The UJC Board and Assembly convened somewhere in New Jersey last Monday. I decided to wait until UJC spun out its recap of the meeting to publish this brief Summary. They did late yesterday afternoon in a Briefing that in so many ways summarizes a meeting that didn't take place. So, here goes.
The meeting was long and, at times, arduous. Without disclosing matters that might be considered by some to be confidential (leadership would consider "all" to be confidential other than that which it chooses to disclose in some Briefing), let me discuss some of the good and the weird:
~ Joe Kanfer gave a beautiful tribute to Howard Rieger on his five years as CEO and President. Howard was particularly gracious in his response recapping UJC's "value-added" -- in yesterday's Briefing, referred to as "his accomplishments" with the usual hyperbole and both articulated the vital role UJC plays in meeting federations' collective response to issues identified by them. Excellent rhetoric. Here are some of the/"his" accomplishments: "...created a post-merger UJC culture" (that would be fear, malaise....what, exactly?); "solidified UJC Washington" (remember these are Howard's accomplishments); "implemented a low-interest tax-free bond program" (Chicago's); "seriously benchmark federations" (good); the national research (see below); "enhanced our capabilities," "engaged in serious study," "upgraded our work," "exciting new approaches" and on and on ... much like a View in fact.
~ A substantial portion of the Board's time was spent on "Volunteerism and the Community." Superb presentations with appropriate references to the Young Leadership's New Orleans "Mitzvah Day" totally ignored the reality that tens if not hundreds of federations have already embarked on engaging their leadership, prospects, young and older in volunteer activities. There are federation "best practices" that today could be brought to bear on the exciting opportunities offered to volunteer on Jewish community projects as well as those of the general community. It was surprising that the presenters failed to highlight the on-going volunteer work in and of the federations and then failed to connect the funds as we raise them as the highest work of "volunteerism" that there is. Concern was expressed that UJC might be duplicating the on-going excellent work of the Jewish Fund for Justice and Repair the World, founded in March by major foundations. I would not worry.
What I would worry about is that with no process, just a set of presentations, UJC has determined its focus du jour -- forget NextGen, forget Israel/Overseas, forget the FLI -- now Joe Kanfer demands Volunteerism so "volunteerism" it shall be. Forget that Repair the World is already engaged and grant making, forget that so many federations are already engaged around North America and "best practices" in the Volunteerism arena are readily available, Akron doesn't do it, I guess, so Joe figures no one does. I wouldn't be a bit surprised, would you, that the focus of the GA will be.... da da da dah da dah...Volunteerism?! It never stops, does it?
~ While I would leave the interpretation of the Brand Research data to others -- and UJC's Marketing Senior Vice President, Adam Smolyar, made an excellent presentation -- there were daunting findings that should concern every federation (even though the research was not done by federation). Perceptions of federation -- as trustworthy, responsible, efficient, etc. -- vary considerably from the respondents' characterization of absolute importance. And misperceptions abound. There are critically important results in the research; how UJC and the federations use and apply these results (assuming they don't conclude -- "oh, that's not us, that's _____") will ultimately determine whether the gross investment in this Initiative was worth the cost.
But, disclosed in the research is the reality that the UJC moniker hasn't made a dent in the communal perception of our national system. This finding, with no discussion or process whatsoever, apparently entitles the Board Chair to tell the press that a new name will be forthcoming this fall -- The Jewish Federations of North America. Catchy -- just don't try to put it on the back of your softball jersey. Apparently Joe has run it up his personal flagpole and his claque saluted. So, let's see -- The Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, a member of The Jewish Federations of North America. Joe noted to the JTA that, hey, "...most (90%) federations already include 'federation' in their names." An epiphany. (Remember the name "UJA?" I remember Joe coming to Chicago and representing to our leadership that that was a name he would support. Joe forgot. Also forgotten -- the Chair cannot merely impose a name change; there is a process to be followed. [But, see above.])
~ There was enough time for a Budget discussion. Some tough questions were asked -- by the Network leadership objecting to the charges imposed upon them and disproportionate to the costs of Network overhead; no provision for unpaid Dues and, thereby, no realistic answer to the question "where will the money come from if a number of federations reduce or do not pay their Dues," among others. Apparently there is no present contemplation of taking more dollars "off the top;" pushed on the question, the Treasurer responded that staff is already evaluating alternatives. A shout out to Michael Gelman: how many federations have advised UJC that they cannot or will not pay full Dues in 2010? One, two...or 31 or more? And, while you are at it: how many federations have not paid UJC Dues in whole or in part in 2009? 2008? 2007? You know, Michael, over the years you have served as Treasurer and you know as well that this is not the proprietary information of UJC's Officers; it is information that should be available to the Owners, your bosses. Oh, yes, the Budget passed both Board and Delegate Assembly.
You are up to speed.