Friday, June 3, 2011


You might think that on his travels across the Continent, Jerry Silverman might actually engage in a meaningful debate about the federation system and what JFNA's roles might be in such a changed circumstance. Yeah, so you might think...but you would be wrong. For our CEO and President is a salesman...and those 80-plus federation visits, begun as a Hillary Clinton-style "listening tour" have now become sales trips -- but Jerry is no longer selling Dockers, he's a modern day medicine man selling...well, to put it bluntly...bullshit. Tribefest 2, Heroes, the Denver GA and stuff of that ilk -- ignoring the reality of close to $1 million lost in those efforts even as JFNA tried to pump them up with subsidies, etc. And Jerry has traveled hither and yon with the Global Planning Table team, trying to sell what would be the end of our system rather than listening to concerns.

What choice does he have, some would ask? After all this has been his Board Chair's pursuit of her Holy Grail -- the end product, as she sees it, of her quest for control of all things even as she controls today only the minutiae. Perhaps, even her next Chairmanship? How does a CEO resist that? Well, the CEO could call any one of many Federation CEOs across the Continent, so many of the best of whom have been "managing" lay leaders for years. He might ask them "what do I do when...?" Or, perhaps, worst case Silverman agrees with his Chairs, views JDC and JAFI as mere supplicants while calling them "partners" in all public pronouncements -- like the new "40 partners" in the Festivus and no more worthy than they.

But, in the Global Planning Table circumstance, certainly Jerry (and if not him, his faithful liege, Jim Lodge, or the consultant), who has traveled the Continent listening, allegedly, at the so-called "GPT Regional feedback" meetings, has heard, loud and clear, that there is no consensus...none...for the GPT as "planned," strong opposition to "folding in national agency funding" into the GPT and a total rejection of the underlying thesis that the GPT will not reverse in any way the $100 million (+) allocations reduction over the last six years -- six years in which JFNA leaders engaged in no advocacy whatsoever. And where has the Board Chair been during these "feedback sessions?" Other than at the meeting with JAFI leaders and the JFNA Executive Committee meeting, nowhere to be found. (And, at the Executive Committee, as she heard one negative comment after another, rather than understanding, she chose to strike back defensively at federation leaders who appeared to oppose her grand scheme, using her usual technique of ridiculous argument and feeble cross-examination, suggesting to one JFNA supporter that that she knew [of course] more about what was going on in one program in his community than did he.)

While all this Global Planning Table "selling" is going on, Jerry and his "team," seem unaware of significant new efforts at "redefining" and reconstructing federation in a number of communities. (No, I am not talking about Philadelphia, where leadership believes that "change" in a negative annual campaign environment means eliminating core allocations to JAFI and the Joint [while supporting the discredited Global Planning Table "plan" -- of course] and not Los Angeles, likewise -- both communities having become the bell-weathers for JFNA -- they pay their Dues [and support the GPT], don't they?) Where is that debate, where is that discussion? Debate and discussion of what federations are doing? You have got to be kidding.



Anonymous said...

From the Atlanta Federation email newsletter --

Rarely does a large board, accustomed to approving thoughtful committee reports, find itself suddenly debating existential questions. So it was a bit surreal for the 60-70 Federation board members to do just that at last Thursday’s year-end meeting. While fundraising reports and allocations plans often engender deep discussion, that day passion erupted unlike any in recent memory.

Ostensibly this started as a challenge (too stridently stated to term it a plea) by a board member that we not “throw” a substantial investment of funds at new professionally-led marketing and programming initiatives aimed at halting recent fundraising declines. All us board members and volunteers just need to work harder, he argued, just commit ourselves more deeply.

As defense of the plans alternated with support of his main points (if not his tone) for the next half hour, I and others sat struggling with an underlying question: Why don’t we seem as effective as we used to be? With all these talented and dedicated people in a room and a plan to invest more in outreach and education, are we reeling from a down Campaign or worried about having yet another?

The realization hit me later that what we really heard was the voicing of group frustration and uncertainty. Many of us are worn down by the economic challenges of the last three years, both personally and in our communal work. This frustration manifested itself in the emotionality on display, even verging to despair. A particularly dour comment went along the lines of “if we can’t figure out our relevance than we may as well start shutting off the lights.”

Anonymous said...

part 2

How do we reverse this funk? For reverse it we must! Our goals to support the most vulnerable in our Jewish world and strengthen our community as a whole are too important, mandated by the Torah itself. Jewish history has taught nothing if not the need for resilience, for persistence in the face of hardship, for lighting candles in the darkness — the figurative and literal opposite of just giving up and shutting off the lights.

A start is to supplement the prevailing analogy of Campaign as an army of volunteers who are mustered to locate and conquer donors, then secure new pledges and increased gifts. This works in places where community is tight and everyone feels the obligation to stand and be counted, as last week’s Torah portion on the initial census chronicled. Here, making sure enough ask and admin tasks get done is paramount.

But increasingly our community has grown and dispersed, and most now live by a creed of unchallenged personal choice. Engagement has been a perpetual issue in my dozen or so years of Federation activity, and as Rabbi Kerbel in his Board d’var torah had noted, only 1 in 7 Jewish Atlanta households gives to Federation. We actually have the second highest percentage of donors under 45 in the country, but the bad news is that this dropped from 19% to 14% from 2006 to 2009. Clearly, beyond the economy, we need new approaches.

The new generation and under-involved do not easily allow themselves to be pressured or lectured; they seek to be inspired in a competitive landscape for their treasure and time. Though tzedakah is in fact an obligation, they require tangible or emotional payback. So how do we best market the importance of supporting smaller local and global causes they would never find? How to involve and move those with capacity that either ignore or avoid social accountability?

I agree with others in the strategy of once again promoting more intimate affinity group gatherings, where leaders and peers within smaller communities reach out to garner support. Let’s attract and inspire by having leaders of each group illustrate Federation’s good works, in terms that appeal to that group specifically.

A fitting analogy to our situation from my own experience is to think of Federation as a large rowing team. We have had to row through choppy waters the past few years — this knocked off our set and timing, requiring more effort while boat speed decreased. Now like an alert and able coxswain who always faces forward (instead of backward like the rowers) to direct strategy, we see the economic wakes subsiding ahead. So now is the time to rally the oarsmen with the news, have them sit up and row sharply in sync again. The boat becomes lighter and quicker, shooting us out of the bad water faster than other shells.

In short, let’s face our situation with a can-do attitude. Let’s resolve that this coming year, we look forward and aim higher, first to pop back over $15 million and then overtake 2010 totals. We will need to try more ideas, connect more directly, draw in more energy, add rowers who pull together. In the end, the meeting’s angry young man made the right point — the good we do is up to us.

Shabbat Shalom!

Marty Fleischmann, Board Member
Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta

Anonymous said...

Ding, Dong the Liege is gone! Oh no!