Sunday, January 30, 2011
In the "new" Russia, trials of those out of favor with the Government raise serious questions about that nation's democratic processes. As our State Department said: "We remain concerned by the allegations of serious due process violations, and what appears to be an abusive use of the legal system for improper ends." While in Israel, President Shimon Peres, commenting on the Katsav conviction, observed that in Israel "all are equal before the law."
Then, earlier this month the National Conference on Soviet Jewry reported on the case of Arkady Gontmakher, "an American Jewish businessman of Ukrainian descent," who was finally before a Russian court "...after 39 months of pre-trial detention." Accused of involvement in a criminal ring involved in illegal poaching of king crab, the Bellevue, Washington business man, surprisingly, was found to be innocent. Was he allowed to rejoin his family and receive treatment for a life-threatening heart condition? No. He "...was leaving the courthouse (when) local authorities attempted to rearrest him on the same charges." He has been prevented from leaving the country. Justice, Russian style.
In a Forward article on the Khodorovsky "trial," Mark Levin, the chief professional officer of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry, concluded: "Jews thrive in open and free societies and have greater opportunities to thrive. When we look at Russia today, we do have some concerns. Can the current atmosphere be sustained under current conditions? How will the the Russian government deal with what has been a large increase in xenophobia and ultra-nationalism? All this will go a long way to determining the future of the Jewish community." If the Jewish future in Russia is in any way in jeopardy, this is our concern -- and, therefor, the concern of the Jewish Agency, our agent. Is it?
Contrast and compare.
Friday, January 28, 2011
I have always felt that one of best measures of the success of Federation CEOs is the quality of the staff the CEO has built. Jeff Klein, like Chicago's Steve Nasatir, has constructed a spectacular senior professional team. I know that they are focused at rebuilding communal FRD after the disaster that was and is Madoff -- the catastrophic event that impacted Palm Beach as no other federation. Knowing Jeff, many on the Palm Beach staff and so many lay leaders there, this focus won't be lost in transition.
Another measure of professional success is the quality of a community's lay leadership. Jeff was blessed with a terrific line of strong, knowledgeable leadership -- Irwin Levy, Alan Shulman, Gene Ribacoff, z'l, Sandy Baklor, Arlene Kaufman and the current Chair, Mark Levy, come to mind -- good friends, great leaders. All leaders who would challenge the professional staff and who understand the lay-professional partnership.
Jeff Klein has been one who early on identified issues with regard to our national system. Often he was a lone voice for change, rebuffed by those who found comfort in the status quo. Jeff always expressed himself on matters related to the bigger picture. While we did not speak on the subject, I always felt that I would find common cause with Jeff on matters of common concern.
We have written before of the shallow talent pool in the federation field. Palm Beach would have had to stretch to find a successor if it were otherwise and the Federation will have real difficulty finding a successor to Jeff Klein because of the superlative leadership Jeff has provided when there is but a thin veneer of great professionals "out there." I have a suggestion: instead of a job description for the search process, I would suggest a single sheet of paper with two words on it: "Jeff Klein." Let Jeff's successor live up to that and the community will be so well-served..
My congratulations to Jeff, Carla and the Klein Family.
Thursday, January 27, 2011
~ The many blanks in the Tribefest schedule are filling in fast. Go to the link on the JFNA website and learn:
-- That the expected numbers are now down to "more than 1,000" from 1800
-- That this event has been reconceived as Jewlapalooza (I am claiming copyrght protection so that JFNA can't use this term next year) - with a "Main Stage" no less where acts of unknown popularity will perform interspersed with "messages" (the use of the word "Plenary" is so off-putting, you know?)
-- Now you can get a discounted registration and very low suite rates -- not low enough but I am an elderly person, what do I know
-- Strange but the "sponsors" are all beneficiaries of our system -- this may make sense in the case of MASA or Birthright as a recruiting tool but???
But, JFNA recently (and for the first time) distributed a rationale (clearly drafted after the fact) that explained in detail the goals of the Fest and how the Fest fits with an overall "strategy" for engaging "young adults." It's grandiose and self-aggrandizing but it is also thoughtful and planful. At one and the same time, if one believes the substance of JFNA's "plan," then Fest becomes a bait and switch -- we'll draw them in with promises of fun and Vegas and rock and roll and then we'll talk Jewish and expose the attendees to our system. We'll get them in the store with talk of Dockers and then we'll sell 'em Armani. Or was there sufficient criticism of Fest as originally conceived and promoted from within the system so as to force JFNA to wholly change its approach to one smacking of actual substance? Is the change in time? Can it work?
And, then there is Orange County, California where JewGlue and Birthright Israel Next are throwing Happy Hour @ The Auld Dubliner (Yiddish??) where word on the Tribefest will be spread among the attendees.
