Tuesday, November 16, 2010


There is a building cancer tracking its way through the federation system -- and 25 Broadway seems to be unaware -- I can't believe that if the JFNA leaders knew they would be doing nothing. There is the old story of a coach challenging a bad football player: "What is with you? Ignorance or apathy?" To which the player replied: "Coach, I don't know and I don't care." That's about where we are today.

We have written about the Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando and the extremity of the crisis it faces to remain relevant and alive. As we have observed, more than once, sadly, Orlando is not alone -- not by a long shot. One of the most major federations on our Continent lost its Chief Professional Officer and, now, after months of futility in its search for a replacement, has shut down or put its Search Process on the backburner, brought a retired former CEO back as a "consultant" and has watched its FRD drop and drop again. Another of the largest federations in the East is hiding its FRD failures behind the facade of reallocation, replanning and "repurposing" under the rubric that it is "refocusing its mission." We have reported on the crisis in many of our communities. And on it goes.

One of the terrific thought leaders in our system, has concluded: "...the biggest hurdle at all of the national organizations...is simple and straightforward: there is minimal perspective on life on the ground in local communities...Jewish life occurs in local communities, not in New York, DC, etc.. My friends...working at national organizations don't get that. They think it's all about them." I continue to meet with local communal leaders across the country. To a person they are so appreciative of, e.g., Jerry's visits but, almost to a person, they don't believe that their message is getting through because beyond Jerry, other than through a thin veneer of excellent professionals, lies a great and terrible vast void. And a lay leadership in touch only with the belief that "...it's all about them" and "only about JFNA."

Evidence? Abundant. Just read the Federation Members Dues Resolution adopted at the GA this week with but a single set of questions. Even prior to the GA a supplemental "explanation" was offered of its purpose from the CEO (one that omitted many...many...of the modifications to the Dues Resolution), there was no disclosure...none...of why the changes to the consequences of non-payment or under-payment of Dues are necessary. The Financial Relations Committee, when operating under the original Dues Resolution, always believed that embodied in the concept of "hardship" was the ability to waive Dues for a federation in extremis; so Jerry's explanation failed the critical test of transparency. (This is what happens when institutional history is discarded like stale bread.) Why not disclose the number of federations which as of this date have not paid Dues or executed "payment plans" -- even country clubs do that, but not JFNA. No transparency, no trust. Near the end of the USSR even that dictatorship moved toward glasnost -- openness -- can't we expect some glasnost from the organization we own?

In addition, JFNA is standing idly by while multiple federations have reacted to the horrific impact of the deep recession on federation fund raising by terminating their chief professional officers and severely reducing federation staff -- as if, in the words of one of my great professional partners, you can save yourself into prosperity. It just doesn't happen that way. Often the lay leaders taking these Draconian steps have little if any knowledge of or appreciation for the lay professional partnership that has always...always...propelled our federation system forward. If we had a JFNA capable of impacting on federations, if there were a JFNA with the institutional history and a command of the subject matter, federation lay leaders might have options to consider with their professionals.
And, of course, there was no public discussion of any of this at the GA.

We have lost our way. There is the malaise of indifference lying like a thick fog over JFNA. Jerry Silverman can only do so much; our indifference will destroy the system we've built. Certainly the current JFNA lay leadership "cares:" its what it cares about that is bringing JFNA down.



Anonymous said...


After reading this post and Jacob Berkman's recap of the GA, it seems that we are living in an age where many federation leaders are in the category of "don't know."

Barry Shrage, who is by no means an intellectual slouch, said, “ Nobody knows exactly what to do with it [in regrads as to the decline in the number of donors to the system and the seeming lack of interest of those under 40]. It is not related to the recession. It's not related to the quality of the federation.” The last statement is the most concerning to me.

If it's not the recession, this decline in donors has been going on for well over a decade, then there has to be something else. We can look aroud the Jewish community and see that there is more Jewish philanthropy happening with more organizations popping up every year, so I don't think that the federations' donor declines come from a lack of Jewish interest. So what is it?

Elementary, my dear Wexler! Federations haven't changed much in decades, besides raising less money from fewer donors now. This is not because federations are less relevant in the needs that they are addressing, in fact the economic crisis has shown that federations have the opportunity to address major community issues at the macro level. The quality with which federations are communicating what they do, what the communal needs are, and creating the opportunities for meaningful engagement of younger community members is the problem.

If federations want to recapture their importance, they need to change how they do business and not wait for opinions to change on their own. It will take real listening, not creating large programs with significant dollars that don't have young leaders input in their development. If that happens, it will be good money going after bad and another strike against the federation movement.

paul jeser said...

The decline in donors proves my point. Donors do not want to give to a 'general' campaign. Right or wrong, good or bad, this is a fact of today's life.

If the Feds do not wake up to this fact they will become completely irrelevant and start to disappear.

There needs, however, to be a community Federation, but as I have been preaching, ad-nauseam, with a totally different set of responsibilities.

Maybe, some day, Fed leaders will wake up and start looking at my - or some other - plan and seriously and significantly reinvent a most needed institution.

My vision: http://ujtheeandme.blogspot.com/2010/07/federations-are-deadthe-jeser-approach.html

RWEX said...

Sorry, Paul, but I strongly disagree. You grab at "facts" to support your thesis but ignore the reality that federations are producing $2 billion in resources annually, including a $900 million annual campaign to assist those of our people most in need. Th e"facts" speak not to the end of federations or our system but to the need for strengthening it, redefining it and reaching out in new ways.

Your "vision" needs to be revisited...by you.

paul jeser said...

Obviously, we disagree, however, unless I am missing something I do not see any REAL discussion on how the Feds can reestablish themselves as needed.

I have never said my 'vision' was the only way. In fact, in the paper I say that there are probably other possibilities. I'd love to see some other ideas other than just trying to fix the status quo - something that can not be fixed.

The problems with the JFNA stem from, at least as I see it, the weakness of the Fed movement in attracting and developing leaders - and professionals - who can make the changes needed.

RWEX said...


Here we definitely agree.

joebrown42 said...

"The problems with the JFNA stem from, at least as I see it, the weakness of the Fed movement in attracting and developing leaders - and professionals - who can make the changes needed."

The real problem is that the leaders of JFNA do not see any real threat to their situation if they do not change, but see a real change without promised value if they do change. :( Sadly, I agree.

RWEX said...

Hey, JB42,

Might you have meant "...see a real threat without..." in your closing sentence? :)