Thursday, November 10, 2011


As I listened to the GPT presentation to the JFNA Board and Delegate Assembly to the 80 federations present (of 157), my mind wandered back to one of those old black and white films -- one of those Westerns where Gabby Hayes was peddling sarsaparilla to the unsuspecting settlers as a cure-all for everything that ailed them. 

When JFNA last confronted the ONAD mess, a group of CEOs had to jump into the fray to literally "save ONAD from itself." ONAD,  now dead and buried but soon to be resurrected as "the GPT," was the Overseas Needs and Distribution Committee, which, in its five years of existence contributed nothing to the Overseas Allocations and Distribution process other than divisive debate and the undermining of the system's trust in its overseas and historic partners -- through no fault of theirs.

As disinterested as so many are in the ONAD history, without understanding that history and the outcomes -- all bad -- one can't understand the potential that the GPT has for the deconstruction of our system. ONAD lasted for a little over five years. It began well-planned with much thought and hope as a planning and evaluative tool with the Jewish Agency and the Joint leaders "at the table." During the five years of its operation, the JDC and JAFI, by conservative estimates, invested well over $7 million responding to constant questions, asked and reasked, by consultants hired by JFNA (UJC at the time) and JFNA's professional staff -- to no apparent affect. Over those years, the core allocations to JAFI and the Joint nose-dived. There was a side benefit to ONAD -- many federations that previously lacked them, created Israel and Overseas unintended positive consequence. And nothing more.

At the end of the first year of ONAD, its incomparable Chair, New York's Alan Jaffe, speaking for the Committee, concluded that at a time of declining core allocations ONAD would not recommend changes in how funds would be allocated between JAFI and JDC. That was the constant recommendation from a succession of Chairs -- Bobby Goldberg and Sonny Plant, z'l, each a master of the art of compromise, of bringing people of polar views together. In its last year, a far more ambitious Chair attempted unilaterally to override the compromise reached at the ONAD table and approved there by the participating federations. Disaster was averted only by the intervention of the "three wise men."

The first speech of Jerry Silverman's predecessor began with a statement that ONAD was over and that "'s time to trust the Jewish Agency and Joint once again." Unfortunately, these were just words...only words. Think of it, over 50 federations were directly represented on the ONAD Committee during its terms. Generally speaking, the representatives from the federations themselves -- mandated to be sitting or incoming Chairs -- and those representing their City-size groupings, were men and women of good will. Yet, only one of these fifty federations has increased its core allocations -- the rest have cut those allocations, some by 30% of what they were and more.

And, now, JFNAs leaders will replicate the sorry process that was. If you ask them, as I have asked some of them, their uniform answer is: "Oh, this won't be ONAD." Ask them how it will be different and get back a glazed look in the eyes, anger that you asked the question, and no answer. They aren't interested in the mistakes of the past -- only in repeating them at far greater cost.

And what about those wise men -- those federation executives who rescued ONAD from itself in 2005? Hmmmm.



Alter said...

The silence you hear is the sigh of 140 something Federations sighing.

Have a nice day.

Anonymous said...

Random quotes From the JTA with a follow-up prediction:

"....the federation system is getting ready to date other partners.

"... Under the new arrangement, the Jewish Agency and JDC still will get a share, but they will have to compete for it with other groups. ...the federations will be dictating more of the spending program to them.

“We will set the meta priorities,” said Jerry Silverman, JFNA’s CEO.

“Have you ever heard an Israeli say, ‘Give more money to the Jewish Agency?’ ” asked Barry Shrage, president of the Boston federation, Combined Jewish Philanthropies. “They’re stuck in bureaucracies. We’re on the ground working with our local Israeli partners directly. If the Jewish Agency had something compelling, we’d invest in them, too.”

"By empowering the federations to make spending decisions without the encumbrances of exclusive partnerships with the JDC and the Jewish Agency, JFNA officials say they believe overseas giving ultimately will rise.

(Quote deleted for excess jargon)... said Joe Berkofsky, a spokesman for JFNA.

"Another factor is the growing influence of foundations in the Jewish philanthropic landscape. Under the new Global Planning Table, there could be closer collaborations between federation and philanthropic foundations, and by absolving itself of its exclusive commitments to the Jewish Agency and the JDC, the federation system will have more discretion to funnel money to the right ideas.

“It’s an opportunity for us to partner with foundations in ways we haven’t previously,” said Joanne Moore, senior vice president of global planning at JFNA.

