Friday, September 11, 2009


In response to my Post on UJC'S Court Jews, I received an Anonymous (of course) Comment that raised a fundamental question:

As you were there at the outset Richard, perhaps you can enlighten all as to how in the original founding discussions board members (appointed as individuals) were to reconcile there fiduciary responsibility to the organization while serving the interests of local Federations. Either UJC must be a total captive of its membership (who must send their best and brightest to represent them) or should have the independence to nominate its leadership and "lead" or attempt to do so as it sees fit. Is there a true middle ground?

Several of you who called me concluded that the Anonymous writer was the UJC Board Chair. I disagreed inasmuch as Joe Kanfer could just as easily have used his name (except for the fact that he probably wouldn't want to admit to reading these pages). But it matters not who wrote the Comment. The question is fundamental. In response, two correspondents sent we their own analysis. I reprint them below (redacted to protect their identities); I reveived a Comment from a respected national leader as well; and after all three, my own response:

~ "The answer to the anonymous post is really quite simple: it depends on the mission of the organization.

UJC is not a ruling body of federations (Kanfer, Rieger, not withstanding.) It doesn't set policy for federations. It represents the interests of federations by:
1. compiling best practices
2. providing oversight to overseas expenditures through UIA
3. convening the system for consensus building around common interests
4. making federations aware of applicable public policy
5. acting as a clearinghouse for professionals/employment

I probably could list a few more but they wouldn't include anything of a unilateral nature. By the way, why would a federation want to send its best/brightest to the national system unless it had an incentive (e.g. larger gift, greater good, continued engagement)"

~ "This is a perfect question (how to represent a federation) and one that was raised at a critical ONAD meeting . I believe it was at the 2003 hearings or maybe it was at the 2004 meetings. I believe this was one of the reasons but certainly not the major reason that ONAD failed and possibly why UJC is in its current fiscal situation.

Meetings had been ongoing for the entire day. There had been a two-three hour caucus among the federations with ORT, JAFI and JDC barred from the room. We were under the impression that the disagreement was between Chicago and federations supporting its position and NY and its supporters. After the caucus and the meeting re-convened there was a negotiated position that had been reached presented to the assembled body for discussion and then ratification.

In the room were NY and Chicago leadership, leadership from 8 other large cities representing themselves and the other 8 large cities not at the table, perhaps 4 large intermediate city delegations representing 18-20 large cities not at the table, and two or three intermediate city delegations representing all intermediate cities and one or two small communities representing 50 plus small cities.

The key word here is "representing."

Astoundingly after the negotiated agreement, all of the discussion, etc, there were at least four federations (perhaps as many as six) of the 17 federations (after NY and Chicago were deducted from the 19) that abstained from the vote stating in one form or another "I cannot vote in favor of this because I cannot be sure that MY federation can increase our allocation (a 3% or 4% increase had been urged to get closer to what at that time was the national average).

The fact that perhaps 25-30% of the federations at the table representing 155 federations could not make a commitment beyond their own parochial interest spoke volumes about where ONAD was and where UJC was and still may be. They were present specifically to represent others by design and by vote as they were selected by their own city size group, yet they saw themselves as only able to speak for themselves and not for those they represented.

The final negotiated position passed, but it would be most interesting to see what the results were from those abstained communities and whether or not there was EVER system wide buy-in for that 3-4% increase. I am sure you will agree with my assumption that the answer was a very loud NO."


Then came this Comment -- actually signed by the current UIA Chair,the immediate past Chair of his federation and a past Federation campaign chair:

" Dear Anonymous,

This question has vexed UJC since its inception. It is a true example of Circular Cause and Consequence logic. It is a logical fallacy where the consequence of the phenomenon is claimed to be its root cause. It is exemplified in the question, "Which came first, the chicken or the egg?"

Circular cause and consequence is often confused with Mutually Contradictory statements, such as the famous "Catch-22", in which two mutually exclusive statements seem to send the reader back and forth in a cycle. Circular reasoning however is a problem of finding the 'root cause' however (e.g. which came first) which is not the basis of the Catch-22.

Having said all of that - the question itself may be a colossal waste of time. We answered this question in all of our Jewish Communities many, many years ago. The historic question was in essence are we a Federation of Jewish Philanthropies or a Federation of Jewish Philanthropists.

We may have begun as a Federation of Philanthropies, i.e. the JCC and the JFS will run one unified campaign, act as a central address, and centrally plan for maximum benefit to the Community. (Please note: not dissimilar to UJA itself). But the Board is made up of Philanthropists, no the board is made up of representatives of each of the Philanthropies (the beneficiary agencies), no the board is made up of the philanthropists, no the philanthropies, and ad infinitum.No it isn't.

The board is made up of those who respect the history and purpose of the constituents and act on behalf of unity of the philanthropists and the constituent philanthropies. And therefore we work truly on behalf of the Jewish People through its organized Jewish Community.No one questions the President of the JCC's fiduciary duty when she sits on the board of a Federation. She wears both kipot with respectful tension. Yes, she has to look out for the needs of her agency and be a forceful advocate, and she has to look out for the unity of the entire community. She knows that the strength of our Federation is that we come together as a unified family and that her agency will benefit by that unified action. She understands that we are in that life boat together.

We are a Federation of Jewish Philanthropies and of Jewish Philanthropists and they can never be mutually exclusive. Sort of like Dodge of the old west: "we check our guns at the door." We recognize that our individual fiduciary duty is best served by our collective survival and flourishing.We were work for unity of purpose respecting our beneficiary constituency and respecting our donor's needs. If we alienate one - we will alienate the other.

If we will be "United " and I needlessly remind us that that is our First Name, we will work for unity every single day of our United Jewish Communities existence. We do this in every real Federation in North America and we do it well every single day.

All UJC must do is act the same way."

Bruce A. Arbit


The Anonymous Comment caused me to reflect on my very brief role in the orientation process for new Federation representatives to CJF during the brief UJA/CJF Partnership. I attended and spoke about what service on the national Board meant -- I remember stating that it was critical, even though they were appointed by their federation, that they take a new national perspective on the issues facing our system. That was my view. I was then followed (perhaps by Conrad Giles, the President of CJF) whose message was: "You are here as the representatives of your federation." It was no wonder that Board service was so confusing. The Comment failed to contemplate UJC's By-Laws that state clearly and unequivocally that, except in certain specific instances (At Large, Honorary), Board of Trustee members are appointed by their federations. The Board is, in my opinion, there to execute their fiduciary obligations on behalf of the owners (that is to say, the federations) as to policies and programs contemplated by UJC leaders.

The Comment makes clear its author's intent -- either a Board of Owners responsible to the Federation which appoint the Member (and, thus, from the Commentator's perspective, UJC becomes "a total captive") or an entity that nominates its own Board with the ability to "'lead'... as it sees fit." I, for one, reject the Commentator's "either/or" premise. The fault line within UJC arises out of the current leadership's abject failure to engage the Owners in substantive matters of policy and program -- these few have made an assumption, outside the scope of UJC's own governance, that they were elected "to they see fit." Like my federation and yours, like almost every non-profit, except those great foundations driven by men and women who have created and funded them, UJC is a consensus-driven body: it requires a consensus among its owners to act. Driving consensus is challenging, it is time consuming, but it is, at the end of the process, wholly rewarding. Our leaders should try it.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

UJC should staff the collective of Federations with all the skill, leadership smarts, attention to boundaries and deference to role that a good local pro staffs a Federation committee