~ Now the Board Chair and CEO, it seems, take turns circulating under one's signature or the other something called the JFNA Daily Media Report. It's a fun read -- and has nothing of value, so far at least, relating the work of the JFNA with that of the federations. Wait...I am not being fair. There are a number of references to articles of interest to the federations but no analysis...none...of how these stories or reports relate to JFNA's work. Just an example: On the conversion issue, "Further fallout hits the religious community in Israel following a rabbinical decision to support conversions by the IDF" linking to an article and a JFNA backgrounder on the conversion controversy...but without any analysis of the "fallout," what this means with regard to the issue in Israel or in North America. I am certain JFNA will get to it...then again, maybe not. Or, here's another one: Joe Lieberman will not seek another term!!! Or, Sarah Palin referenced a "blood libel."
~ You know the loose use of the phrase "partner" by JFNA. Looks like we have another one. Among other programs for which JFNA sought funding from its endowment (most of the funds creating it were intended for the works of JAFI and the Joint, having been created by UJA donors) for a new "partnership" with the Jewish Funders Network. JFNA proponents were questioned as to how the federations would benefit from this funding of a JFN Research Project? No answer was forthcoming. The funding was approved.
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
"See this necklace?
(A reproduction of a large necklace appeared here)
In the United States, it could cost $400.
When you join us on the H2H2 mission, you could buy it at the Michal Negrin Factory for a fraction of that.
While you're there, you can also meet Michal Negrin, who is not only a talented jewelry designer but also a leading philanthropist who helps children worldwide.
Register today and meet Michal Negrin and other inspiring women like her on Heart to Heart 2: A Women's Mission to Israel, February 12-17."
Then, if you link to the H2H2 site you will read this: "Find new meaning to your Jewish values." Uh huh.
Monday, January 24, 2011
It's a nice, even noble cause. in a demonstration of real empathy, JFNA's leaders as always ignore history -- a history in which on at least two previous occasions, the Israeli Government announced that all Ethiopians with a Jewish history had been delivered to Israel and our system joined in closing the camps in Ethiopia. But still, claiming family reunification, more Ethiopians demand the right of aliya. Yet, JFNA is building its new fund raising effort upon the abject failure of its own Operation Promise a special campaign so confused and confusing from the outset that JFNA folded it in in part into the Israel Emergency Campaign to save it from total embarrassment. Operation Promise was premised on a $163 million fund raising goal for multiple purposes. The then Chair and CEO refused to prioritize within the $163 million and, as so often happens in such circumstances, the "goal keepers" competed with each other. Ask someone...anyone...at JFNA how much was raised. (The last numbers published by JFNA were as at 1/11/2005 -- $26 million raised and $1,706,000 transmitted. At that point, then UJC prepared a "Plan" that included suggesting to the "Top 40 communities" that they consider the sources for Operation Promise funding, including from overseas allocations.")
By December 2006 the then UJC unilaterally "shut down" Operation Promise leaving JAFI and JDC holding the bag. A few months earlier, in 2006, in a meeting with then Acting Prime Minister Olmert, the then UJC Board Chair "personally guaranteed" the federations' allocation of $9 million to rescue what was then represented as the "last remnant" of Ethiopian Jewry. We didn't raise that money; the "guarantee" was never called. As JFNA was then advised the additional cost to JAFI for this massive effort at Ethiopian aliyah was $21 million for one year, $61 million in total; you may guess how much was collected and transmitted by JFNA.
Yet, the failure of Operation Promise is not the point of this Post -- other than as a cautionary tale. For with all that federations are facing in rebuilding their campaigns, the questions arises, just where was this "campaign" discussed? How were the federations engaged? Sure, a small number of federations have been at the forefront in advocacy for the re-creation of an Ethiopian exodus, once again a final one, small in scope and, to these federations, critical in importance. Wouldn't it have been appropriate for those federations to jumpstart the funding of "Completing the Journey" disproportionate to other federations? And how were those federations approached by JFNA at the outset of this "special campaign?" I'm just guessing but how does: "not at all" sound?
So, if you know what the plan is for this Special Campaign is, please fill us in. If you know where the goal of $5.5 million over 3 years came from, what the budget is, what anything is for this "special campaign," fill us in...please. If you believe there is no plan beyond a mission and a couple of fine staff persons, cast your vote. As one of the Friends of the Blog observed: "I've seen this movie before --we all know the ending."
