Thursday, December 31, 2009


The Jewish Federations of North America has reported that its data evidence that the aggregate of federation 2009 annual campaigns will drop by $100 million. That wipes out at least five years of increases. JFNA reports...when it comes to the Annual Campaign, that's what it does. In these catastrophic circumstances there was at least the hope, generated by a mid-September meeting (NOT JUST A GOOD START...A GREAT START) among UJC, JAFI and JDC leadership. The hope of that meeting has been dashed by a failure to follow up.

Jerry Silverman made cash pleas in his message on December 24 and in a follow-up to Federation CEOs. The pleas were based on the projection of even more pathetic results -- $100 million to JAFI -- a 25% reduction in core funding from the prior year -- and only $31 million to JDC for core, down $8 million. This is catastrophic. In The Jewish Federations of North America's first year, JAFI received $185 million to core; ten years later, this amount had reduced down by 46%. And there remains no real advocacy effort. Remember, the merger that created UJC was purchased in part with the promise of greater resources for the historic partners.

And what did The Jewish Federations of North America do? Well, Jerry made his pleas -- a week before year-end. And, while there appeared to be a commitment was made to organize a tripartite cash collections effort in which lay and professional leaders of JFNA, JDC and JAFI would target communities and engage in intensive cash collection efforts through the last quarter 2009 -- didn't happen. None of the organizations wanted to be caught up short again as they were at year-end 2008 when cash collections fell $17 million less than UJC had projected.

When 2008 ended on such a disastrous note, it was clear to so many that 2009 would see a further precipitous drop. On these pages I pled that the then UJC start the year with a new cash and allocations focus. I and others urged that a lay-driven cash effort start in January 2009, not in September and certainly not at all. There was no response until September when Jerry arrived and Kathy Manning appeared determined to refocus JFNA efforts.

And just what happened since that September meeting? NOTHING. ZERO. NADA. Not one lay or professional leader of JAFI or JDC was called on to help in a planful meaningful way. The promise of September wiped out in the reality of December 31.

Why? Do the new leaders believe that they can go it alone...that they need no help? Then they must prove it. Jerry already knows better. But...if they truly believe in the power of the partnership to which they rededicated themselves in words, then they must show that rededication in their actions. My fear is that while JFNA leaders are personally pained in their hearts by the drop in Campaign and the impact of that failure on cash collections, and while they are personally pained by the realities, they have a sense of noblesse oblige as to all things federation, they don't consider this (a) their problem or (b) a JFNA responsibility or (c) that intervention could possibly help. If they did they would have done something about it. So, here we are again. And, "here' is a bad place to be.

Some have suggested, independent of the recommendations in prior Posts and in Comments thereto, that peer pressure be brought to bear by publicizing each individual federation's annual campaign results, cash payments and allocations. My cynicism suggests that this won't happen -- the federations that fail in their responsibilities will not permit it. And, even were this transparency to occur, when would it -- in 2010, a year that could be even worse?

We once had a powerful cash collections effort - not just in halcyon days of yore at UJA but in the more recent past of the Jewish Federations of North America when the lay and professional leaders of the Financial Relations Committee worked together in an annual partnership on year-end collections. There is a playbook for that collections effort. Why that effort has cratered as if it never existed only those responsible can possibly attest. All I can attest to is that over history that Cash effort worked (if anyone wants to know how, give me a call); the reality of today is that it doesn't and we knew it and we did nothing about it.
A Happy 2010!



Anonymous said...

National cash collection is a reflection of local cash collection. Local cash collection is a reflection of a message of urgency and strong campaign outreach. Strong campaigns are a reflection of clear purposes and priorities and good mechanics. So why are we suprised at the dwindling numbers when feel good volunteer opportunities for millenials are promoted over sustaining core agency services, when an amorphous agenda of "peoplehood" trumps the growing gaps between rich and poor in Israel, when we are more concerned about a 19 year old's free quickie Israel experience than his mom who has lost her job, and when our young professional is schooled in sales, web 2.0 and social network marketing techniques but is clueless on lay-professional partnerships?

paul jeser said...

