As I drove to O'Hare, as readers might imagine, I was filled with an anticipatory cynicism. My usual state. I had read the program in advance and anticipated a scripted performance, tightly controlled by JFNA Marketing rather than Development. I was wrong. I saw many old friends, professional and lay, some of whom greeted me with the warmth that I shared with them. Others, as one might expect, avoided me like the plague. Jerry Silverman was warm in his embrace even as he chided me over a recent Post -- "it was completely inaccurate." I await the details of my errors.
The national lay Development Chair, Michael Lebovitz, is a terrific guy; he and his family are wonderful, generous leaders. Michael is a gentleman and a gentle man...he is one of the few in national lay leadership willing to travel and willing to share the microphone -- he asked Chicago's Rob Mann to Chair this Kick-Off. Jerry gave an upbeat and passionate message of both greeting and JFNA's challenge to be a collaborative partner. It was an excellent "scene setter." He was followed by brief and moving presentations by Jewish Agency International Development CEO, Misha Galperin, and JDC CEO, Steve Schwager, which were themselves followed by insightful questions and answers to them, moderated by Michael. When JAFI and the Joint work together, they play some beautiful music. An excellent session.
Baltimore's Linda Hurwitz, JFNA's National Women's Philanthropy Chair, presented the 2011 "Case for Giving" and then the group broke into "Idea Sharing Sessions." A lengthy session of "Solicitation Training" ended the day. That session, led by marketing expert, Jason Chudnofsky, a "FOJ," Friend of Jerry's, who donated his time to these Kick Offs, might have been led by any number of Chicagoans, whose Major Gift face to face solicitation efforts have proved to be incredibly successful. But, as you know, an "expert is someone from out of town." Make that an "expert from out of town with a 50 slide power point."
The only...only...negative to these Regional Kick-Offs is the apparent lack of interest in them displayed by the absence of the Board Chair and Chair of the Executive from all of them. Yet, now that I think about it, maybe that's a positive.
At the end of the day, it is a positive that JFNA has reintroduced a "best practice" of days gone by (teaming the Kick-Off in two venues, Orlando and L.A., with the professional I-LEAD program). I recall Regional meetings of CJF and, more often, UJA as exciting lay-professional meetings filled with enthusiasm, with active lay and professional participation and attendance. There was so much of that evident here in Chicago. If JFNA is to succeed, events like these may lead the organization to that Promised Land.Kal ha'kavod to all.