And so we have and do. From the Board Chair's announcement of the fund raising effort, one hears echoes of the woeful JFNA efforts that produced $630,000 on an original $8 million ask to relocate Yemeni Jews to Monsey, New York; the totally failed FRD call for the Israel Advocacy Initiative; the $5 million ask for the Israel Action Network to fight BDS the results of which have never been reported; and, of course, Operation Promise itself; among others. Fund raising, which we used to do so well as a national organization has become a travesty -- it's no longer Campaign, its no longer Development, its now the meaningless rebrand to Philanthropic Resources. And, now Philanthropic Resources will try to raise $5.5 million -- the Board Chair asserts that "[W]e will assist your federation in your fundraising efforts." With what, with whom, how? In 11 years JFNA direct "fund raising" has consisted of Yitzchak Shavit and, now, a little of Jerry Silverman and very, very little else. Further, Prime Minister Netanyahu has challenged the federation system to dramatically increase their already significant Birthright funding by positing Government assistance as a "challenge grant." Federation CEOs eyes must be spinning. JFNA offers no priority-setting assistance -- annual campaign, core allocations, Select Core Priorities, Birthright, Ethiopian aliyah, IAN, ENP, Monsey, IAI and, always, Dues -- the message "hey, we just throw these things out there, you the federations, sort them out." Friends, this is no way to run our national organization.
But, JFNA's proven inability to raise funds isn't the biggest issue here; neither is the lack of process within JFNA, now almost a given -- the biggest issue is that at a time of potential annual campaign momentum, JFNA inserts not support but a $5.5 million distraction. Each time it has done so over the past 6 years, it has fallen on its face -- but never with any accountability...and no transparency. Now, it has been federations at the forefront of the "bring them home movement," such as it is. We can't afford to fail; yet, we have no evidence of this organization's ability to motivate and drive success.
Can we afford to fail once again? One of my dear friends characterized this "ask" as a potential "rally killer" for the Annual Campaign. Oh, the Annual Campaign, for JFNA "not our problem."
Sunday, January 23, 2011
"Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "DERELICTION...AT SO MANY LEVELS":
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.
The 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."
To me it is all so sad. JFNA is tone deaf, it never hears a negative note, it only accepts "positive feedback," and it fails to ever learn. And...and...we, the federations, just continue to throw money -- about $500 million of our precious resources to date -- into what is the true black hole. No accountability, nothing.
We ought to be ashamed of ourselves.
Friday, January 21, 2011
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 Tribefest...so much easier. Maybe we could rebrand this process.. isn't that what we do?
"Dereliction" -- the shameful failure to fulfill one's obligations.
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
"Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "OF FOCUS GROUPS AND THE "FEST"":
RWEX: It's Vegas baby! Programing for TribeFest ends at 7:30 pm for a very simple reason - the organizers assume that they will not be able to provide programing that can compete with what Vegas has to offer. And what is that? Many (non-kosher) restaurants, all sorts of shows, free drinks and gambling at the Casinos and legalized prostitution.
I recall Birthright Israel's Isreality tour that featured a big name Israeli rap act, an Israeli indie band and an American Jewish singer/songwriter. The Vegas stop on the tour took place in Vegas's hottest club which required a $20,000 drink minimum. The organizers pushed the event like mad and the conclusion? An event that attracted less than 120 people, many of whom were Birthright Israel staff who flew in for the event and the rest were mostly Israelis who had never been on Birthright, did not qualify for Birthright and who drank like mad because they turned it into an open bar. Even with all those inducements, the Jews couldn't compete with Vegas.
What do you think is going to happen at TribeFest?I'm going to secure a sizable subsidy from my local Federation and go because why not? I'll have a lavish hotel room, party hard and be a witness to this train wreck. Oh, and I will also relate to Judaism in my own way.
Now let me ask you, if the dealer is showing a six and I have 12, should I hit? "
One of JFNA's operating principles is never, never learn from history. In fact, history doesn't exist.
(And, I would hold, but that's just me.)
Tuesday, January 18, 2011
~ Tribefest again. It's almost Festivus time. Feel the excitement. Is JFNA, in a desperate grasp for attendance, now "suggesting" to federations that they offer subsidies to the young? Suggesting that the trade-off for the subvention be a toilet training annual campaign contribution? And, further, suggesting that the subsidy funds can, hint, hint, come out of overseas allocations? The host community has been "permitted" to offer a huge discount on registration and even a day pass (for a two day "conference," that is really something). If you go to the Tribefest website, you can still watch in wonder at the promo video of some guy in a two piece suit awash in a hot tub inviting you down for the "fun;" you can still see the same nice group of speakers referenced earlier; and you still can't see a schedule of "events" or, hard as one looks for it, a purpose.
