My favorite author, the very complex William Faulkner, wrote "the past isn't dead; it isn't even past." For JFNA's Budget and Finance Committee, repopulated only two weeks ago in Dallas, that couldn't be more true...unfortunately.
For several years, I and others have raised questions as to how the Jewish Federations of North America has satisfied its annual Budget out of the payments made by the member federations when some -- be it a few or many -- fail or refuse or are unable to make their Dues payments. In response to specific questions from Federation lay and professional leaders, JFNA lay and professional leaders, as if from a script, recited that "we do not use allocations for overseas needs to fund our Budget." Unfortunately, federation and JFNA leaders have had to drill down (and drill down and drill down) to learn the following: at the end of calendar year 2009, JFNA borrowed $2.7 million...that's $2,700,000....to, for lack of a better term, reimburse JAFI and JDC for funds withdrawn by JFNA from federation overseas allocations over the course of the year to support JFNA's Budget eo be repaid at year-end.
Huh, you ask, how could that be? We have been told time and again by JFNA that this just doesn't happen, can't happen. Here's how it has happened: if your federation or mine sends cash to JFNA and designates the application of the payment: " $____ to Dues and $____ to allocations," JFNA honors the allocation. If your federation or mine does not designate (even if you anticipate that Dues/allocations will be divided pro rata), JFNA will withdraw dollars from that payment for its Budget as you see fit. Period. This has enabled JFNA to appropriate dollars clearly intended (although JFNA will argue "how would we know that to be the fact?") for JAFI/JDC and apply them to its own Budget with the hope (giving the "benefit of the doubt," the expectation) that by calendar year-end, it could reimburse the overseas agencies (but not for the carrying costs). If this reminds you of some of the schemes you may have read about over the past two years -- that's your conclusion, not mine.
Now, some at JFNA will respond with "that's just how UJA did it" as if that is an acceptable response. While, certainly, UJA paid its Budget out of the Overseas allocation, when JFNA was created, that was no longer to be the case -- Dues and allocations were separated under the false premise of "transparency." So, in our new system, the two were no longer to be treated as essentially "fungible." Yet, at JFNA, that is exactly how the funds have been treated -- as if JFNA can use overseas allocations to satisfy its Budget. And, that's wrong.
Let's assume that Jerry Silverman, Kathy Manning and Heschel Raskes, the new Budget & Finance Chair, decided to clean this mess up. But the questions remain: (1) how was this permitted to occur under the prior leadership; (2) how was this borrowing authorized; (3) how will the $2.7 million be repaid; and (4) what structures have been put in place to assure this doesn't happen again?
Are there some answers out there?