'Anonymous' is 100% correct - however - the REAL problem is that the Federation system, as we knew it, is no longer viable and must be completely redefined for it to survive.

Usedtobeimportant said...

Anonymous nails it. And, it's even worse. The demand for the individuality of Federations simply stole the larger than life underpinnings of a true national leadership and, I defy anyone to say that that national leadrership was anything but strong and enormously valuable. People like Max Fisher, Bill Berman, Marvin Lender, Shoshana Cardin, Corky Goodman, Richard Wexler, Richie Pearlstone, Carole Solomon, Rani Garfinkle, Jane Sherman, Jon Kolker and so, so many more at UJA, CJF and UIA were pillars of strength in their home Federations and equally committed at the national and international level. It made ALL the difference. And yes, those of us who were their professional partners when the "lay/professional partnership" truly was just that, also owned a passion that did not have to be defined in a Strategic Plan. It was in us when we sought our jobs. National and even international Missions to the Soviet Union and then the FSU and, always, to Israel, were occasions which strengthened our understanding that we were part of something much bigger than ourselves. There wasn't any selfishness; there was an astounding amount of work, real work, done by the lay leaders and they sought very little kovod. My recollection of discussions with leadership through the 90s was that they all saw the continuum of leadership as critical. Something bad has happened to that since the creation of UJC. Maybe it's something today's national (JFNA) leaders ought to think about. They might even consider inviting some of the terrific folks mentioned above back around the table. But most of all, the Federations who insisted that a national organization without a mandate to lead be created, need to take a hard look at what they have wrought. If it isn't fixed it will all continue to deteriorate.

Anonymous said...

A veteran leader from the midwest was fond of saying that the secret to his power was that he seldom took his gun out of its holster. Whereas an earlier generation of major donors used their influence to promote and at times enforce collective responsibility, a next generation (aging quickly I should add) use their leverage to promote their (and their foundation stafflings) more particular agendas.


Anonymous said...

enough of the chest thumping and self-congrats from these commenters about how great things were in the old days and how uber-effective yesterday's leadership was. quite simply, the gig was FAR easier.

anybody who thinks that a few new personalities at the table will make a tangible difference in today's rough and tumble world of enormous charitable competition and ubiquitous, technological connectivity is deluding themselves.

the rules of the game have changed, everyone. still pining for the old-school campaigns and caucuses where checks flew in unsolicited as israel fought for her very existence? well, i hate to break it to you, but they're gone. think that "web 2.0 and social network marketing techniques" are mumbo jumbo and a waste of time? tell that to the nonprofits that are actually GROWING today.

of course there are a few bright spots as well as miniscule pockets of innovation in the system, but for the most part, the jewish federations of north america make last years GM look like google.

and i assure you that i take no pleasure in offering this harsh judgement. i know how great the needs are. i support much of the agenda. once upon a time, i proudly raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the system. but sadly, i came to the conclusion that too many of the pros and volunteers were incompetent - well meaning, but incompetent - and many federation execs were worse; they regularly put their own interests ahead of the system's and were absolutely incapable of doing what it took to expand the reach of their organizations.

of course, things will only get worse. the system has basically driven off a demographic cliff. over the last 20 years, the national donor base has steadily become smaller and older - an ominous sign - and all (former) leaders who read (and write) this blog have watched it happen and, as a result, bear some of the responsibility.

so, rather than prop up an antiquated, unexceptional, yet endlessly belligerent philanthropic system, i've chosen to allocate my jewish, charitable dollars elsewhere. some unsolicited words of warning to all who are the JFNA: you're not the only horse in town... and much of your competition makes you look positively ready for the glue factory.

Dan Brown said...

Every single one of you anonymous commentators might actually carry some weight on the discussion if you weren't afraid to hide behind anonymous.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Dan.

Ploni Almoni