~ Victory again. Jerry Silverman is, I presume, a brilliant wordsmith, a master of communications and marketing. That being the case, why does JFNA publicly respond to JAFI Executive Chair Natan Sharansky's announcement of an extension for another six months of the moratorium impacting the pending Conversion Bill in Israel, among other things, stating, once again, that this is " victory." This time JFNA proclaims the moratorium extension as "...a victory for the cause of reason and unity." "Victory" may ultimately be the outcome, let us pray, but for now all I see is the application of that Parkinson's Law -- "delay is the deadliest form of denial." Such is "victory," JFNA-style.
~ JFNA Borrowing? In light of JFNA's "borrowing" out of funds allocated to JAFI to cover its costs and expenses during income shortfall periods, why is it that the Budget and Finance Committee receives periodic reports of year-to-date Budget expenditures but members never...make that N-E-V-E-R...receive year-to-date income reports? Did either of the current Chairs, while serving as JFNA Budget Chairs, ever ask -- or did they know and decide not to tell?
~ The Eulogizer? Is it just me or is there something inherently distasteful in JTA engaging a reporter as The Eulogizer? It seems to me to that this title both trivializes and even mocks the sensitive subject matter that reporter covers.
Sunday, January 16, 2011
Then let's look at how JFNA distributed the expurgated results -- the cash collection "results" JFNA wants you to have ("no questions allowed") as opposed to the full information transparency would seem to dictate. So, a brief comparison is in order:
JFNA issued a CASH REPORT that so neatly summarized the cash distributions to JAFI, JDC, ORT, FEGS (NYANA) and the Ethiopian National Project (the ENP) without commentary. JAFI was shown as receiving increased core funding of $1.5 million, while JDC core increased by $2 million. JAFI is shown as losing $4.4 million in community funding, JDC down $2 million. JDC, thus, by the numbers "breaks even" for the year and JAFI was down almost <$3,000,000>. The other "partner," ORT reduced by <$800,000>.
But, unreported, though well known to JFNA is the reality that in 2010 the US Grant negotiated for refugee resettlement by JFNA/UIA fell by <$5,000,000> thus JAFI's cash from JFNA reduced in 2010 by <$7.9 million> -- but JFNA wants you to focus on the 1.1% increase in core funding. That's the spin; it's all so positive.
Face facts -- the professionals involved in collections did a great job in 2010 as in years passed. They deserve accolades. Yet, once again there was no organized lay cash effort -- and no excuse for not having one (except some federation professionals hate it when their lay people are called -- for anything). Second, JFNA did not have a significant or even minor impact on the amounts raised...again.
It's pretty shameful. Again. Sadly and always...again and again and again.
Saturday, January 15, 2011
JFNA leadership has determined that governance processes under the current JFNA By-Laws are too cumbersome and time-consuming. Further, as Board Chair Kathy Manning stated: "It appears that the Board isn't very interested in the By-Laws to begin with, so why waste their valuable time (or mine)." Jerry Silverman, President and CEO, questioned: "We have By-Laws?" Manning added: "Each time I draft a vital By-Law change, JAFI and JDC kvetch about it." Thus, JFNA's Board will be asked to approve, in an emergency meeting, the following Resolution:
WHEREAS, JFNA's current By-Laws often stand in the way of progress and immediate action and impede the Organization from effecting the changes dictated by the Board Chair and the President; and
WHEREAS, JFNA's Board of Directors have expressed indifference to the plans, programs and initiatives of the administration, the Board Chair and the President,
NOW BE IT RESOLVED by the JFNA Board that the Corporate By-Laws adopted November 8, 2001, as amended from time-to-time, are here by revoked and rescinded in toto and in substitution therefore, the following shall be the By-Laws of the Organization, effective February 1, 2011.
1. All actions of the Corporation shall be and are hereby delegated to the Chairman of the Board and the President.
2. The Chairman of the Board and the President, may, in their total discretion, advise the Federation Members of the actions they have taken on their behalf, or they may not if they don't want to.
3. Immediately upon the enactment hereof,the Corporation's Board, Executive Committee and all Committees shall be dissolved as if they never ever existed.
APPROVED, this ____ day of January, 2011."
Thursday, January 13, 2011
1. "I would never read your damn Blog but someone sent me your Post on _____ and I hated it."
2. "You are totally misinformed and don't know what you are writing about." Usually heard from someone who just outright disagrees with what I've written but usually...that's usually...they learn that they were wrong.
3. "Who told you about that?" This was going to be the title of my next book...and still may be. BTW, I never disclose "who told me about that"...and never will.
4. "We thought about suing you for defaming us..." I try to write by the maxim that "truth is the best defense" -- wish others would abide by it.
5. "If you write about this, I will never ever speak to you again." And these are my friends; or the parallel
6. "I am telling you this in strict confidence; you can never write about this...unless I tell you you can..."
7. "You won't believe this but I have been accused by (fill in the blank...usually a leader of JFNA) of being your source for (everything)..." And the accusers have been 100%...that's 100%...wrong. But keep guessing.
8. "Don't you know that doing the same thing over and over and over expecting that things will change is a sure sign of insanity?" Answer: Yes.
9. "Please stop writing nice things about me, it's causing me problems here at JFNA."
10. "You have destroyed your reputation with this Blog...and for what?" Probably true; so, when those who remind me of this sad fact speak out about what they know to be true, I'll stop.
11. "Don't stop, the Blog is the only way I ever find out what's going on at JFNA." My promise -- I'll stop when they do, not before.
Wednesday, January 12, 2011
It appears that JFNA did so under the same operating philosophy as I suggested was in place when I mistakenly asserted that JFNA was withdrawing federation overseas funds. At no time did JFNA leadership advise UIA or JAFI, the ultimate beneficiary of those funds, that it was dipping into them whenever it felt it necessary to do so. The only rationale I can think of is that JFNA supposed that this was some kind of historical practice -- that UJA did so so why can't JFNA? Yet, that UJA may have done so offers no precedent for JFNA -- the former national fund raising organization took its Budget off the top of federation overseas allocations for all of its purposes; JFNA is a membership organization the budget for which is to be paid through federation Dues. Its budgets and all of its expenditures and income were supposed to be as transparent as UJA's allegedly were not. That UIA is a wholly-owned subsidiary of JFNA is no justification for, in effect, diverting its income to JFNA's budget -- even short term; even with the "intent" of paying it back.
No, the JFNA rationale fails the smell test -- it dipped into the UIA income stream with no notice to UIA (or JAFI); it paid no interest on the funds so "borrowed." And JFNA has still not publicly acknowledged the practice, burying it deep within arcane financial documents. In other words, it is embarrassed by what it has done, but not embarrassed enough to stop.
In all events, I apologize. Now, will JFNA?
Monday, January 10, 2011
You will read that there is something positive to be found in a 1.1%...that's 1.1% my friends...increase in aggregate allocations to core in 2010. Weigh that against the 44% collapse in allocations since JFNA was inaugurated -- 11 years without advocacy...11 years of abdication of fiduciary responsibility. So, is a 1.1% increase a great result? Rhetorical question.
You will hear that people like me ignore the amounts of supplemental funding to JAFI and the Joint over and above core. Hardly. But those same folks who make that argument ignore that the "rules" -- never a matter of persuasion by JFNA -- were always that supplemental funding was to be available to federations which maintained or increased their core allocations. It was JFNA's responsibility to assert the rules that the federations themselves created.
Then you will hear -- because we have heard it for years -- that people like me ignore the $410 million raised in the Israel Emergency Campaign back then. Yes, that would be true -- because the funds raised in those emergency campaigns were passed directly through to the beneficiaries -- victims of terror and war and fire -- without any overhead or core funding. That's what people like them ignore -- just as they choose to ignore the reality that there has yet to be a full accounting of just where tghe federations sent the $410 million raised. Does JFNA even know?
You are also going to now hear that there has been an epiphany at JFNA -- that its leaders suddenly recognize their responsibility to JAFI, JDC and ORT -- and that responsibility, they'll tell you, is reflected in the recent agreement among JFNA/JAFI/JDC where there is a tri-party commitment to broad-based advocacy and increased allocations. When you hear that, and you will, ask the simple question: what's the plan? Who will lead it? When will it be started...and where? What are you waiting for?
There are those who have suggestd to me that at the onset of the current regime, there was a commitment to drive advocacy forward, a recognition that JFNA had dropped the ball. Those who who have told me that also believe that the Board Chair was dissuaded by a few Federation CEOs and abandoned the idea...for a year. If true, face the fact that those who may have "warned" JFNA to abstain from advocacy may be from communities that support core and therefore believe that everyone does, the facts notwithstanding.
The Cash situation is beyond a crisis; a function of the crisis in allocations. Only ostriches keep their heads in the sand, but even ostriches raise their heads from time to time.
Sunday, January 9, 2011
Now, an Anonymous Commentator has come forward to rebut the JFNA response:
"So sorry. NEVER HAPPENED!
Did not occur. Was never said.
Finance Committee met in November -- They were not told.
Board met in November -- They were not told.
Corporation Owners body met and they were not told.
Lie. Lie. Lie..."
Friends, it's one thing for our national organization to lack transparency on matters of the federations', the owners, interest; it is even worse when someone (or someones) decides to cover it up as if the facts remain none of our business.
People who do so lack any understanding of leadership responsibility.
More's the pity.
Friday, January 7, 2011
In all events, I was involved and had the opportunity, over the last three weeks in October to consult with the Joint's and JAFI's leaders, identify issues in common that resulted, I believe, in a better agreement and in a more positive working relationship between the two partners. With Cleveland's Steve Hoffman playing the role of "shuttle diplomat" beautifully, and with Jerry Silverman's assistance, I believe -- this is just a guess -- that ultimately everyone saw my involvement in a more positive light.
Now that the Agreement has been approved by the three parties and the terms finally disclosed to the federations -- a few comments on the substance of the agreement:
- The ultimate success of the contemplated tri-party effort is wholly dependent upon the development of "guidelines" in many areas -- e.g., FRD, advocacy, co-branding -- arising out of a "Committee process" the success of which is wholly dependent upon JFNA's ability to populate the "process' with respected federation lay and professional leadership. Does JFNA possess the core competencies at every level of the "process?" That's JFNA's challenge as JAFI and the Joint clearly have those competencies in significant numbers.
- The federations and JFNA will be challenged to develop a "Second Membership criterion" that will assure federations' sense of collective responsibility to Israel and Overseas needs. There are federations today which allocate nothing (or next to nothing) to the core budgets of JAFI/JDC or just one of the two. Will JFNA's leadership have the courage of the convictions expressed in the Agreement or was the promise of a Second Membership criterion just the bait to hook JAFI and the Joint into a process with no substance? Will the federations cede to JFNA the power to construct a meaningful plan of enforcing a minimum of collective responsibility?
- No one in leadership of JFNA -- not the CEO nor either of the Chairs -- experienced the terrible and costly failure of the ONAD process. Now, they have constructed a "Global Planning Table" that is a mirror image...the mirror image... of the failed ONAD experience. Santayana's maxim has been stood upon its head. No thought has yet to be given as to how the failures of ONAD (and nothing before or since has come closer to destroying JFNA) can and will be avoided. I would presume that the same JFNA senior pro who had ONAD responsibility will now be the senior JFNA pro at the "planning table." Worse, since the Agreement, JFNA without notice to JAFI/JDC has had at least one meeting, probably more, of a "small Committee" to structure the Global Planning Table. Nothing predicts failure better than to confront one's "partners" with a fait accompli -- something these "leaders" have failed to learn from prior failings. Further, this Committee includes community representatives from federations that allocate from nothing to de minimis.
Yes, there are other issues...but if these three can be addressed with the same sense of good will and good faith that characterized the negotiation of the Agreement, there is a chance -- a chance -- for success. But the chachams are off to a terrible start -- evidencing their continuing ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
Thursday, January 6, 2011
“Here are the facts: JFNA obtained a line of credit in 2006 during the Operation Promise campaign in anticipation of emergency cash needs for the expected mass influx of Ethiopian Jews to Israel. The line of credit was rarely used, and consequently was reduced over the years in accordance with good business practices. The line of credit was up for renewal in 2010. Although the issuing bank was willing to renew the line of credit, it requested new covenants in light of the new banking environment. Because of these new covenants and because the line of credit was rarely used, JFNA decided not to renew the line of credit. This decision was made after full consideration by our professional staff and knowledgeable lay leaders with financial expertise. JFNA notified our board of this decision in a timely manner at the November 8, 2010 Board of Trustees meeting. Should we need a line of credit in the future we do not at this time anticipate a problem in obtaining it.”
This "answer" puts my listening "skills" at issue -- I attended the November 8 Board meeting and heard nothing about the non-renewal of the JFNA Line. (I admit that by the end of that meeting I was in a stupor from the soporific agenda and presentations and may have missed it -- but I don't think so.)
As eJewish Philanthropy points out today -- www.ejewishphilanthropy.com -- JFNA chose not to respond to the issue raised by the Board Chair's statements at the last meeting that if JFNA at calendar year-end could not repay funds "borrowed" from the overseas allocation to satisfy JFNA costs and expenses, it would turn to its line of credit. No line of credit -- no can do.
Wednesday, January 5, 2011
As I reconstruct things, it appears that JFNA's banks were sending negative signals back in the Fall -- as early as October. But JFNA wasn't telling anyone...anyone. The reason for that seems clear (clear through the fog of opacity) -- "we can handle this at the staff level." But it appears that JFNA couldn't. Many of us have experience at this level -- in our practices, in our non-profit Board work. We weren't called upon, of course. No one outside of a small, tightly-drawn group of leaders was to know. And within sixty days the line of credit appears to have been lost. No disclosure to the federations; none to JFNA Board. I will leave it to you to decide if the line was lost whether there was a violation of fiduciary duty or merely a sense that "if we just shut our mouths, G-d will provide."
So what, you ask? Well, the Board Chair, at the last Board meeting, in a moment of rare public candor acknowledged that during the calendar year JFNA "borrows" from federations' monthly allocations for overseas needs without notice to JAFI or JDC, the intended beneficiaries, and always with the intent...the "intent," mind you...to "true up" at calendar year-end using federation year-end cash payments to do so -- and if those cash payments fell short? "We'd use our line of credit, of course, to make JAFI and JDC whole." And, if there is no line of credit? Well then: "Greensboro, we have a problem."
Hearing this whole thing from pros in New York was quite a surprise. Then hearing more from Jerusalem -- all the more so. Knowing that JFNA is not disclosing any of this to anyone...another blanket of secrecy like the winter snow has fallen...that's not a surprise at all. Can JFNA's leaders confess error -- they hate confessing error more than anything -- and turn once again to New York, Chicago, Cleveland, Baltimore in abject desperation once again? Before they do so (if they haven't already)...they had better engage the best people to do so, and go back to the banks...and do so NOW! Murphy's law rules again.
Tuesday, January 4, 2011
In 1939, after Germany invaded Czechoslovakia, then British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain went to Munich, bought into whatever Hitler was selling, and returned to London promising, in words that live in infamy to this day: "Peace for our time." Well, friends, after two days of meetings among JAFI and JDC leaders and the CEOs of three Large City Federations, two of whom represent the partners' largest core funders, JFNA's leaders claimed they had reached a "Framework Agreement" that promised "sh'lom bayit for our time" -- or something like it. And, there you have it. As predicted in Posts on this Blog before that two day meeting occurred, the intervention and control of these CEOs would be required to "bail out" JFNA's leadership...and they probably believe that they did so. And, they would be wrong.
As in so many things JFNA, the timing of the "agreement" that will preserve peace in our time was dictated by the calendar -- "the GA dates demand that we actually have something for the Board to do." And, as past examples evidence, act in haste, repent at leisure.
Having read the materials for the meeting which included a framing paper -- MOVING FORWARD: The JFNA/Federation Four-Point Plan to Revitalize Movement-Wide Funding for Israel & Overseas (the Paper hereinafter)-- and the homogenized Leadership Briefing that followed the meetings (supplemented by Jacob Berkman's comprehensive article on the "peace plan" that appeared in JTA a day later and a comprehensive article in The Fundermentalist [to whom someone -- at JFNA?? -- snuck the Draft]), and the "disclosures," such as they were, to the JFNA Board, it is clear that in fact little has been agreed to...very little.
The three major claimed "results" with commentary:
1. JFNA and the federations (at least the three represented) "agreed" that JAFI and the Joint would be the exclusive recipients of federation core allocations;
2. There would be something called an "aspirational allocations goal" as yet undetermined in percentage to which those federations currently beneath that goal would be "asked to aspire" through some form of hitherto resisted in toto JFNA-led advocacy effort; and
3. Even though core allocations to JAFI/JDC have been cut by over 1/3 in the last five years under the stewardship of the current Co-Chairs (in different positions), JFNA, which, in the Paper for the meeting acknowledged that it has already engaged a consultant for the purpose and budgeted $250,000 back in May, will convene a "global planning table" to which 10% of the core allocations will be redirected for reallocation to "buckets of projects/programs" ("buckets" being the appropriate descriptive term) that will be submitted, at least initially, by JAFI/JDC (described as the "threshold partners" in the Paper -- I think we all know what that portends).
1. The federations, with JFNA's assent by its deafening silence, have already begun a massive reallocation of what was once "core." In fact, The JFNA Chair failed to assure exclusivity in her interpretation of the meeting -- instead, JAFI and JDC were to be no more than the "threshold partners" -- whatever that means. With no mandated (as opposed to "aspirational") minimum core allocation coupled with a long-term tri-partite agreement among the parties, this "initial exclusivity" while welcome, is but fool's gold. Further, the JFNA Draft Agreement offered no exclusivity to JAFI and the Joint.This Agreement would have a term of only three years;
2. At least three times previously (in annual ONAD resolutions), the federations have been "urged" to aspire to higher core allocations. In fact, by Resolution only those federations which maintained or increased their core allocations were to have the "right" to designate a portion of their Israel/overseas allocations. The implicit suggestion that an "aspirational goal" will in any way impact federation allocations is naive at best or suggests that those who propose it are in some form of denial. Based on the last six years, at least, any suggestion that JFNA leadership will do anything...any...thing... to implement this "aspiration" is living in some alternative universe...though it would be nice.
