For the past 15 years, since the United Jewish Appeal initiated the program through this month, high potential donors with little or no knowledge of the federation system have gathered, generally in Aspen, to frolic, party and listen to presentations on philanthropy that have little or nothing to do with the federation system. Since I was there at UJA at Breishit of the Jewish Leadership Forum, I have been urging the JLF leadership (which somehow is allowed to consider itself outside of the JFNA even if the annual party/event is "sponsored by" JFNA) to sit down and ask themselves what outcomes they believe would be appropriate -- their responses have been ignorance (of what I'm even suggesting) or anger or both. So why stop now?
This year's party will be held August 1-3 at The Stein Erickson Lodge, Park City -- away from Aspen. JFNA identifies the attendees as "emerging Jewish leaders." I have learned that "emerging" has been defined as "arising from obscurity" -- thus, JFNA's announcement seems perfectly patronizing or, maybe, perfectly pandering. A JLF Co-Chair is quoted as saying that "JLF brings like-minded Jewish philanthropists together;" another case of hyperbole gone wild. Maybe...maybe...had the quote been "like-minded future philanthropists," it would resonate in some reality. Then, again, maybe the quoted Co-Chair had yet to be apprised of the intended JLF audience when words were put in his mouth.
Jerry will speak, of course, but not about our system -- he will address "partnering with your philanthropy" (which should, actually, now that I think about the theme be about our system except he is being joined by two prominent San Francisco-based philanthropists, the Leytes.) Otherwise, the program features Jeffrey Solomon just about everywhere. Jeffrey is terrific, brilliant, funny, cynical, insightful -- but I believe that Jeffrey understands that he is often the bete noir of the federations. He will be speaking on "strategic philanthropy," moderating a Panel asking "well known philanthropists" "what is your Philanthropic inspiration?" (at least it's not "what's your #ish"), and publicly discuss with Chicago's terrific Senior V-P, Jay Tcath, "Collective Giving in an Age of Individual Philanthropists" (I won't even get into a debate on these pages of the presumptions underlying the topic title.)
There will be Israeli philanthropists present and JAFI's past SVP Development, now with World ORT, who attended all (or most) of the prior annual events in silence will this time speak as well. From the pages of Jerry's Contacts, you will hear from the "incredible innovators, Elisa Bildner (psst,whose philanthropy focuses on Jewish camping) and Nancy Lublin, founder of Dress for Success who will share with us their motivations for their work." Note that while World ORT's new FRD lead professional will speak, my recollection is that in his at least a decade of attendance at the JLF while leading JAFI's Development effort, he was never given the opportunity to present. And so it continues -- neither JAFI nor JDC has any presence on the JLF Agenda. So does JFNA deal with its "partners," let alone its owners.
Oh, there will also be opportunities to "[W]atch or participate in Olympic-style events at Olympic Park, horseback ride, mountain bike, river raft, hike and, of course, eat. Yes, great fun will be had by all...but this is an event BY INVITATION ONLY.
There have been successes arising from the 15 years of JLF -- some federations have formed groups of high potential young men and women; some major communal projects have been funded by participants; a few of the participants have become federation volunteers and achieved senior positions. But neither UJA nor JFNA has chosen to monitor the participants ("too intrusive") or to suggest outcomes ("too institutional") so the JLF mainly goes from year-to-year as an annual event without a plan or follow-up other than to schedule and plan the next year's event -- and graduate the participants to "emerging leader" status. After all, it's always a nice few days in the mountains in Summer.
So, how about this? Reconvene the JLF Founders with this year's Co-Chairs and JFNA Staff and develop an actual written plan for the JLF going forward with suggested outcomes. Is that too much to ask? Merely calling the registrants "up and coming figures in the Jewish philanthropic world" hardly makes it so.