Sunday, December 27, 2009


An alliance is an agreement between two or more parties made in order to advance common goals and to secure common interests.

Of all of the ideas that arose over the past five plus years, it is probable that none has been more poorly executed than the creation and implementation of the so-called "Alliance" of The Jewish Federations of North America. Many of you probably are unaware of what "the Alliance" is, or how it came about. So, let me provide my admittedly biased history....

Over the first few years of UJC the national agencies were nothing more than the abandoned stepchildren of our system. Hard as it may be to believe, less attention was paid the national agencies funded by the federations -- all or any of them -- than was paid to JAFI or JDC. In other words, abandoned to the Large City Budgeting Council, a federation-owned entity, staffed by, first, CJF and then UJC, where large federations aggregated allocations and divided those among the federation-funded national agencies. The New York UJA-Federation allocated almost 1/3rd of the total LCBC funds by a now-forgotten formula. The LCBC had a staff of one dedicated professional who worked on allocations and budget matters full-time. The LCBC was, as if its successor, the Alliance, a "coaltion of the willing" (and, in certain instances, the unwilling who recognized their collective responsibility).

The creation of United Jewish Communities promised greater collective funding of the national agencies; a promise never kept. At its outset, UJC appointed the "Greilsheimer Commission" as it waas called (Chaired by Louise Greilsheimer, then a past Chair of the New York UJA-Federation; now that Federation's SVP Agency and External Relations whose portfolio, by her title, includes the national agencies) to study the relationship of the federations to the national agencies. After months of "study," a Report issued recommending...further study. The Report, the study, were meaningless processes and a waste.

Remember, the LCBC and its "sister," the National Funding Council, were voluntary bodies. As federations more and more moved further and further away from their collective responsibilities, and the national agencies lacked a real voice (and had no advocates within the leadership of UJC), a number of LCBC and NFC members indicated their intent to either reduce their allocations through the LCBC/NFC to the funded national agencies or to leave the LCBC/NFC altogether. New York had grown weary of its disproportionate commitment to the LCBC/NFC; but couched its determination to reduce its allocation to what it claimed was "a lack of planning." Something, anything, had to be done. And, indeed, "anything" emerged in the guise of what would come to be known as "the Alliance."

The LCBC and NFC were staffed by a single dedicated UJC professional. He was the first sacrifice to the Alliance process which was now and forever to be lodged in The Jewish Federations of North America's Washington Office where it became just one of a number of important matters on the desk of William Daroff's second-in-command (with some over-arching [if that's the word] input from Barry Swartz. then UJC's community consulting professional leader). So from the sole priority of a committed pro in New York, the Alliance became one of a number of assignments to a professional in D.C.

My own federation characterizes the Alliance as follows: the galvanizing principle for the Alliance is to bring together national Jewish agencies and Jewish federations into a common space, promoting deeper relationships and creating synergy among them. If only this were so.

The then UJC staffers began an extensive "prioritization process" among the members of the Alliance. Much like the discredited ONAD "process," the Alliance prioritization imposed a significant paperwork load on the funded national agencies -- at a time that all of them certainly recognized that federation allocations through the Alliance would be reducing regardless of the prioritization outcome. And those outcomes appeared to focus Alliance funding on domestic agencies even as Israel, Jewish identity and education were among the highest priorities. Could not all of the national agencies envision that they were implementing these priorities on a daily basis? Apparently not. And, were the national agencies themselves participants in the prioriy-setting process? Only as informants, nothing more, Chicago's definition of the Alliance notwithstanding.

With federations having left or reduced their financial commitments to the LCBC and National Funding Councils in numbers and New York threatening to withhold its allocation unless the "planning process" were quickly concluded, the Alliance "findings" were published. The Alliance, without more, began to measure national agency mandates and purposes against the "priorities" with little discussion with them. So far, it appears that some agencies preserved their status by sophistry, e.g., one national organization created a young leadership effort that seemed to satisfy the Alliance of its future.

Then the Alliance, steered by its part-time professionals, focused on ending funding to one national agency; one whose work, in this writer's opinion, remains not only vital, but increasing on behalf of the federations and other national and international organizations confronting, among other things, the Iranian nuclear crisis. The Alliance, measuring that agency's work against its four criteria, determined, without the participation of the national agency itself, that the agency must merge -- no direct dialogue or input from the lay leadership of the affected agency with the Alliance lay members -- that was something contemplated for some future date. Nice. Back in the day --a kangaroo court proceeding. I have urged that there be a face-to-face meeting between the lay leadership of the Alliance and those of the target national agency, no such meeting has been forthcoming.