3. JFNA and those gathered for the meetings chose to ignore twin realities: (a) that a succession of ONAD reports and the Plant Report which followed, all of which were adopted by the JFNA Board, stated that there should not be any reallocation of core dollars at a time of declining allocations. Never have allocations declined in the gross amounts we have witnessed over the past five years while JFNA paid only lip service to the growing unmet needs of the Agency and Joint. Never mind. Without anything other than a claimed "consensus" arising out of a JFNA Retreat almost two years ago, attended by less than 1/3 of the federations, this leadership has been framing a "global planning table" for two years -- but with no money to distribute, there would be no purpose. So, forget history, forget that ONAD failed miserably, we will return to it as if ONAD had been successful.
Some federation professional leaders and, certainly, the small group of JFNA "leaders," continue to believe that if they raise the flag, the federations will salute. I don't doubt the federation professional leaders' who drove this "process," good will or integrity. Their desire to "save the system" is self-evident. Their attitude appears to be, however: If vital unmet needs served by JAFI/JDC have to be sacrificed in so doing, so be it. They are willing, even anxious to ignore realities such as the fact that once a federation's allocation to JAFI/Joint is reduced, it does not recover. (New York-UJA will argue that its allocations have recovered, and, perhaps it is the exception that proves the rule [even as its allocation mandated at 70% in the merger that created UJA-Federation fell along the wayside long, long ago]; one should look at Cleveland's allocation, cut by $3 million in the late 90's, never recovered that amount again, even with promises to do so.) The "aspirational goal" is a non-starter absent any real commitment by JFNA to meet its moral obligation to advocacy and, even then, which of its leaders would be capable of leading that effort?
Yes, there is a framework for a "deal on overseas funding," but like so many things, the devil is in the details. A real agreement must now be documented -- it remains an "Agreement in Principle" even as some JFNA leaders are waving around a paper agreement asserting "it's the best deal that we could get." As in Candide, brilliantly revived last month at Chicago's Goodman Theatre: "all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds." Uh-huh.
Yes, it's "sh'lom bayit for our times." When Neville Chamberlain uttered his infamous lines in London, he concluded, after uttering "it is peace for our time," with the following "Go home and get a nice quiet sleep." Exactly what some at JFNA are hoping for tonight, tomorrow night... and always.
More to follow.
Saturday, January 1, 2011
~ Well...well...well...in Orlando, anger at The Jewish Week's Gary Rosenblatt, of all people, erupted over a simple conclusion -- that Las Vegas was a better choice for last year's GA than Orlando. A Past Orlando Federation President reported that the decision to convene in Orlando "...was made in a complete vacuum without communication or consultation of any sort with local leadership..." Then, David Bornstein reports, the decision to abandon Orlando for New Orleans was made in exactly the same arrogant manner. Bornstein, pointing out how the GA might have helped Orlando, concluded that JFNA "...relegated (Orlando) to the dump heap of irrelevance by the near-sighted national organization." Finally, Bornstein found JFNA to be itself "irrelevant."
Is this any way to run the federations' business? Orlando, even in extremis, continued to pay JFNA Dues. Their leaders must be asking themselves why. A couple of equally relevant questions to those raised by this former Orlando President is who made these decisions at JFNA; and pursuant to what authority? Remember these are the same folks whose constant refrain has been "we can't move (or cancel) the GA because we would lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in penalties...and, then, we did.
And, by the way, that great Tribefest -- chose Las Vegas without consultation with local leadership until after the fact.
~ The edgy comic genius, Stephen Colbert, introduced to our lexicon the word "truthiness" way back when. The word became so instantaneously important that the producers of the Merriam-Webster Dictionary selected truthiness as its 2006 Word of the Year. What does it mean? According to its author, "'truthiness' is what you want the facts to be, as opposed to what the facts are." JFNA has adopted truthiness as its "word of the decade;" they continue to present their own version of truth without regard to "what the facts are." Who was it who said "you are entitled to your own opinions, you just can't have your own facts?" Whether it's inflating GA attendance, the value of pulling Yemenite Jews into the orbit of Monsey, New York, who are and aren't "partners," the value of ish or Tribefest, the value of its Budget and consequent Dues to its owners, the constant rebranding of programs and areas of focus, and on and on...JFNA's truthiness is on display. It's not pretty.
~ Is it just me or did JFNA's Leadership Briefing that applauded the JFNA/federation raise of $2.4 million to support the efforts in Israel to deal with the horrific fires in the North strike you as well as rather paltry in light of the severity of that crisis? Then, to read on top of the small amount raised that JFNA again sees its role as second-guessing the costs assumed by JAFI and JDC and other providers? I do remember a time that we trusted our partners -- those same partners that JFNA wants to trust it? Come on.
Yes. JFNA, for me, the gift that keeps on giving.