The process by which the Global Planning Table will go about making allocation decisions involves new commissions and committees -- lots of them.

First, committees comprised of representatives of the federations, the Jewish Agency, the JDC and others will discuss priorities for the federation system. Then the Global Planning Table’s executive steering committee, which will include federations but not the Jewish Agency or JDC, will decide on those priorities.

Commissions then will research how best to achieve those priorities, including consultations with outside experts, and goals for overseas spending will be set by the executive steering committee. Once that committee makes its allocations recommendations, JFNA’s board of trustees will make the final determinations about allocations; the JDC and Jewish Agency will not have a vote.

“It will be those who sit closest to the trough who eat first,” said one opponent of the plan who spoke on condition of anonymity.

What is almost certain is that the Global Planning Table will add a layer of complexity, work and deliberation to federations’ overseas giving. Moore acknowledges the process probably will require the hiring of new staff to help manage it. But ultimately, according to JFNA, it will be worth it.

This humble commentatators Predictions on winners and Losers

Winners: Private Foundations, religious and ideologically based well organized NGO's; Overhead; the cult of Barry Shrage; JDC (short term at best); paid experts and consultants; the Jewish identity industry (read entrepreneurial ventures masquerading as non-profits)

Losers: JAFI; JDC (long term); federation boards; social service needs of the poor and desperate; the collective whole

LisaB said...

Anonymous above:

"the Jewish identity industry (read entrepreneurial ventures masquerading as non-profits)"

So good it needs to be said twice. I think I love you.

Acher said...

Ah gee Lisa B, your post inspired me to go from anonymity to semi-anonymity! So to add midrash to my comment and at what I suspect is the risk of flunking the second date:

Once upon a time the organized Jewish world was led by persons of strength, talent and committment but absent of "charisma" and self promoted rock star talent. The message they conveyed, in board rooms and their work was that the collective superceded the individual, that strong agencies with strong boards was what made a difference. They would hate being called a "community hero". While there has always been talented and innovative visionaries, they too often understood that to ensure long term success their initial vision and passion should be channneled into organization building, structure and board development. Dorot in NY is a perfect example of this, still after many decades doing great work on a much larger scale, still attracting young committed volunteers to service frail elders. Many of the initial founders have moved on to do other great stuff.

That is not what I see today and because the personality and very nice dreams of the entrepreneur are rooted in the command and control of a few the necessary steps toward growth and sustainability do not occur.

Shabbat Shalom.

paul jeser said...

The Jewish Federations’ significant step backwards

Dan Brown

LisaB said...

Acher. Agree.

As I see it much is indicative of the changing face of the Jewish community.

Dial back 100 years. A smaller, immigrant community. some people formed businesses or institutions that employed people, gave structure and income to the community and as such they became leaders. Their leadership skills transferred from their business and personal lives to that of upholding the community.

If you look at the great machers of the American Jewish community they built great businesses that began with community support and patronage and in return employed and pulled up the community. Leadership was intrinsic.

Fast forward to now as these elder statesmen die off. The larger donors fall into two camps - the children of the great leaders and the newly wealthy. The first camp are generally well meaning and certainly contribute but, but except for a few have never built anything that resonated in the community and business world. Their experience extends to moving in the right circles and spending other peoples money. The second camp have frequently grown in a very different and insular world - generally finance and the professions such as law which require education and connections. Their experience is not as community leaders who've employed their bretheren but again, as a group that moves in the right circles and spends other peoples money.

The community has changed and the leadership has changed. The concept of organic growth from the ground up (as real leaders grow) has turned into throwing money at any kid with a bright idea and expecting a leader to emerge. On the side of the youth, the eternal hand held out in expectation seems to be the norm.

There is a golden rule which has been forgotten - that without price is deemed as being without value.

Acher said...

Lisa, your sociological interpretation of mega donors rings true. No wonder they can't behave and play well with others and no wonder they seek to dominate all rooms and dictate the result of any discussion they take part in. On the other hand...

A generation ago we had major stakeholders, captains of their industry, who understood their latent power but knew how to "keep their gun in the holster" and with rare exceptions deferred to community boards. Many of their children have learned well from their parents and uphold traditions of "servant leadership". They were and are builders of communities and a Jewish state. We can all bemoan the current soap operas of the Federation movement but at least there the wisdom of the many can if they will to compete with the bluster of a few.