Three Large City Federations determined in 2009 that they would no longer allocate funds to support the core budgets of the Jewish Agency or the Joint Distribution Committee. I will not name them but assure you that the "culture" within each of these federations is substantially different from the other; just as "all politics is local," so each federated community is different. Yet, each of these federations shares at least one characteristic in common with the other two -- their annual campaigns have cratered and they know not what to do. They continue to suggest to their donors that their funds support the life affirming and life saving work performed by JAFI and JDC (but rarely mentioning either by name) even as they fail to fund our "partners" core work. Oh, they talk of chesed and doing Torah, they enwrap their decisions in the language of technocrats and "cutting edge" but the only edge each of the three is on is the edge of the precipice.
Within each of these federations are lay leaders worthy of the greatest respect, women and men who have over time committed themselves to the centrality of federation as you and I have. The only problem is that these same men and women have participated over time in each of their communities in the decisions that weakened their own federation to the point where not enough core funds are flowing from the annual campaign to the federation to sustain the community instrumentality as the convener, as the central address. In one of these Large Cities, a strategic plan adopted by the federation disemboweled it as the central planning instrumentality; in another, its Jewish Community Foundation became the focal point for its donors and its leaders while close to 70% of the grants made were outside the arc of the federation or its agencies or Jewish causes at all; and the third was characterized by great communal wealth, a strong and continuous anti-federation message from inside the federation, all rhetoric all the time, weak campaign.
No doubt the chief professional offices of these three federations attended the meetings of the Large City Executives in New Orleans -- and, no doubt nothing was said at any meeting about this very subject -- don't want to hurt anyone's feelings now, do we? And, so it goes.
There is some tragic irony here. In these three federations which have ended funding "core," their own donors have walked away from funding these federations' own core budgets. Hoisted on their own petards, they don't get the message or they choose to ignore it. Yet, there are those at JFNA who continue to listen to them. Sad.