Tuesday, May 3, 2011


As regular readers know I frequently receive an opinion piece from readers so insightful and spot on as to merit inclusion as a Post. What follows came "over the transom" from a highly respected national leader who has reviewed the Global Planning Table proposals from the first presentations through the "feedback sessions" to today. Her/his analysis follows:

"Dear Richard:

Despite the enormous expenditure within the JFNA budget to support the Israel and Overseas professional efforts, the sophistication of the allocations departments of federations such as New York, Chicago, Baltimore, etc. far outstrip the technical expertise resident in JFNA. These federation departments understand that building innovative programs require strong partnership predicated upon trust, predictability of funding, and most importantly directed towards providing solutions for resonating Jewish needs.

The many weaknesses associated with the Global Planning Table concept are too numerous to describe in one e-mail, but I want to point out a few.

1. Sophisticated federations will not want to cede 'hard to raise' donor funds to a national organization that serves no real purpose other than to reallocate funds to those organizations that the small group of leaders feels are more important than the historic federation partners, JDC and JAFI. These federations already have the option to do so without forwarding the funds to JFNA and support what probably will be another layer of overhead/cost.

2. Over the last 15 years, while federation allocations to JAFI/JDC/Israel have declined, Israeli institutions have successfully raised enormous dollars outside the federation system. The federation market share decline in terms of overseas funding is stunning, at the very least. And that was one of the basic reasons for the merger of UJA/CJF. The planning table does not address the notion of market share in the least but rather establishes a bureaucratic response with no fundraising drivers. Yet the above mentioned federations have, for the most part, fashioned their own solution set that has resulted in increased overseas allocations and increased federation annual campaigns by old fashioned needs based fundraising that relies on the programs of JAFI/JDC. That's their plan and it is working.

3. There are no revenue projections attached to the formation of the Global Planning Table initiative. In other words, there is no accountability or measurement for success. Clearly, this would require a level of decisiveness and justification that has been absent at the national level. Yet, most federation boards would never approve any expenditure or allocation without a cost/benefit analysis. The risks are too great.

4. Squandering resources in the not for profit world takes on many shapes. The sheer amount of lay leadership resources, time and money, that was wasted on the ONAD process will never be recovered. This doesn't even address the amount of money spent by JDC and JAFI to defend their allocations during the same period. It's as if the professional/lay leadership has collective amnesia.

The template for needs assessment already exists within the board rooms of JDC and JAFI. Top lay leadership from a broad cross section of North American federations already sit around the JAFI and JDC tables and debate resource allocations and challenges facing the Jewish people while never forgetting their fiduciary responsibilities. The officers and many of the JFNA Board members participate on a regular basis in decision making in both JAFI and JDC. The Global Planning Table creates an institutional redundancy without an articulated financial goal. Does this make sense?"

My/our thanks. As always, my fear is that no "leader" at JFNA, if they would read this analysis, will understand it.



Anonymous said...

I agree with the analysis that JFNA may be clueless and without the talent to get the job done. I also agree that the issue of promoting increased revenues needs to be front and center.
At the same time it is a stretch to say that JAFI and JDC, who deserve to be our primary if not exclusive agents, are being fully accountable to Federations. When did the system vet JDC's significant shift of resources over the past decade from overseas diaspora communities to Israel based programs? Was I absent for the vote of Federations that turned JAFI into a global BJE? The GPT may be the wrong venue but that does not mean that all is b'seder (right) with our world.

joebrown42 said...

"Israeli institutions have successfully raised enormous dollars outside the federation system."

I know, I did so.
The reasons donor gave me had to do with either speed, trust, or directness (hands-on). Perhaps JFNA could learn from that.

Also, as a fundraiser I NEVER went to a donor whom I knew to be a giver to another institution (be it another NPO, JAFI, Jewish Federation) without making 100% sure I would not step on toes. In fact, one donor I approached I did so after speaking to his federation's rep. in Israel.

But the thing I want to ask is - if this is the case (and I know it to be), what should JFNA's role be? Should it be raising $ for programs in Israel, or should it leave that to the Federations? Should it be supporting the "weaker" or "smaller" federations? Should it get involved in local Jewish education initiatives?

What SHOULD JFNA be doing, when so much of what it used to be doing is being done by other bodies?
With the Internet, the direct connection between grassroots organizations and the individual donor is so much easier. The link to Israel, thanks to tax agreements between the US and Israel and bodies like the PEF, can be done without the JFNA funnel.

Perhaps - and I am not kidding - a look at what needs should be filled should be done, by a team that is not so heavily involved in the day to day (using inputs from those who are involved in the routine), in order to allow them to present what needs the organization can face?

Just a crazy idea....
Joe Brown Leer
(In case anyone again claims I am hiding my identity)

Anonymous said...

I am a federation CEO. I and my leadership have come to the same conclusions as did the Poster. How can we trust a process led by JFNA when our community has received nothing of value from this national organization other than conference calls, Dues calls and constant requests to fund the "cause of the day?"

If I operated locally as Jerry Silverman does nationally, I would be out of a job. Does he even begin to understand the facts on the ground in my community or yours?

Anonymous said...


Federations will do nothing unless prodded to do so

To survive, staff and lay volunteers must not question or make waves

The best decision is one made in a phone booth

It all comes down to marketing

Intelligence is over rated

The best consultant is one not tainted by exposure to a local community (because there is little to learn from the local experience)

Overseas travel is good; overseas funding less so

paul jeser said...

To answer Joe's comment, I believe that there is NO role for a JFNA today, at least the way it is currently structured.

I previously outlined a vision for what the Federation and national support institutions could be in today's world - and Richard kindly posted it: