Friday, January 21, 2011


"Dereliction" -- the shameful failure to fulfill one's obligations.

Here's the scorecard: Federation CEOs with significant experience have left their positions in the last months in South Palm Beach, Atlanta, Phoenix and Northern New Jersey. We know that similar unsettling changes are in the works or have already been announced in a number of other communities. And even with multiple programs to focus on training the best and brightest in our system, including the now defunct JFNA/Mandel Executive Development Program in which so much hope and so many dollars were invested in vain (you remember the EDP, with no positive placements, so many "graduates" who have left the system and the cadre of JFNA professional leaders who have departed JFNA as well), the federations have failed to produce a sufficient number of credible candidates to fill the existing openings let alone the many more that are coming down the pike.
Is there blame here? Of course. First, other than in Baltimore (and, recently, as an outgrowth of a bizarre circumstance, Boston), I am not aware of a single Large City or Large Intermediate federation that has engaged in thoughtful long term CEO succession planning. This is a lay failure to be sure but, even more so, a professional failure. Sitting CEOs appear to have been and be either oblivious or uncaring that they have not established a succession plan. Certainly there are those who believe that creating and implementing a viable succession plan will render their sitting CEO a "lame duck;" yet, the incredibly successful Baltimore Friedman/Terrill succession refutes that concern. Others believe that to put in place a successor may create two significant salaries at the top of the professional pyramid -- salaries that in the aggregate they can't currently afford. Yet, for even the most successful federation CEO, the void they will leave behind will be part of their legacy. With Mandel, the Fisher-Bernstein Institute, and others dedicated to training new leaders, we always seem to be relying on someone else to do the work that we should be doing.

JFNA should be ashamed of its sad record in the engagement and training of the future federation chief professional officers. This both has nothing to do with and so much to say about the hiring of Jerry Silverman. Setting aside Jerry's talents and his "quick study" reputation, it's an over-simplification to conclude that the federations' national organization should set the example of promoting the best and brightest from in the system to the CEO position for the system. With the Executive Development Program in JFNA's rear view mirror, the fact is clear: our national organization has abandoned the training, education and recruitment of CEOs for the federation system -- raising the question: what does JFNA do for the system in this most vital of areas? In fact, probably because in large measure those who support JFNA needs the most might object, the issue remains verboten. If you expect lay leaders to intervene and show some leadership here-- you have the wrong JFNA.

I join those who believe that federation CEOs who work 24/7 on building community and in many instances holding our communities together, deserve to be compensated in a manner befitting a corporate executive of similarly-sized for-profit companies -- but not more. I also subscribe to the Jewish Funders Network's Marc Charendoff recent advisory -- that chief professional officers of major Jewish non-profits subscribe to realistic "term limits" (even extended ones) thereby, among other things, reducing the possibility that the organizations they lead be confused with them. (Ironically, it appears that the only one to take Charendoff's advice was...Charendoff.) Yet, there is inherent conflict in these two presumptions -- the higher the compensation, the less likely term limits would apply; and the evolving, transient lay leadership become more and more tied to the chief professional officers they rely upon more and more.

Ultimately, matters come full circle -- the field has become more and more limited -- well-trained future federation CEOs, steeped in federation life, with a full understanding of the values inherent in communal work and in the lay-professional partnership become fewer and fewer. The jobs have become more and more difficult. And, therefore, when CEOs leave, for whatever the reason, there is a void too often leading federation lay leaders to turn outside the system (often to excellent professionals), or to snap up another community's CEO without regard for the actual "record" of the professional they turn to in the community he or she is leaving -- relying on CVs that are no more than puff pieces and an interview or two can prove devastating, too often with negative results for the impacted community's present and future.

When the then UJC embraced the Mandel Executive Program, it was with great fanfare and a significant multi-year financial commitment. Terrific JFNA professionals were assigned to lead the Program, and many young federation professionals with great potential were chosen to populate its first two classes even as the process was politicized and corrupted in a "where's mine" way by a number of funding federations. Within two years the Program's professional leaders had left JFNA, far more members of the first two (ultimately the only two) "classes" had left federation professional work than were still part of it, and the Program was in total shambles and abandoned. Essentially, JFNA had left the building and, thereby, walked away from one of the main reasons for its being.

In the federated communities, the issue became more complicated. A constant turnover in lay leadership resulted, in too many places, in the succession of good men and women who wanted only the best for their communities but lacked the skill set to accomplish their own goals for their communities even when well-planned. JFNA neither understood the problem nor asked if one existed. In so many places the lay leaders feel emasculated by a sense that their predecessors, or even themselves, have allowed their professionals to "take over," to dominate -- that the equilibrium in the lay-professional partnership that is at the bedrock of federation life has been rent asunder. And, with no help from the national organization, where at JFNA there are neither the lay nor professional leaders with the skills to intervene if asked or even to know what questions to ask, too many communities have attempted to "right the balance" on ther own and have thrown their communities into greater and greater chaos.

And what could JFNA have done, what could it do? First, were it capable, it could convene seminars for federation lay chairs and boards -- something that CJF and the then UJC used to do at a minimal level but has since (as in so many things) abandoned. It could convene programs on the lay-professional partnership bringing together chief professional officers with the chief volunteer leadership at City-size levels. It could try to revive a well-staffed Mandel Program but with a critical difference -- one where participants would be recruited from the communal professional cadre without regard to how much a given federation contributed to the cost of the program. But JFNA is doing none of that and less. It is as if professional development and equally critical professional advancement are not part and parcel of the same crisis.

Real leaders at this crisis point would assert their proper roles and insist that these are matters that require at least discussion even if JFNA lacks the ability to direct. Yep. real leaders would. But it's so much easier to ish and much easier. Maybe we could rebrand this process.. isn't that what we do?

"Dereliction" -- the shameful failure to fulfill one's obligations.



paul jeser said...

Further proof that the merger was doomed for failure from day one.

One organization can not do what both the UJA and the CJF did. Apples and oranges.

The disaster in the Jewish Communal Service field certainly would not have been so with a continued strong CJF.

Anonymous said...

It is incorrect to blame the merger for all failures of JFNA. Some mergers work well if all of the partners have a common goal and an agreed upon "road map" as to how to get there. JFNA's failure was to agree upon the objectives a nd then to implement a path to get to those objectives. Executive training and placement was not a priority of the merged organization (the Mandel project may have focused on training but placement was never addressed. There was never lay leadership buy in that the participants were on an upward path. From the federations perspective it was always a me first attitude and not an attitude of what was best for the system.

Many of the other failures of JFNA often attirbuted to "the merger was a failure" are symptoms of the same problems and lack of mutual agreement and unified focus.

Anonymous said...

JFNA has failed miserably with CEO transitions...many more will be coming with communities thinking people outside the system are better than those inside. It is a flawed reaction and has proven unsuccessful in almost every case to date (I know that San Francisco looked at Mandel graduates, but chose to select someone from the outside -- and that lasted 14 months). Name more than one successful CEO (who has lasted beyond a three-year period) who has come from outside the field.

I was a member of the Mandel group and have watched my colleagues leave Federation. I have seen others be "sold a bill of goods" as JFNA encourages people to go to new communities. I believe right now only one member of our group is a current CEO (I hear only great things)...yet I wonder how many others even have that inclination. Plus, as a woman, I get the calls all the time that make me feel like my gender is more important than my interests or JFNA just filling an opening and being able to send out an email.

They system is flawed...the system is non-helpful...and the system does not know how to push forward with a cadre of Jewish communal professionals.

Anonymous said...

When I retired from the field I vowed that I would never say "in my day..." However, this posting has led me to make the following observation, the latter part of which is I admit "hearsay". (However second hand information often begs clarification):

Under the past leadership and supreme dedication of both Jay Yoskowitz z"l and Joel Daner z"l (and other worthy professionals who preceeded them at CJF) the role of our national agency was both to ensure the long term interests of the community and the right next placement of professionals. So important was this function that senior management, going back to Bob Hiller, Carmi Swartz (and Darrel Friedman and Bernie Olshansky as associate execs) took hands on interest.

I am told that the current model, in keeping with the mindset and approach of professional headhunters, sees only the desires of the ad hoc community search committee as client.

In addition, my sources report, more than one Federation pro has been told by UJC-JFNA that, although JFNA is heading the search, their client is really not looking for an "insider". Very sad.

Please forgive the ramblings of this "alter".

Anonymous said...

While you don't seem to like Howard Rieger very much, he did prepare for his own transition from the Pittsburgh Federation. Shep Englander and Jeff Finkelstein were brought in to the staff. Shep has moved to the Cincy Federation as its CEO and Jeff is in Pittsburgh as its CEO. Both Federations seem to be doing well.

RWEX said...


I have always sfelt that Howard Rieger was an excellent federation CEO.

RWEX said...


I am afraid I can't publish your Comment on D.C. because it may be defammatory -- but I want you to know that I agree with your conclusions 100%.

RWEX said...

Dear elaygee.

You understand the reasons that I cannot print your Comment with regard to SPB. If not, see immediately above.