Tuesday, December 29, 2009


First, a little look back (and to all of you who tell me "we can't look backward, only forward" my apologies in advance) my friends. The UJA National Chair used to be the "bully pulpit," those who served in the position were welcomed across the Continent and in the inner sanctum of the Joint and Jewish Agency. The men and woman who took this position, did so as keepers of a precious flame.

Present company excluded, from Max Fisher through David Fisher, to Michael Lebovitz today, these were true leaders who loved our communities and our People, all of them. When we created what is now The Jewish Federations of North America, it was conceived that there would be three...not two, not one...three leaders at the top of the officer triangle -- the Board Chair, the Chair of the Executive and the National Campaign Chair. That idea didn't last. Carole Solomon, Bob Schrayer, z'l, Mark Wilf, Steve Selig, Joel Alperson and David Fisher, each an incredible leader, often had to struggle to have their voices heard above the creaking bureaucracy being built beneath them. They wished to continue to be the face of the national organization as communities clamored to have them speak, visit, solicit, but, progressively, less and less so -- and, as the national organization chose to diminish the role of the annual campaign, even deprecated it, so the role of the National Chair was diminished as well. They were writing their own chapters of modern Jewish history as had their predecessors, try as others within what was UJC tried to reduce their voice, their presence, their role.

But, five and, then three, years ago, in came a new UJC CEO and Board Chair, and somewhere...where I don't know...a decision was made to marginalize not just Financial Resource Development but, further, the role of the National Campaign Chair. And, this effort proved successful: invitations through the staff to invite the National Campaign Chair to speak or solicit were neither sought nor passed on; the Development budget was slashed and the Department (for that is what it had become) was subsumed within the failed construct of Consulting Services; and the SVP for Development relegated to reporting to the UJC SVP for Consulting and something called "community building." Promises made to David Fisher who succeeded Joel Alperson as National Campaign Chair were breached with regularity and David resigned. The role of the National Campaign Chair was being erased along with its illustrious history under the guise of an ill-fated "Reorganization Strategy."

In 2009, promises were once again made to induce a wonderful leader, Michael Lebovitz of Chattanooga, to accept the role of National Campaign Chair. Michael reported that "leadership" wanted to restore the position to its former prominence. That's what he heard -- of course, many of those representations had been made to his predecessor and, further, the role had been sliced and diced into a smaller piece with the bifurcation of FRD into Development and the still-born Center for Jewish Philanthropy which was chaired by a fine person and significant donor who had no visible FRD leadership experience. I suggested to Michael that he condition his acceptance on, among other things, the restoration of the functions of the Center under his National Chair portfolio -- he didn't.

And there has been some "re-elevation" to be sure: the National Chair is part of this Board Chair's "small leadership team;" the Campaign Chair is heading up the JAFI/JDC Work Group which has the potential to lead to real national advocacy (See Posts on this Blog on the subject); the National Chair has been visiting a small number of federations for solicitation and inspiration, a very good thing; there is a more aggressive bringing together of Campaign professionals and lay leaders to engage with the National Campaign Chair; among other steps forward. Past National Chairs convene by phone periodically and have heard not only from Jerry Silverman but Kathy Manning as well.

But there are also indications that the new lay leadership is slow to return power to the Office of the National Campaign Chair: at the Prime Minister's Council Dinner at the General Assembly, it was the Board Chair who "interviewed" the Keynote speaker; the National Campaign Chair introduced the Sapir Awards at a Plenary, and little more (while the Chair of the illusory Center for Jewish Philanthropy had a more prominent Plenary role); and no steps have yet to be taken to take down that Center For Jewish Philanthropy and subsume that time- and dollar-waster under the Office of the National Campaign Chair along with Supplemental Giving and Planned Giving and Endowment. Until the Center is so rethought and restructured, the National Campaign Chair's role will remain but a shadow of its former self. Michael, being a gracious team player, goes along.

At a time that the aggregate of federation 2009 annual campaigns has dropped by $100,000,000, there is no time to waste. Let's hope that Manning, Gelman, Silverman and Lebovitz insist on doing the right thing here...quickly.


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