Friday, June 12, 2009


I'm a slow learner; I admit it. It has taken me almost three years to fully understand how the current Board Chair operates. It became clear when I read the Leadership Briefing that followed the UJC Board meeting by two days. I knew that Joe Kanfer was running a dictatorship; I didn't comprehend that he was running it by Press Release and Briefing. Now I understand. Here is how it works...

UJC has a Board Meeting. Reports are made -- on Development, volunteerism, branding and data-sharing. There are no votes taken. The report on volunteerism comes not out of a Committee process (more on that below) and is not referred to any Committee for consideration. It becomes nonetheless the most current of prior, now apparently forgotten initiatives, the focal point for UJC's work. Here is what was reported in the Briefing on the Board meeting:

" Between the innovative financial resource development strategy,
new Jewish volunteerism effort, strengthened branding, and
breakthrough data-sharing projects to reach new donors, 'we are
changing into a new organization,' said UJC Board of Trustees
Chair, Joe Kanfer."

The reality is something far, far different. In fact, presentations by the new National Campaign Chair, Michael Lebovitz, suggested a return to the tried and true, and that by the Chair of the Center for Jewish Philanthropy, Toni Young, disclosed only that after a poorly attended meeting that morning, there was nothing yet to report although she has a lot of ideas. The "strengthened branding" meant "take advantage of the fact that 90% of federations use the word 'federation' in their name (duh!!) and the "breakthrough data-sharing" was as to 15,000 names of folks who moved from one federation to another.

As to "volunteerism." Joe probably forgot, but a wonderful Federation and national leader, Cleveland's Barbara Rosenthal, chaired a Volunteerism Task Force of UJC...while Rieger was CEO and Kanfer Chair, it was discharged. (I wrote a paper on volunteerism for the Task Force as did others.) Now, because others -- in particular Repair the World -- are fully engaged, UJC somehow perceives volunteerism as the cause that will make UJC relevant and change it as an organization -- with no prior discussion or study. Having abandoned its own volunteerism initiative, UJC, with no reference to the prior initiative, now embraces it as a central focus of its unfocused work.

I don't know about you, but I sense it's time this roller coaster approach to mission came to a stop. The FLI, whose "finding's," such as they were, drove the 2010 Budget...forgotten except for the penalties associated with membership termination. In fact, at the same meeting at which the 2010 Budget was Board and Assembly approved, Kanfer, et al, apparently forgot that there was no provision whatsoever in that Budget for a volunteerism initiative. Further, Joe and his crew seem totally out of touch with the reality that volunteerism has been a focus of so many of the federation owners for a long, long time -- time enough for a volume of best practices to have been produced. But...never mind.

The brilliant conservative columnist, David Brooks, recently wrote a telling conclusion to a column that has equal applicability to this latest "promise of change" from UJC: "...some say these are just meaningless promises that ignore hard choices and that no one expects to be kept."

It's time for UJC to "change into a new organization" alright..long past time. So, Joe even announces a new name -- in the JTA -- without process or options. Why...because he thinks he can. After all, he's done it before.



used to be important said...

Ironically, even paradoxically, as UJC has moved farther and farther away from being a valid national organization on behlaf of the Federations, it puffs up the assumption that, if it becomes known as the "Jewish Federations of North America" suddenly those Federations will agree that there is a collective entity worth their support and attention. The essential reasoning behind merging UJA and CJF (except for the initial wisdom of shared, lower cost office space and back office rationalization, which the Partnership did provide) was flawed. The marriage of a committed campaign organization dedicated to global Jewish needs and focused on the centrality of Israel to the trade association of the Federations was a bad idea. But, it was what the Large City Execs demanded and it was what the National Leadership of UJA and CJF gave them; even calling in, yup, Howard Rieger, to help speed the process. That poetic justice aside, the principal reason for UJC's failure remains that no-one bothered to define the organization's mandate. It has been an enterprise without a vision and an organization without a mission. Neither of those exist just because people keep having Startegic Planning Meetings and producing longer and more complicated vision and mission statements; or because they do "branding". Branding is what Coca Cola and Lexus and the NY Yankees do. UJA was a brand. A brand endures because of the passion and loyalty of its customers. UJC's "customers" display very little of either.

Anonymous said...

What was so wrong with the UJC brand that it needs to be trashed? Is it that the UJA-niks and CJF-niks couldn't abide by the loss of their "cherished" brands? For UJA, a brand with a proud history, but of diminishing significance to the next generation (the "United Fund" figured this out in the '70s when they adopted the more dynamic "United Way"). UJC, with a minor tweak, leverages the equity of UJA into the 21st Century. And CJF had no significance beyond presidents and execs, get over it. Run "UJA", "CJF", "UJC" and "JFNA" past the "person on the street and see which one she can connect to an actual mission. IMHO, UJC is the winner.

joebrown42 said...

Who cares about the brand name?
I think that anyone who asks will find that the brand name is the least important part nowadays for donors.
As long as the END RESULT is achieved, and the right and apt THANKS/GRATITUDE are delivered.

RWEX said...

Iappreciate your Comments. Each of you, in very different ways, reflect on UJC's irrelevancy. As such it is true that the name is also irrelevant.