Thursday, November 3, 2011


The proposed Global Planning Table, now coupled with a meaningless even destructive "Second Membership Criterion," is Fools' Gold, a cryogenic chamber in which the hopes of the federations for something/anything from JFNA will be frozen in time until the federations come to their senses. By then, if then, so much will be lost...

The "GPT Plan" as drafted and revised presents such a convoluted piece of gibberish, it's not fit to wrap fish in. Let's, for a moment, revisit some recent history. The merger that created what is now JFNA was induced in part by express representations to the UIA (for the Jewish Agency) and the JDC, both of which would have to give up their ownership of the United Jewish Appeal, that one express purpose of the merger was to create greater financial resources for the overseas partners -- JAFI and the Joint. Over the next 12 years, JFNA not only failed to advocate for increased resources for the partners with the federations, it and its leaders sat passively over the last 6 years as allocations to the core budgets of the two partners dropped by over $200 million. 

Twice over the past three years, the Jewish Agency and JDC reached agreement as to how to divide federation core allocations -- the first agreement rejected by the actions of a single federation which determined that the term of the JAFI/JDC agreement was "too long" (five years!!); the second rejected unilaterally and with out discussion by JFNA. These "rejections" should have been signal enough to the partners that they weren't.

Nonetheless, hopeful that they would be treated as true partners in the future if not today, the Jewish Agency and JDC entered into an Agreement with JFNA in November 2010, that assured them full participation in a Global Planning Table, a meaningful Second Membership Criterion for federation eligibility, and a plan mutually acceptable for joint marketing and FRD.

In the midst of this sordid history, at the very end of a desultory JFNA Owners' Retreat in February 2009, there was a discussion of what a Global Planning Table (or some such) might mean for JFNA. Few federations were present throughout the Retreat but almost none remained for the "discussion" of a global planning function, but JFNA's leaders, then and now, profess that a consensus emerged to develop and implement just such a device -- the purposes of which were not clear. Over the next months, JFNA's leaders expanded on that "consensus" redefining it as a mandate. Over the months, JFNA hired a consultant, created another one of its "secret Committees" (those federations who had no representative on the "Framing Committee" were unaware of its existence) and emerged this past Spring with a consultant's version of "GPT Straw Man" presentation that was rolled out in a series of Regional meetings to almost unanimous derision -- even JFNA's rubber stamp Executive Committee expressed strong opposition.

Undeterred, JFNA not only budgeted an additional $1.2 million for the GPT prior to its approval, it hired a senior professional in JFNA Washington to lead an effort that had not been approved. Then, over the past weeks, a revised Draft of the "GPT Plan" emerged -- Transforming the Future of Collective Action: The Global Planning Table. I would urge you to read this convoluted "Plan" for yourselves. After reading and rereading it myself, I can only conclude, as John McEnroe did after a horrible line call at Wimbledon years ago: "You cannot be serious." It was H. L. Mencken who must have anticipated this "Plan" when he wrote of another: "[I]t has the great virtue of being totally unintelligible."

A few things emerge in the GPT Plan that are clear:

     ~ No one at JFNA really has a clue what the concepts of collective responsibility or "partner" really means;

     ~ The Agency and Joint are partners in name only with lip service given to the entire concept of partnership;

     ~ To gain acceptance of the "GPT Plan," JFNA is perfectly willing to unilaterally breach its Agreement with JAFI/JDC. While that Agreement provided that "JAFI and JDC will be full, non-voting members of the GPT...," the Plan offers far less.

     ~ "Core funding" is an alien concept to the authors of the "Plan."

     ~ The "Plan"  incorporates New York UJA-Federation's "Commission" approach to planning and allocations with no apparent analysis of either the costs of "importing" such a system into JFNA or of JFNA's ability to implement it. JFNA clearly lacks the professional competency of New York and already suffers the bureaucratic bloat that this "GPT Plan" promises to build upon.

     ~ No one involved in the JFNA construction of the "GPT Plan" experienced the disaster that ONAD proved to be over its five years of failures. While JFNA's leaders may hope and pray that the Global Planning Table will prove successful as ONAD was not, to one who was deeply involved in the ONAD fiasco it is clear that the GPT as "planned" will prove even worse. No attempt has been made by JFNA's leaders to even study the errors of ONAD, the GPT Plan only "promises" to compound them from day one.

     ~ With all the lip service to the "historic partners" the Jewish Agency and the Joint, at the end of Calendar Year 2012, it is JFNA's express intent to: control all federation Israel and overseas core allocations (such as they may be by 12/12) and determine their application notwithstanding the intent or direction of any single federation from largest to smallest; notwithstanding the intent or plans of the JDC Board for those funds, substitute its determination for the Joint's, ignoring the the reality that JDC is an independent American entity ; and notwithstanding the reality that neither JFNA nor the federations "own" the Jewish Agency -- we, the federations, are but minority co-owners with the Keren Ha'Yesod countries, the World Zionist Organization (more about that in future weeks) and, yes, the Government of Israel, JAFI's largest partner, and, maybe, the Holy Land Fellowship of Christians and Jews, whose core allocations to the Jewish Agency already exceed those of Keren Ha'Yesod and will, if trends continue, soon exceed those of the federations, direct the application of core funds to the Agency; and relegate its overseas "partners" to beneficiary status. 

