Friday, December 10, 2010


An article in the New York Times on Sunday, November 28 -- New Jersey's Tiniest Towns Fight Push to Merge -- reminded me that for the federation system, the proliferation of federations in New Jersey, has been a matter of concern to federation leaders across that State -- and JFNA can (or could) usually be found somewhere in the corner of the room when federations have met to discuss the merger issue. By my count, there are 11 federations in New Jersey of varying sizes. There has been at least one merger in the past decade -- Northern New Jersey and Bergen County -- and "discussions" between Metro West and Clifton-Passaic -- and that's it. Does JFNA lack the professional capacity and expertise to offer guidance? (What do we spend $30.3 million on again?)

The NYT article pointed out: "To avoid duplication and waste, consolidation with neighbors is encouraged." For federations this seems self-evident, particularly in a time of significant reduced resources. I recall the effort that was made in JFNA's early years by excellent professionals working side-by-side with lay leaders (I among them) in the effort to achieve a successful merger of the Broward and Hollywood Federations as both those communities saw their annual campaigns sliding away. With a great local leader, Herb Katz, z'l, JFNA helped the communities accomplish the merger -- one where the emerging Broward Federation, still struggling under massive debt and a horrific real estate economy along with some bad choices since the merger, continues to struggle for success. In Northern New Jersey, the merger is also struggling for a common culture and a strong campaign, and its founding CEO has resigned.

In the midst of a multi-federation environment in New Jersey, one finds two outstanding, strong community builders in CEOs Max Kleinman in MetroWest, and Stanley Stone in Central New Jersey. (There may be more, I just don't know them).

Then there is Connecticut with nine federations. As I understood it some if not all of the Connecticut federations engaged a consultant to review the potential of merger, the benefits and costs. I seem to recall that this was a federation initiative -- one to which JFNA was an invitee but neither a convener nor an active participant. More's the pity.

One just has to ask whether JFNA should have a role as convener, as catalyst, in situations where merger or functional consolidation could effect positive change. And if the answer was "yes," could JFNA execute the assignment? The answer so far is, as in so many things, "no."



Anonymous said...

And then there is Florida. Pinellas county is 3 miles from Tampa. both of which are about 40 miles from Sarasota in the southern end of Tampa Bay. There are probably 50k - 60k Jews in the Tampa Bay area. Three separate federations with probably the only one that is stong (very liberally defined) is Sarasota. At least they raise a couple of million $, but even they had to close their JCC because of lack of support and funds and their day school survives because of a large influx of non-Jews.

Naples and Ft. Myers are about 25 miles apart with more than 10k Jews. Neither raises $1 million. They do share some services yet two separate federations.

As to Broward (formerly Hollywood and Ft. Lauderdale as separate federations) before the merger they each raised well over $6 million. After the merger they raised about $6 million together and today they will be lucky if in 2010 they break $4.5 million from 250k Jews ($22 per person?). Furthermore there are hundreds of residents of Broward County that avail themselves of the services - day schools, JCC, etc in Boca Raton, yet another federation, because Broward can't service them very easily. My guess is that none of these people contribute to the Boca campaign which means that their use of services is subsidized by the Boca annual campaign which itself is down by 30-40% from its peak. Both federations have experienced huge layoffs in the past two years.

Anonymous said...

I'm not going disagree with you or Anonymous about the number of federations, their overlap and duplication of services, etc. With all of that being said, megers aren't easy...take UJA, UIA, CJF into UJC.

At heart, these are local issues. Staff have to deal with the potential of losing their jobs, lay leaders may lose their position or see their influence diminished as other leaders enter the conversation, and different cultures may need to meld. A few years ago there were some that suggested a merger of JDC ane JAFI, which I think would have been a disaster on so many levels.

JFNA doesn't own the federations, though I'm sure some leaders imagine they do. At minimum they can be observers invited to the table and if they are asked they can be mediators (thought I doubt their ability in this regards) that is the most JFNA can do. All politics is local, and this is no different.

Anonymous said...

To the 2nd Anonymous - JFNA can do much more. They can set a tone of support. Years ago, before the merger of CJF and UJA, they convened groups of volunteers and assigned professionals who understood many of these issues and assisted communities in strategic planning and in many ways helped strengthen and support federations BEFORE they fell off the cliff. You are right JFNA does not own the federations, it is the other way around. That, too, is part of the problem. federations are not taking ownership and guiding JFNA on a path that is beneficial to the system (and at the same time other weaker federattions.) Most federations are exercising their ownership based on what is best for them as individual communities, not as a collective. JFNA naturally is pleased to go right along with their wishes. JFNA should not have to be invited to the table. If they see a problem, which they won't because they can't look outward, only inward, they should have staff with the skills to be able to jump in and offer a variety of support and outside expertise.

LisaB said...

This is more evidence that the current Federation system needs revision.
The Jewish community used to be located in small, tight immigrant communities where people knew each other, that was the foundation of the Federation- community fundraising.
Now the Jewish community is far more spread out, both in nature and geographically. The community itself isn't what it used to be. The communal fundraising system is faltering due to the fact that people are being asked by strangers (not their peers) to contribute to a community that they don't feel a part of. It is the same issue being faced with the younger generation.

Perhaps one way to handle it may be to have fewer main Federation offices (based in JCC's for efficiency) that support home based or small satellite offices of single or dual professionals in key geographies. There is no question that something has to change.

In NJ funnily enough, it is the two more cohesive federations which are looking at sharing - Metrowest and Central. Even though they have very dynamic leaders, both professional and lay, they are still suffering as the older, more generous donors die off. They are also in a unique geographical position of being based along the NJ "train towns" which house high numbers of high worth individuals. Even so, they are less than ideal in terms of bringing in the newer generation.

paul jeser said...

LisaB wites..."The communal fundraising system is faltering due to the fact that people are being asked by strangers (not their peers) to contribute to a community that they don't feel a part of."

I disagree: The Fed system is faltering because there are less leaders and donors involved, mainly because donors do not want to give to 'communal' funds. The concept of a communal fund where allocations are made by 'others' (not the donors themselves) is no longer viable.