Some of those thoughts appeared in my Post When Trust Is Lost last month. (A Post that caused one of its readers, a true expert on our system, to congratulate me [more on that later] and for me to admit, that on this subject, I have been a slow learner.) There is some history to reflect upon.
First and foremost, the "designated giving model" in the late 90's and into this decade, began to seriously erode the Annual Campaigns of multiple federations and the very construct of collective responsibility that distinguished the federation movement from the beginning. When UJC leaders gave but lip service to the concept over the past three years and sought, through UJC-Israel, to provide "alternatives" to core collective giving through, among other less than thought through designated giving "plans" like "1-x10" and Sheatufim, and failed to articulate that UJC Dues were a manifestation of collective response, they knew not the destruction they wrought. (Of course, UJC's failure to remain relevant to the federations in the midst of economic collapse was a contributing factor as well.)
Back in its formative years, UJC:The Jewish Federations of North America, through its then Consulting Services Department, began to work with federations and consultants on several communal "strategic plans," most notably for San Diego and Philadelphia, but others as well. These plans, in 2002-2003, may have reflected what the communities wanted but strayed so far from the federation "model" as to be antithetical to it. (So much so that an acknowledgement to Steve Hoffman, then the UJC CEO and President, was disavowed by him.) It struck me then that UJC's professionals had a responsibility to assert a federationcentric model; Consulting Services' leaders either didn't understand what I was talking about or disagreed.
When UJC began, the federations, in unanimously approving the Merger Agreement, by that act alone committed to maintain the allocation to JAFI and JDC for two years. There was almost...almost...100% compliance. Of the Large Cities, every federation but one, met its obligation. Not surprisingly, at least to this writer, that one federation that refused and failed to comply was led by a professional who continuously preached -- before and since -- an anti-federation message. I believe the enunciated philosophy was both genuine and disingenuous -- genuine in the sense that this professional leader was and is totally out of step with his colleagues (and could care less) and disingenuous in the reality that his federation, as a direct consequence of this professional's dedication to designated giving was seeing the community's annual campaign diminish significantly. (In fact, when the Fair Share Dues Committee eliminated population as a factor in determining Dues, that Community demanded the right to restate its annual campaign to eliminate designated gifts and, thereby, reduce its UJC Dues obligations.) Slowly, communities similarly afflicted by reduced annual campaigns have adopted the same mantra -- one that rejects the collective in almost every way.The apparent failure of the current generation of federation CEOs to secure their legacy by building a coterie of young professionals who might succeed them has been a seminal failing. With the Masters Programs in Jewish Communal Service, the Fisher-Bernstein Institute, The Mandel Executive Development Program and Wexner Programs, one would have expected that, by now, this new generation of professional leaders would have emerged from within the federations themselves. Notwithstanding the excellence of so many young professionals in our federations -- men and women alike -- and at UJC itself, many federations have looked outside the federation experience for what they have uniformly called the "outside the box" professional who might literally rescue the federation from itself.
Much of this recent federation history reflects what I call "the Hail Mary Pass." For non-football fans, the "Hail Mary" refers to a last second desperation heave to try to pull victory from the jaws of defeat. (There are, I'm just guessing here, religious connotations as well.) 99% of "Hail Mary passes" are doomed to failure although sports fans grasp at the few successes -- Dallas Cowboys/Minnesota Vikings, Colorado/University of Michigan, the historic "Doug Flutie play." It is wholly probable that one who has no comprehension of the complexity of federation leadership, one who has never asked for a federation gift (or, perhaps, has never given a capacity gift), who hasn't a clue what the "lay-professional partnership" is or should be, who has never watched or experienced how federation leaders build consensus, means, among other things, that he or she will not have a transferable experience that will predict success in leading a federation -- for them, the "Hail Mary" throw will drop to the ground, incomplete, failed. And with the incompletion, the federation's credibility, the trust that is the cornerstone of federation success, will be further eroded. There is a far better chance of success for those "insider/outsiders" or the "insiders" themselves-- those who, as lay leaders for example, emerge from their federation lay experience to federation professional leadership, or who have apprenticed with great success in our system. And there is even a greater opportunity for success for the Hail Mary at our national institutions for those who know (a) what they don't know and (b) where to seek assistance and mentoring.
What is one to think when some federations begin to talk of "giving circles" as a "new paradigm;" of donors joining together in small groups to determine what merits support and how much that support will be? How antithetical to the "federation model" these are; they might as well be, but for the gifts involved, knitting circles. This is not even the model of federations in their formative moments when men (and they were then all men) sat around in a smoke-filled room and determined the community's needs and then funded them before they left the room. In this "new model," the concept of community has no place. And UJC has nothing to offer?
Back to my/our guru on federations and on UJC. Referencing the Trust Post the guru concluded: "[T]oday's Post seriously approaches some of the issues that I believe are at the heart of the decline in Federation performance. Lay-professional roles and responsibilities, 'my way or the highway' corporate culture, lack of transparency and accountability are key within a very long list of change requirements in a world where everything has changed..." If we had a continental organization that had recognized to date its responsibilities to the federations that would welcome guidance and UJC's leadership, where might we be?
Where might we be? Not, certainly, where we are.