Monday, August 31, 2009


When my federation determined it was timely to evaluate its total insurance needs, it created an open bidding process. This alienated some federation leaders who had been providing federation's insurance services for years. For a while things were ugly but federation, recognizing its fiduciary responsibilities, stayed the course. The same thing happened within UJA. UJA bid out its travel business raising the ire of a mega-donor philanthropist who, among his businesses was a large travel agency. UJA stood its ground. These are but two of many painful decisions to which our federations and national organizations were bound as the stewards of our donors' funds.

Then there is United Jewish Communities under the Kanfer regime. Let's look at some "decisions," how they were made and the cost.

1. The Marketing/Branding Study. In 2007 the UJC Executive Committee was invited to New York for a rare face-to-face meeting. No materials were sent out in advance. At the meeting, the Board Chair presented the leaders of R & R Partners, a Las Vegas-based public relations and communications consulting firm, as the "research firm" that would lead UJC's marketing/branding Study at a price of $865,000. Though that firm had no experience with our non-profit world, they presented themselves thusly: "We knew nothing about the Air Force when we started our work with them and we did a great job!!" and that one of the research team was Jewish!! When questioned, the Board Chair took umbrage at questions as it appeared that there was no competitive bidding -- Joe had sought out this Firm and this Firm it would be. (I did some due diligence with friends in the Las Vegas business community. I was told: "This is not what R & R does." It does things like: "If it happens in Las Vegas...." then it buys the mantra from the City for $1. [I believe it sold it back under pressure.]) Questions were raised, but time was short. The Executive Committee was being asked to ratify the deal. That's all, ratify the deal. That's all, ratify the contract. Now.

But, that's not all. At the time this deal began, there was no Senior V-P Marketing & Communications; in fact there was hardly a UJC Marketing & Communications Department. Joe created a Committee chaired by a fine lay leader (who had no Marketing or Communications experience; I believe he is an investment banker). Then Joe and R & R came to that Committee and asked for more money and the contract was increased to $2 million -- 5% of the then UJC Budget approved by a Committee -- no other process. Where were the checks and balances? Where was the Chair of the Budget Committee? Where was the CEO? The record doesn't show.

2. Sheatufim -- Any reader of this Blog knows full well that UJC committed the federation system to a three year $750,000 "investment" in this fine Israel-based NGO with no process. Those who served on the then Israel-Overseas Pillar knew nothing of this "investment." Apparently here were a very small group of UJC Officers deciding on a three year "investment" with no process anywhere within UJC. No Budget process, no Executive Committee process. In fact, in the 2008 Form 990 filing, the Sheatufim investment in 2007 was not disclosed as such hidden within bureaucratic language that was apparently hoped would hide the expenditure from prying eyes. Where was the Budget Chair, where was the CEO? Where was fiduciary duty? Where was anyone saying: "We can't do this in this way?"

3. Hotel and Conference Registration used to be in the hands of a small group of fine UJC professionals. They did a great job under extremely trying circumstances -- which of us, for example, ever accepted the first room we were offered at a hotel? (Only kidding!!) I would say these pros did a commendable job under difficult circumstances. Someone(s) at UJC apparently believed that in our complex age, we needed a corporate monolith to handle Conference and Hotel registrations "and reduce our costs, as well." So the entire in-house staff was terminated and a corporate Conference Coordinator hired: Wyndham Jade.

Perhaps there was a bidding process for this plum job -- all I know is that the disclosed payments to Wyndham Jade in 2007 per the 2008 990 totalled over $660,000... that's over $660,000. I don't believe that this humongous contract was ever approved by the Executive Committee or Board; I do believe that the total cost to UJC of the previous in-house staff and the GA contractor was less than 1/2 that which was paid Wyndham Jade in 2007. (There are numerous stories of Wyndham Jade's "familiarization" with the work of a Jewish organization. My favorite: preparing for a Florida conference, a Wyndham Jade staffer asked what to do "with these tablecloths" while standing next to a pile of taleisim.)


There are 6,000,000 stories in the Naked UJC. OK, not that many. But what we have learned is this: as the CEO more and more withdrew from day-to-day management, the Board Chair stepped into the "void" and began to usurp the CEO's roles, micro-managing the organization, giving orders to the staff and ignoring the basic division of responsibilities between lay and professional of our non-profit organizations. And no one stood up and said "no, Joe, you can't do that." The CEO would periodically step back in but focused on his pet "asks" delivered in a chaotic manner or on Budget matters, protecting his "sacred cows." With a disconnected ownership added to the mix, we truly had the "perfect storm."

Thus, Kathy Manning and Jerry Silverman face an organization not just in chaos but in free fall. And the out-going Board Chair believes that he and the CEO delivered "transformational change." And I agree with them: if you define "transformational change" as transforming UJC from functional to dysfunctional -- they did it!!


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