After a Jewish Federation Overall Planning and Allocations (Budget) Committee meeting last month, I took the Federation Budget materials back to my office to compare the budget data we in Chicago examine with JFNA's Budget. I have long failed to comprehend why the JFNA Budget process has deteriorated into nothing more than a rubber stamp from the days of vigorous debate and full lay participation -- even as sycophantic JFNA lay leaders blindly praise the national "process" -- essentially a four hour meeting taken up almost entirely by professionals' presentations and a vote. In fact, the JFNA Budget, to my sorrow, reads, as A.O. Scott described a recent film in The New York Times, as if: "...slapped together with the meticulous care of a high school yearbook staff...on deadline."
I started with an examination of what was: at the United Jewish Appeal, the Budget process began with professionals operating within lay-driven guidelines (as does JFNA's) then proceeded through review by the lay constituencies and Committees (as JFNA's does not), culminating in a two day meeting where the administrative and program budgets were presented by the lay Committee and constituency Chairs and lead professionals vigorously debated by a federation populated Lay Committee. And when I write "debated" I mean real uninhibited discussion, tough choices and priority-setting -- final results were never dictated by the professionals. We left those meetings exhausted but satisfied that our final product was one we could present and defend to the UJA Board and to our owners.
In Chicago and probably at your federation, there is a rigorous budget process. Here in my Federation, the programmatic and office Budgets in every area arise out of a Commission process -- one where lay leaders meet with beneficiaries and prioritize programs based upon needs and income projections. The Commissions are populated with federation and community leaders staffed with the best and brightest professionals. Our Budget Committee has the opportunity (which JFNA denies) to review allocations on a program-by-program and line-by-line basis. We examine Federation's estimated income from all sources. We make our recommendations to the Federation Board fully informed.
Yet, at JFNA Budget, Executive and Board, members are willing to ignore proper process and authorize the expenditure of $30.3 million of our money without demanding any...any...revenue analysis and without much in the way of attribution of dollars to programs. Amazingly, the JFNA 2011 Budget Book contains 57 pages...that's 57 pages, my friends...of Program narrative without an assignment of dollar one to any of them. And, at the Budget meeting...nary a question?!? Forget what we do in Chicago, or how you budget in your community, this is nothing more than ignorance of fiduciary duty.
The fact that JFNA plans to operate 57...that's 57...pages of Program is astounding enough -- and speaks more vividly to a horrible lack of focus than anything else -- but couple that with a lack of questions at the Budget and Finance Committee, a lack of questions at the JFNA Executive Committee or Board, suggests that no one cares how our money is spent. And, the lack of any...any...attributable Program costs in the Budget except in a very narrow set of circumstances suggests to this writer that JFNA's leaders treat your, our, Dues as fungible and treat you as imbeciles.
I have no doubt that ultimately it will be irresponsible budgeting (it didn't start at JFNA this year), a lack of focus and a lack of caring will ultimately be the nails in JFNA's coffin. And who will get blamed? You, me?