Monday, May 2, 2011


Although a technically competent reader was able to translate the final paragraphs of my "Letter to Jerry" Post yesterday (See Comments), I am trying again:

Dear Jerry,

As you have told me, you don't read this Blog (why ruin an otherwise good day?) unless someone brings it to your attention. My hope is that either one of your staff will forward this Post to you or that, through some inadvertent, unconscious act, you will come upon it yourself.

I don't ask that you read any prior Posts, Jerry, that would be too much to expect. What I would ask you to read would be the Comments (almost all Anonymous) because there are lessons to be learned from men and women far more articulate and on point than I. These Comments suggest that JFNA is floundering, Jerry, awash in trivial pursuits while federations and donors and the Next Generations of our leaders want substance and relevance instead of pandering and patronizing. I have heard that you want to bring to your staff the best and brightest who, hopefully, will make of JFNA a laboratory for new ideas and bold experiments. Yet, I haven't seen a single example in the past few months of even one such hire while JFNA is threatened with a brain drain in its most critical areas of need. You have visited, at last count, 78(+) federations and I applaud you for those visits and for the connections you have made with the owners and a few major donors. Yet, what are you doing in response to their asks of JFNA? What are the messages you have brought back to 25 Broadway? If the messages are that the federations want more #ish, more Heroes, more TribeFest and more Sheatufim and less FRD help, less direct intervention, less infusion of the federations with the best practices of others, then I would submit to you that you haven't been listening at all.

I know of your respect for Les Wexner and the counsel you have taken from him -- often reduced to the mantra "...what got us here won't get us there." I would subscribe to the same counsel, Jerry, but first isn't it mandatory to know "what got us here," the great, the good, the bad? I don't believe, with Itzik Shavit, z"l, gone, there is a single person, lay or professional, among JFNA's extremely constricted leadership, who has a clue as to what the core values and timeless principles upon which the federation system (and, for the matter, JFNA at its beginning) was built. Instead, you and your lay leaders have gone about building something "new" based upon marketing and branding -- you can't build a firm foundation on a slippery slope, my friend.

A few weeks ago The New York Times profiled Howard Schultz in its Sunday Business Section -- "A Changed Starbucks, A Changed CEO." There is much in that article that is as instructive as have been your meetings and discussions with Wexner. For example:

~ "His goals (for what Schultz called a "transformational agenda") were to fix troubled stores, to rekindle an emotional attachment with customers and to make longer term changes like reorganizing executives..."

~ The company's CFO said that "[W]hat the company needed then was what he used to be to us -- the innovator, the refusal to not be a champion."

~ The CFO continued: "Delegating and accepting other people's conclusions, is now easier for him. 'There's been more arguing, challenging and debate in the last two to three years than there's ever been.'"

~ Schultz: "What leadership means is the courage it takes to talk about things that, in the past, perhaps we wouldn't have, because I'm not right all of the time." Hello!!!

~ A keen observer of the company concluded: "[T]here's a kind of dissonance between the messaging and the actual practice." Hello and hello, again.

There are some things I know you can do. The first of which might be to stop playing to the crowd -- telling 'em what you think they want to hear. For example, at a meeting in Dallas a few weeks ago you found a good applause line -- "...we need to find a new way to connect with Israel." Sounds great, apparently...but only to communities that don't "connect" through Missions, through JAFI and the Joint, through Birthright, through the IAI and the IAN, through multiple existing portals. Do you even realize the insecurity statements like these can create among those you and the Board Chair often call "partners?" Do you even care at this point? Or is it all about patronizing and pandering, full of sound and fury (and cliche), signifying nothing?

What you may have meant is that "we," whoever "we" are ("you're not JFNA") need to find a way to connect period -- and "we" will, through the GPT??!! It's truly sad that you apparently place no value on our real, working connections, no connections with the bridges we have built and continue to.

You know that I love your optimism. To realize upon that will require that you demand a lay leadership that understands the needs of our federations and then that you quietly advise your lay leadership that responding to those needs is what JFNA must be about. For the past six years we have seen JFNA leaders whose pursuit of their personal agendas and vendettas threaten the very existence of JFNA itself. You have to surround yourself with a new set of lay leaders who, with the support of the federation CEOs can lead JFNA out of
the darkness in into the light.

You can this. Can't you?

Warmest regards,


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What is sad to me is not just the rush to abandon the successful ways of the past but the glee being taken in writing off the men and women who have been the base of Federation supporters, staffers and donors. G-d knows we need good new ideas and fresh blood but the young also need mentors, role models and the wisdom of experience. I was solicited for my first gift by a friend of my parents many years older than me. I would hope that when the next group of leaders is chosen care will be taken to how they treat and listen to their local peers.

Disillusioned but still giving