Thursday, October 1, 2009


To me too many Federations are searching for relevance in all the wrong places. I was reminded of this last month when Daniel Sokatch precipitously left his short-time position as CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater San Francisco for the "greener pastures" of The New Israel Fund. Daniel, you may recall had come to SF 14 months earlier after the impressive growth of the "Progressive Jewish Alliance" in Los Angeles under his leadership. Young, "out of the box," yada yada yada -- lasted 14 months. Got me to thinking.

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.




Anonymous said...


I'm going to take a stab at a partial defense of designated giving. I'll begin by saying that nothing can or should replace undesignated giving to the Annual Campaign. Local and global agencies need these funds for their basic operations, particularly the things that we don't usually see as being "sexy" as well as having the flexibility to move around resources in times of emergency or crisis.

That being said though, our system has a history of designated or elective giving. Let's use the overseas case as an example. Fifteen years ago communities started to feel that they needed to better connect to what their money was doing overseas. That gave birth to Partnership 2000 and eventually the ONAD process. Would JDC and JAFI rather receive the money that is used for elective programs in the form of core allocations? Absolutely, but for the donors it is important to be able to see the clear impact of their funds in specific programs. We can use these funding processes and the programs themselves as vehicles for doing good and telling the stories of what we are doing with precious community resources.

Just as we couldn't ignore the need to have an elective funding process that takes into account North American community/donor interests, we can't ignore the opportunities that donor designated giving affords. When coupled with annual giving, it can be an effective tool to engage the community in specific initiatives while increasing the financial resources available.

As the old adage goes, a rising tide lifts all boats.

RWEX said...

Dear Anonymous,

Your analysis and response are much appreciated. Because your points are so well made, in the comming weeks I will create a "dialogue" between us on the subject.

Many thanks,

Anonymous said...

Anonymous - part 2
My only objection to what Anonymous said today is that I always believed that the creation of designated giving at the national level (UJC) was as a response to some federations that were already funding outside the traditional boundaries. In order to make it appear that they were in compliance, these communities pushed for their “outside the family” grants to be included in the total overseas funding thus raising their percentage to overseas. Once that Pandora’s Box was open it forced JDC and JAFI (then ultimately ORT) to have to compete among themselves as well as against the organizations that were receiving the designated funds.

I further believed (and still do) that JAFI created P2K in order to secure at least the 50% of the allocable designation from federations. Remember that the original formula was 90% core and 10% elective. In fact, if you look at where the money really goes, I believe that most of the P2K money actually ends up in the hands of other organizations with JAFI as a pass through. These “service providers” were taken out of the equation thus preventing them from competing directly to the federations.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 1 here again-

In response to Anonymous 2, I think that you are right that there has always been lag time between what is happening from community to community and the policies the UJC adopts and tries to "enforce."

That being said, even the pass through role the JAFI or JDC may play, and we should acknowledge that it happens with both organizations, the ability for communities to "own" an initiative is an important hallmark. The weakness in the elective process is when a community is scatter shot and does not have a focused approach to what it is doing overseas.

It is no different than working with local partners. Even in communities that still provide core allocations to their local agencies, and sadly that is increasingly rare, the small programmatic grants/funds for specific initiatives are an effective tool to ensuring the innovative or new initiatives are undertaken.

What I personally object to is the movement among some federations to go to entire elective funding (whether local or global). In 2006, we can see how critical it was that JDC and JAFI had the flexibility to redeploy resources when Israel failed the people of northern Israel. That a federation and its leaders make agencies jump through hoops for every dollar is a travesty, but designating small amounts that perhaps have more measurable impacts beyond turning on the lights is still valuable.