Norman, Richard and I had been discussing the future of our national institution for some months -- mainly at Jewish Agency Board meetings but in e-mail exchanges and teleconferences as well. The three of us share a commitment with you to a strong federation system, a strong national organization to lead it and to the collective responsibilities that have been the hallmark of the American Jewish communities. In the late Spring and Summer of 2009, as a new chief professional officer was engaged and a reinvigorated lay leadership were nominated, we determined that the best we could offer them would be a paper in which we shared ideas and concerns. So, we initiated a series of drafts in late July and August.
The three of us were also concerned that my involvement with the paper might taint our effort in the eyes of some. So, as we polished the document. In September, I approached both Kathy Manning and Jerry Silverman with that simple question: "Would you consider a paper that Norman, Richard and I co-authored?" Jerry and Kathy responded with a welcoming enthusiasm. We sent the Paper with great expectations.
Here is what we wrote:
Looking Toward the Next Ten Years:The Challenges Facing the United Jewish Communities
The formation of UJC was the result of a lengthy collaborative process undertaken by the lay and professional leadership of the North American Jewish Federation system beginning in the fall of 1996 and culminating in the historic merger of the United Jewish Appeal and the Council of Jewish Federations in December 1999.
UJC was born through compromises and agreements reached by people of goodwill sharing an unwavering commitment to the welfare of Jewish communities in North America and overseas. UJC undertook a bold restructuring of two of the most essential national Jewish organizations mindful that its path was uncharted. Every participant understood that some ideas would work and that others would not. Time, and circumstances, would test UJC’s new framework, mission, vision and service delivery models.
Ten years since formation, UJC has experienced both successes and failures. Moreover, the larger world has dramatically changed. The threats facing Israel and Jews in foreign lands today are complex and serious. Concurrently, the worst economic downturn in 70 years has significantly affected the North American Jewish community with the dual impact of (a) reduced fundraising campaigns and (b) greater demand for local needs and services.
The challenge facing the leadership of UJC and the Federation system today is to look forward. It is to envision the day, in the year 2020, when the Jewish communal leadership will look back on its preceding decade. What will they see? How will they have gotten there? Who will be at the table?
The time to face the issues that will bear upon this challenge is now. With a new Chief Professional Officer beginning his tenure, a transition of senior lay leadership completed and Federations across the continent making difficult decisions in response to new fiscal realities, the moment to act is now.
In an effort to frame constructive dialog on these questions, it is proposed that the following issues, while not exclusive, are ones that should be addressed by UJC with a sense of urgency and closure:
Overarching lssue: The Question of Mission
There remains an unsettled debate on the focus of UJC’s mission. There is a need for clarity, broad consensus and finality. Closure on this is a prerequisite to dealing with all other issues as it affects all other issues. A process that is transparent, inclusive and perceived as fair would be the most effective.
· Is UJC a “leader” or a “servant” of the Federation system? Alternatively, can it be both at different times and in different contexts?
· Is UJC a “trade association” dealing with a focused set of important issues including: (i) national product branding, (ii) national campaign strategy, production of creative and thematic materials adaptable by Federations; (iii) coordinator of emergency campaigns; (iv) long term professional development and best practices benchmarking and (v) national resource co-ordination? Or is UJC a strategic “thought leader” and “policy developer” with the capacity to speak on behalf of the national system the broad range of issues on the domestic and international agendas? Can UJC be part of both?
· How can UJC demonstrate its unique added-value to each of the large, intermediate, small and network communities constituencies? Can UJC serve all of these constituencies equally well?
· Engagement of lay leadership - how can there be created an extensive and diverse cadre of inspired, engaged and actively participating lay leadership? How can UJC shape the experience of lay leadership to be attractive, meaningful, stimulating and impactful? How can UJC expand its sphere of influence in communities, large and small, through positive experiences at GA’s, on missions or in UJC facilitated Federation coalitions or task forces addressing issue-oriented projects?