     ~ Assume, for purposes of a discussion among us, that those major federations which have committed to the Jewish Agency and/or the Joint that their core allocations will be "protected" in their communal decisions, follow through on these commitments; and assume further that those federations which currently designate all or most of their Israel and overseas allocations wish to continue to do so, the funds available to the GPT for its purposes will be far more restricted and ineffectual in dictating a "new collective" than its draftspersons expect. But...they just didn't think about that, did they?

     ~ JFNA, sensing that the definitions in the half-baked Plan are inadequate to their intent, contemplate that the "Partnership Committee"(on which neither JAFI nor the Joint will sit) will redefine the system's responsibilities to the system's "Historic Partners" (the Agency and Joint) by creating a set of "selection criteria" that might...or might the worst exclude them and, at "best," convert cherished partners into grantees. What we have, my friends, is a bad Plan, poorly drafted, that will wreak havoc...and which will be approved next week at the General Assembly.

     ~ To illustrate the willingness of JFNA to distort reality in pursuit of the approval of the GPT Plan, consider this: at a meeting a few weeks ago, JFNA leaders almost broke their arms patting themselves on their own backs (that contortion is known in federation circles as "doing the JFNA") on the success of the Select Core Priorities program as a forerunner of the GPT. Here's what JFNA calls a "success:" 10 of 157 federations chose to participate (In a declining allocations environment 147 federations said: "No.")   -- that's 6%. These 10 put a total of $2 million into the Core Priorities. That's about 2% of total allocations to JAFI/JDC. And, yet, those at JFNA, who were last heard desperately calling federation staffs around the country, begging them to participate, now termed this not just "victory" but an indicator of the future success of the GPT. And, at this same meeting, the usual lay suspects offered their congratulations. Orwell would have been so proud.

Last Friday JFNA issued one of those Leadership Briefings that revealed more by what it did not say than what it did about the Global Planning Table -- no reference to the creation of additional resources; no explanation of the costs that will be incurred in its creation; and most revealing the only mention of JAFI/JDC is their inclusion as one of apparently many "global partners" who will need to have JFNA "coordinate" their "fundraising, marketing and communications." 

No one would disagree that the federations' collective commitment to Israel and overseas needs has been neutered. An argument can certainly be made that the merger mandated that the national system ab initio was obligated to be at the forefront of advocacy for those needs and that JFNA, from Day One of its existence, has remained silent (but for sporadic outbursts). Now, JFNA states that through a GPT that it will control, all will be well. If you believe that, I have a Bridge in Brooklyn to sell you. This so-called "Plan" cries out "trust me" and "run for your lives" at one and the same time.

It is clear to this observer that the market reflected in federation allocations  decisions was and is perfectly capable of determining how and where collective allocations should be directed. The Jewish Agency and Joint are fully capable of competing in and for that market without JFNA's attempt to control and dictate that for which it has no core competency. It does not take any particular prescience to predict that the GPT will be the table at which the federation system died. To date, I can think of no new initiative of JFNA that has been executed to the standard of excellence called for by the arrogation to the GPT of the allocations function heretofore executed by the federations, JDC and JAFI (and UIA).

But, JFNA drives this bus, with the acquiescence of federations who know better, toward the precipice. The JFNA Executive Committee, which had implicitly rejected an earlier iteration of the "GPT Plan," without objection, approved it two weeks ago. Everyone involved in this coming debacle, one that will cost everyone involved dearly, should know better -- and many of them do. And those that do will again have to clean up the mess that this Fools' Gold will surely leave behind.




paul jeser said...

This sort of proves my belief that the Federation system, at least as we knew it to be, is no longer viable:


Anonymous said...

Outstanding analysis. Sadly, 100% accurate.

Anonymous said...

Richard, for those not privy to the document could you offer a link to the GPT proposal...or at least publish a summary thereof. You understate BTW the pathetic quality of the JFNA briefing on the subject. We always knew there were no policy planners at the organization --now we know there are no marketers.

Anonymous said...

Core funding cuts both ways. On the one hand it gives administrative flexibility to agencies. On the other hand it gives a phony license to cut to federations and donors alike who are shielded from seeing the harm a reduced percentage or ten here or there does. Time to move on to a system of greater accountability for all.

Anonymous said...

Welcome back. I'm so pleased to have your analysis of the current "thinking."

It is unfortunate that there is such a fundamental lack of understanding of what is occurring "in the trenches."

As a Fed Exec, I have not had a call from JFNA asking anything in the last four years. Quite incredible.

For most of us, we just go about trying to advocate, assist, rescue, and educate our constituencies. JFNA continues to be an deaf ivory tower and a ghost of the past, resting on ancient laurels.

I have already sat shiva and moved on.