As I listen at JFNA Board Meetings, as I have written often, we watch a group of federation leaders behave like marionettes, nodding up and down, with debate controlled by either what passes for leadership or a small group of federation CEOs. I have spoken to federation boards about fiduciary responsibilities -- it strikes me that no one seems to have spoken to JFNA Board members about theirs. Once again eJewish Philanthropy has provided valuable insights in its reprint (July 1, 2010) of David Simms Harvard Business Review article -- A Nonprofit Board or a Group of Dead Fish?
A couple of Simms insights should suffice:
"During a conference I attended last month...one of the CEO participants described (his) non-profit board...as 'an aquarium of dead fish'"
"What some board members tell me, when pushed, is that they tolerate things on a nonprofit board that they wouldn't stand for in their day jobs. The boards don't ensure that the organization has a sound strategy, they tolerate mediocrity in management, they don't hold the organization accountable for results, and they don't ensure that resources are adequate to accomplish goals..."
Then, Simms prescribes some cures -- "leadership...a great diversity of experiences...board members do their homework before the board meetings" -- none of which are found at JFNA.
One far more perceptive than I recently observed that "democracy demands wisdom." Finding that the JFNA Board is made up of very wise people in the main, I would amend the dictum -- democracy demands wisdom and the willingness to use it.
When I hear "leaders" who have failed to question a single entry on a vague $30.3 million budget but do commend the "process" as "the best I have ever experienced," I know a dead fish when I see or hear or smell one. When I see those who do question excluded from leadership roles or when one person writes me confidentially to tell me that she "fears" speaking out because she "will be excluded from leadership," I understand that this leadership likes/loves more than anything but self-promotion the aquarium of dead fish that, if they didn't create it, they have perpetuated it.
More on the "curse of the sycophants" in future Posts