So, here we have it, The Jewish Federations of North America, itself an example of a good merger gone sour, where the parties were (mostly) favorably disposed to merger, through its Alliance, now attempts to strong arm a merger on an unwilling party. Makes no sense at all. We have proved to be bad at merger.

Now, Alliance funding of this targeted national agency had fallen to a paltry $300,000 -- or about 35% of its budget from in excess of 50% at the birth of UJC. With no evident advocacy by The Jewish Federations of North America for its funded national agencies, for the collective response, it can only be concluded that the Alliance has embarked on a "plan" to eliminate over time allocations to the less favored and use those federation dollars to minimally increase the allocations to the favored. This isn't planning; it's survival of the fittest -- only the favored survive.

At the end of the day, what have we here? The national agencies, rather than being assured of stable core funding, are thrown into battle for marginal dollars against each other. More and more, the national agencies are being encouraged, even forced, to engage in more and more direct fund raising or, at the best, to direct approaches to federations in total contravention of the collective responsibilities of, if not the Alliance, then The Jewish Federations of North America. Where will this ultimately lead us -- into the chaos of multiple organizations approaching federation donors. Is that a priority of the Alliance -- or don't they even care? Is this the direction The Jewish Federations of North America has determined to follow?

Reread the definition of "alliance" cited as I opened this Post. Best I can tell the "common interests" served by this Alliance...our Alliance...are the exclusive interests of federations seeking to cut costs in the guise of a planning process. The "common interests" of the federations and the national agencies together have been shoved aside, ignored. It's not pretty.


The author is a past Chair of the NCSJ and collaborated in the creation of the LCBC and NFC.


Anonymous said...

I am a senior veteran Planning Professional in a large Federation. Planning as you say, can be an euphemsim for cutting an allocation. This is a true statement. Allocations should not be cut without plannning.

Some agencies should be planned out of business.

If ever there was an agency that needed planning - cutting - sunsetting - going out of business it is NCSJ. I hope the Alliance is forcing that merger. Somewhere - anywhere - enough already.

In all due respect to your chairmanship in its glory days, Mr. Wexler, NCSJ doors remaining open is nothing but a cruel joke. The Alliance and UJC should be ashamed for funding a single kopek to this dead dinosaur. Advocacy to keep funding it brings nothing but shame to your past chairmanship.

It has no purpose. It has no right to existence. It represents no one. I am sure some Federations call them occassionaly and they provide service to those who call them. But that is because they just have not lost their rolodex card. And because they are still there. When they close - no one will notice.

They are a hammer searching for the proverbial nail.

JDC and JAFI are present in the FSU - openly and effectively. The JDC can and does provide everything NCSJ claims to provide, but with real professionals in the field and not in Washington, DC.

There are over a million Jews from the Former Soviet Union living outside of the FSU. They did not ask NCSJ to represent them. The Hesed movement in the FSU knows how to reach us if they need us. There is a Russian Jewish Congress and dozens of Russian Jewish Federations in the FSU.

There are a half dozen Jewish Defense organizations from Wiesenthal, ADL, AJC, AJC, Bnai Brith, WJC and WZO. None of them need NCSJ's help in any of the fields that NCSJ claims to work in.

Make a 2010 New Year's Resolution: Give NCSJ's budget to the JDC, close NCSJ with a respectful party and you will have done something wonderful for the Jewish People in 2010.

RWEX said...

Dear Anonymous senior veteran planning professional,

I appreciate both your writing and your passion even as I, obviously disagree with your conclusion. As a planner, look at but one undeniable fact, at the top of every federations' list of compelling issues is a nuclear Iran. We need allies in the global effort to confront Iran. Of all the organizations you mention not one...not one...other than the NCSJ of today has contact or influence with the governments of the post-Soviet states (and I include JDC as that would not be that organization's role). What you and your federation and a system that would adopt your extreme view ("extreme" in the sense that not even those pushing for the merger of NCSJ have not rejected its roles as you have) would do would be to close the door to that work, those contacts, that influence.

Nonetheless, you miss the point of the Post. The "Alliance" has decided that it is the hammer and has found, as you have, its nail. In doing so, howver, it has failed to follow a process of first engaging lay and professional leader to the NCSJ lay and professional leadership. The lay leadership of the NCSJ today are federation leaders as well; they would not argue for the continuation of the organization if they felt, as you do, that it served no valid or continuing purpose. We can have that debate on these pages but that debate really must take place between and among the Alliance and NCSJ leadership. Wouldn't you agree?