Sunday, July 4, 2010


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?



paul jeser said...

Why would top-level lay leaders (as in the past) want to be involved in the JFNA or in the FED movement?

C.Bronfman set the new model during the time of the merger and when he was the UJC Chair by building his own foundation and hiring top professionals....

Right/wrong, good/bad - we live in different itmes and the old model just doesn't work anymore.

RWEX said...

Dear Paul,

Sorry, my friend, but "the rumors of the demise" of the federation system are very premature. We will devote an upcoming Post to this subject.

Let's start with your mistaken assertion that Charles Bronfman began The Andrea and Charles Bronfman Foundation during his term as Chair of then UJC -- it was begun years before. The Foundation's engagement of Jeffrey Solomon as Foundation President also took place before UJC's birth -- in fact Jeff was the vital consultant to the merger effort.

paul jeser said...

The FED system, as we KNEW it to be, has already 'died' - your posts (especially this one) prove it.

I did not assert any timing in terms of when the CRB Foundation began - I asserted that C.Bronfman set a new model by having a Fndtn that he gave more $ to than his gift to the FED, and by hiring a top pro AWAY from the FED.

RWEX said...

More on this subject in a Post soon. You will surely want to debate my conclusions there, Paul. As to CRB, what you wrote initially speaks for itself.

Anonymous said...

Dick- Chicago voted for the budget at every opportunity -- and you did not vote no or abstain on the Board vote -- hypocrisy?

RWEX said...

Dear Anonymous,

"Hypocrisy" is defined as " believe what one does not." As I set forth what I believe in each Post I write, I doubt if "hypocrite" applies. I have written -- my community has consistently called for full funding of JFNA's needs as I have consistently argued for a responsible and responsive Budget proces. Unlike JFNA's leaders, my Federation does not squelch dissent.

And, while I apprciate your research, it is faulty. I believe that I serve on JFNA's Board in an ex officio capacity. I have no vote (although my "votes" appear on the pages of this Blog).

For a better example of hypocrisy, my friend, look at those who, for example, state at Committee and governance meetings that "this was the best Budget process that I have ever seen" when they know that to be untrue. Were you to have said that, would that make you a "hypocrite" (unless you really believe that, in which case that would make you ...ridiculous)?

joebrown42 said...

In other words, there is no real accountability?

Anonymous said...

An ex officio member is a member of a body (a board, committee, council, etc.) who is part of it by virtue of holding another office. The term is Latin, meaning literally "from the office", and the sense intended is "by right of office"; its use dates back to the Roman Republic.

A common misconception is that the participatory rights of ex officio members are limited by their status. This is incorrect, although their rights may be indeed limited by the by-laws of a particular body. Robert's Rules of Order, Newly Revised (10th ed.), clarifies that the term denotes only how one becomes a member of a group, not what one's rights are. It is a method of sitting on a committee, not a class of membership. Frequently, ex officio members will abstain from voting, but unless by-laws constrain their rights, they are afforded the same rights as other members, including debate, making formal motions, and voting.

Anonymous said...


Now they're in for it! Of course, the By-Laws could trump Robert's Rules.