· Human Resource Development: Lay and Professional - what role does UJC have to identify, nurture, train and develop the men and women that will be sitting at the Federation and UJC lay leadership tables in 2020? What role does UJC have to identify, nurture, train and develop the men and women who will undertake the roles of the professional leadership of the Federation system and UJC in 2020? How can the “Lay/Professional” partnership be enhanced, supported and calibrated to face the challenges of the next decade?
· Budget and Dues - as the questions outlined herein are resolved, the development of meaningful and appropriate budgets must follow. Budgets should translate strategies and objectives into tangible work plans with financial metrics. It is unrealistic to project high expectations of UJC without providing the resources to accomplish them. Conversely, the criteria of funding alone should not blindly define the role and scope of UJC. Rather, once strategic decisions are made and a budget is determined, the method for the contributions to its funding must be fairly, but firmly, applied and administered. How do these competing priorities be determined?
· The Balance of City Size - Large city Federations and intermediate/small city Federations have different needs for UJC services and, generally, an inverse capacity to contribute to the UJC budget. What is the strategic balance, or correlation, between service needs and dues obligations?
· Relationship with JAFI and IDC - JAFI and IDC represent the cornerstone of UJC’s and the Federation system’s overseas agenda. But all partnerships evolve over time and need to be recommitted to at key intervals. This process is healthy and normal even when difficult or uncomfortable. Nonetheless, today is such a moment. What is an articulation of UJC’s relationship with JAFI and JDC that is clear, comprehensive and broadly accepted? Further, what are the fair expectations and promises of UJC to JAFI and JDC? And of JAFI and JDC to UJC?
· Mega-donors, Competition and Designated Giving - The marketplace of philanthropic alternatives has become increasingly competitive. Donors, (small, large or “mega”) have rapidly changing views on the role of the donor as compared to 10 or 20 years ago. How can UJC help Federations capture attention and support in this challenging marketplace? How can UJC reach out to, and partner with, leading independent philanthropists and private foundations? What are the creative structures and modalities which can bring UJC, the Federation system and mega-donors into alignment on shared goals and objectives? How can models of designated giving be embraced and pursued while maintaining core commitments to overseas partners?
· Washington Office - the success enjoyed by the Washington Office is widely acknowledged. What lessons can be learned from this success? What other specialized services or resources, which could have a broad impact on Federations, can or should be similarly organized and delivered?"
Rich, Norman and I had hoped that we might be part of the discussion -- having framed the questions, I, at least, thought that appropriate. The first "clue" that that would not be the case came in a note from Kathy thanking us and advising that she would be using the paper as a framing document for discussion with her "leadership team" at its meeting in September. Not having been invited, we understood that we were not part of Manning's "leadership team" even if our paper (which we transmitted without our signatures appearing on it) was!! So, we took solace that while we weren't there, our paper was.
Norman, Rich and I discussed the Paper from time-to-time -- usually in the context of "have you heard anything further from Kathy or Jerry?" None of us haD. As what is now The Jewish Federations of North America progressed toward its Winter Meetings in Dallas last January, I, for one, had lost hope that the "Issues" we raised would be considered let alone prioritized. We framed these issues with the hopes that they would be treated "...with a sense of urgency and closure."
Then, on February 8, Jerry and Kathy organized a call among the five of us. It was much appreciated. Certainly, we learned that much is happening within JFNA, almost all of which is flowing forth from the professional efforts of Jerry and his staff. Lay leadership appears to be relegated, willingly, to the sidelines -- consulting, perhaps, but far from leading. While a lot was happening, little of that seemed to be responsive to the questions we raised.
As we wrote: The challenge facing the leadership of UJC and the Federation system today is to look forward. It is to envision the day, in the year 2020, when the Jewish communal leadership will look back on the preceding decade. What will they see? How will they have gotten there? Who will be at the table? We continued: The time to face the issues that will bear upon this challenge is now. The Board Chair has stated time and again that she wishes to look forward; so did and do we.
De l'audace, encore de l'audace, et toujours l'audace.