have done differently were you to find yourself in the UJC CEO's shoes?" It's a fair question even though totally hypothetical. But, recognizing that none of this is 20/20 hindsight, let me give this my best shot after quickly taking those shoes off....

~ At the start. I would seek a meeting with the new leader of the Ford Foundation to learn how that great monolithic foundation has focused its work, as the New York Times wrote this week: "...(to) define the foundation's work and objectives more clearly, streamline its sprawling operations and place greater emphasis on demonstrating the impact of its programs" linked with "rigorous assessment and analysis of (Ford's and its beneficiaries') work and (be) outspoken about successes and failures."

I would read the research conducted under Steve Hoffman's leadership by, as I recall, the Rochester Research Group to learn and understand what the federations then wanted from UJC and how they believed UJC was doing in the areas of federation interest.

I would convene the entire staff on my arrival to reinforce what they know -- that our holy work is dedicated to serving the federations which own us; that will be our focus; and we will work together to achieve those goals; and that we are going to do so with a passion, joy and love knowing that the ultimate beneficiaries of all that we do will be those of our People most in need in North America and in Israel and through the work of our partners, JDC and JAFI. I will then meet with the Senior Professionals to assure them that we will work together to achieve our goals; that they are charged to work collaboratively and creatively and that we will meet bi-weekly to discuss and create and inspire each other in an atmosphere of good will and good humor. I will tell them and the lay leadership, incorporating the words of a great American leader: "For UJC, there must be 'the fierce urgency of now.'"

And I will meet with UJC's lay leadership to let them know that ours will be an invigorated lay-professional partnership that will be expansive and inclusive; that the staff is here to serve the federations and that I, as a past Federation and national organizations Chair, fully understand the criticality of lay engagement and leadership by the lay leaders of UJC.

Having served as the Past Chair of a national agency, I understand the insecurity all of those agencies have felt given the manner in which the Alliance was created and how it has been implemented. I will convene the chief professional officers of the national agencies who have been the system's primary beneficiaries and seek their input as to how UJC can be a better partner with them.

~ The Federations. The owners must know immediately that UJC is about them, pure and simple; that UJC can only succeed with their engagement and support. To that end, I would spend part of the first weeks in the offices of federation CEOs around North America. Should Regional Meetings make more sense, UJC would pay the airfare of attending chief professional officers. The meetings would be to listen and learn from these CEOs what they want from their national organization; not to argue or challenge or listen and bring the messages received back and to work from there. And, those meetings will take place no less than Quarterly, each followed with visits from the UJC professional staff.

I will enlist a rotating group of Federation CEOs into a formal Professional Advisory Committee that will meet regularly outside of New York City (so that more/most may attend).

~ Results. We know the remarkable return on investment the system receives from UJC Washington and we know that the Annual Campaigns and planned giving and endowments are the lifeblood of the federations. And we understand that the vitality of our system's present and future is dependent upon continuing professional education and the partnership with Mandel. We also know that as a condition of merger UJC was vested with the moral obligation to be the advocate for increased resources for JAFI and JDC with the federation owners. The centrality of Israel in our lives must be transmitted to our donors and our federations' leaders. These will be the foundation stones on which we will rebuild UJC. We will be measured by how well we do.

It's time to pursue a real partnership with the Jewish Funders Network instead of viewing the JFN as a competitor and, too often, duplicating efforts already proved successful.

Going forward, we will communicate openly, honestly and constantly with out owners and constituencies -- when we face problems, we won't hide behind empty rhetoric; when we have successes, we won't hide our failures behind them.

~ Establishing Focus. In an age of austerity, UJC cannot be everything to everyone. We will be a focused organization, an exciting place to work. We will inculcate a culture that reflects and incorporates "best practices," rather than just highlight them for others. For example, Chicago's Extreme FRD will influence everything the professional staff does. Thus, among other actions, we will ask Federation CEO's to identify lay leaders and high level prospects for participation in meetings with the Prime Minister or events at the White House or the Israeli Embassy; we will restart the Voyage of Discovery for federation leaders to expose them to the work of our partners on the ground to jump start advocacy by federation leaders themselves; we will take relevant UJC professional staff to Israel to learn of our partners' work; we will caucus our professional staff with the expectation that they will make capacity campaign gifts. In other words, we will lead by example.

With our Chairs, I will work unceasingly to reestablish the trust of JAFI and JDC in UJC and the trust of our federations in the work of our Partners. Having served on the Boards of both the Joint and the Agency, having led countless Missions to see and feel the beauty of their work across the globe and the dedication of their professionals on the ground, I am, as we all should be, excited by the prospect of a new and invigorated partnership with them. And, with restored trust, UJC and the federations will lead a legitimate, credible and fair process of needs assessment and evaluation in a process with the Joint and Jewish Agency.

We also know that as federations struggle with the impacts of the economic issues they and we face, we must establish trust and credibility in UJC, not presume that it is ours by our very existence. Thus, we are going to do more with less; we have no choice. It will be my job to inspire the staff to achievements and a focus we never thought possible. Our attitude will resonate with you: "Yes we can" because we must.

~ Grow Leadership. With the new Chairs we will build an expansive leadership model, drawing on the best and brightest lay and professional leaders across the federation spectrum. The criteria will encourage recent graduates of the Young Leadership Cabinets and our Women's Philanthropy and professionals from all City-sizes not just one; we will include those who have been critical of UJC not just the few who have nodded their heads in agreement to everything UJC has proposed like bobble-head dolls. And it is past time that we reconsider governance policy and bring the leaders of the religious movements on to our Board.

With Sam Astrof and his staff we will have a truly transparent Budget process in which a new Committee consisting of Federation Chairs and execs will engage on a Draft Budget in a two day meeting in a totally transparent process. Our goals will include building a UJC leadership support network around an expansive leadership cadre and the Chairs and, to that end, I will take our Officers and Executive Committee on a Mission to see the work on the ground of JDC and JAFI, meet with Israeli Government officials and, with the Campaign Chairs and Directors Mission, make the lead gifts that will kick-off and invigorate our Annual Campaigns across the country. I will try to enlist in our leadership relevant past Chairs of CJF, UJA and UIA, all of whom I know.

The best and brightest of our professional staff will visit federations to speak to how UJC serves their interests. Who better to speak to our work in Washington than the chief professional officer of the UJC Washington Office; who better to speak to our role in assuring financial accountability than our Chief Financial Officer; on Development, our Chief Development Officer; etc.?

~ Federationcentric tm -- Everything that we do will focus us on maximizing the achievements of our owners. Their work, their goals will be our goals. We will hit the ground running.

* * *

This brief work plan (except for the use of the now trademarked term federationcentric tm ), in whole or in part, is hereby made available to the professional, to the man or woman chosen by UJC to lead our system forward. Free of charge. And, remember the maxim: Free advice is worth exactly what you pay for it.

Now, what ideas do you have? What would you do?

Shabbat shalom.



joebrown42 said...

"that our holy work is dedicated to serving the federations which own us"
I loved that line.
If only every organization realized who owned it, who it should serve, etc...

Anonymous said...

This is the most cogent and coherent work plan that ever walked within 9,000 miles of UJC.

My only response is that you may be the sole living person who has the skills, knowledge and energy to bring UJC back to what it was meant and destined to be.

You won my vote.

So, Mr. Bigshot, I hereby nominate you for Chairman of the Board or Executive at your choice.

Richard Wexler for Chair!

Anonymous said...

some great ideas. hope somone at ujc will read it and listen

Anonymous said...

Richard Wexer for chair of UJC?!