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.