Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Q.E.D. and R.I.P.

Here is an opportunity for Joe Kanfer and Howard Rieger -- put pen to paper and write me or this Blog and list the accomplishments of UJC over your three and four years of "leadership" for all of us to read. I will print every word without redaction. What is new and compelling? What is your legacy? Is UJC better off today than when you went to work on its/our behalf? How has what you have done strengthened the federation system or changed UJC for the better? I assume it will be a very, very short letter.

Some recent examples of UJC's drive toward its own irrelevance:

In an article in the May 22, 2009, editions of The New York Times, Brandeis Halts Retirement Payments, the VP for Public Affairs at a National non-profit association, was quoted as follows: "There is a perception that the nonprofit world is maybe a gentler, kinder world than corporate. So some people perceive this (the cut-off of pension contributions) as a breach of faith..." "Gentler, kinder..?" The gentleman should come visit UJC, 25 Broadway, NY, NY.

We read two weeks ago that at Boston's Combined Jewish Philanthropies, in addition to significant budget and programmatic cuts, that Federation was "imposing" a 7% cut in compensation and a mandatory short-term furlough program, Washington had already done so, Chicago's Senior Management had seen a self-imposed salary rollback of its most senior professionals, and on and on. But, at a "kinder and gentler" UJC, the Budget Chair, soon to be Chair of the Executive, opined that such a compensation reduction would be "bad for morale" -- instead we'll fire 31 staff members.

UJC's leaders constant refrain -- "more donors and more dollars" -- has been repeated so often as to be meaningless even as these should be UJC's twin focus. It was reported last week that "...GM has been hemorrhaging customers for decades. Since 1980, it has been losing almost one percentage point of market share every year." GM looks like a winner compared to what has happened to our donor base under UJC's stewardship. We are in the midst of an horrific economy but, nonetheless, UJC's own data disclose that under this leadership, the number of donors to the Annual Campaign has reduced to 297,000, a catastrophe far beyond the economy. At merger we weren't doing well -- we were down to about 600,000 donors. UJC has seen that number drop by more than half while all its leaders have done is talk about it and "tsk...tsk.". And, what is UJC doing about it? What has UJC done about it? It talked about it and talked about it and talked about it some more. If there is any area upon which UJC could have focused and, perhaps, made a real difference, it is this one. Offered an opportunity by a NextGen megadonor to create an e-philanthropy effort at no cost, UJC walked the mega-donor out the door. If words were donors, UJC would be a success. But, that's not all on the donor acquisition front.

About ten days ago, in one of its Briefings, the organization proudly announced: UJC Helps Federations Reach Out to Donors. In describing its "New Move" program whereby federations share info about donors who have moved (get it "New Move"/"move'?) "...from one Federation territory to another," 15,377 new addresses changed hands. Good, right? Well, not so much even as it became a featured item on UJC's Board Agenda yesterday. Still it is a start.I have learned that the U.S Postal Service offers any licensee connected to its network the outgoing and incoming address of everyone who reports their move to the Postal Service. There are at least two dozen companies in the United States that could provide this information on every move of every Jewish household almost immediately. UJC, reinventing a small part of a big wheel.

Then, there is the Network of non-federated communities...Shandagate. 400 non-federated communities. Created by United Jewish Appeal in the 90's, today these 100's of small communities with no staff, serviced by UJC, raise a little over $8 million. While Network lay leaders have sought a reconciliation of the costs deducted from its fund raising, they met resistance. Then it was learned that UJC will deduct $2.3 million from this $8 million raise (up from $2.1 million in the 2008-2009 Budget, increasing to 30% of funds raised at a time UJC is ostensibly reducing its Budget overall by 18%!!) The reality that the Network funds raised are to be immediately transmitted to JAFI/JDC according to their agreement on the "split" of allocated core dollars, makes clear that UJC is taking more dollars away from its two partners not only with no discussion with them, but with no discussion with the Network leaders who raise these precious funds to begin with. Nice.

We have commented on the terrible deconstruction of UJC, the confusion of rhetoric with achievement, of leadership with ownership and the growing disengagement of UJC from its real owners. We have cited chapter and verse of (a) how this came about and (b) what steps might be taken to rebuild United Jewish Communities. Joe Kanfer is an avid fan of the Cleveland Cavaliers, who themselves deconstructed in the Division finals of the NBA Championships two weeks ago. The Cavs' owner, Dan Gilbert, according to The New York Times, has a collection "...of colorful aphorisms that guide his entrepreneurial philosophy." One, cited in the article, is as follows: "There's our philosophy, and everything else sits on top of that. Who we are doesn't change much based on the business." There's the rub. KanferRieger were unwilling or unable or both to ever understand the philosophy that is at the core of federations' work and they tried to effect change in which they and their cadre believed but no one else. At the United Jewish Communities Board meeting yesterday, Kanfer, perhaps misspeaking, perhaps conscious, announced that "...there is no longer the need for consensus" on either a specific issue or all of them. So, there it is.

As has become the "tradition" at UJC (other than talking out of all sides of its organizational mouth on almost every issue imaginable), the Monday Board meeting became a focal point for rushing out papers/"plans" for so many Departments. There was clearly a mandate within UJC to "get these out" before they could be reviewed with lay leadership, debated or discussed. And, so they were -- a Development Report and Plan, a "major initiative" of Jewish Service, a Domestic Affairs Overview...none bad, none particularly new -- but there is nothing wrong with old wine in new bottles if the wine was of a great vintage. This wine had already oxidized. Read the Reports and tell me what you think.

And the Search...of course. After all these months, the original and clear intent of the UJC leadership to turn their backs on reaching out to the best and brightest within our system has culminated in turning to Jerry Silverman -- wrapped in a bright and shiny "outside the box." (The absolute certainty that the current leadership has that they -- and only they -- have all of the answers continues to amaze me as much as does the fact that so many bright lay leaders follow them like sheep.) If, of course, these leaders can make a deal with Silverman (and inasmuch as they treat our money as their own, there is no doubt they can make a deal), the current head of Jewish camping will become the new professional leader of the federation system. Let us hope that (a) he is a quick study and (b) knows that he must turn the Titanic around quickly before the current leadership takes it under.

The results, as they say, have spoken, speak and will speak for themselves.




paul jeser said...

Great purimspiel about UJC name change: http://blogs.jta.org/philanthropy/article/2009/06/09/1005762/guest-post-brand-names-mean-something

RWEX said...

Dear Paul,

What a great idea; why didn't I think of that??!!

used to be important said...

Look at it this way, Rich; Silverman could put the "camp" back in campaign.

RWEX said...

Dear "used to be..." -- I love it....or he might continue the "paign." Under any circumstance, he will be a breath of fresh air to an organization in deperate need of one.

Anonymous said...

UJC staff received a copy of Howard's remarks at the Board meeting on Monday. It answers your request about the accomplishments. But it's too long to print here.

Anonymous said...

UJC is dead --experiencing now Rieger Mortis