Sunday, November 13, 2011


The press has provided all of us with some excellent analysis, unburdened by biases one way or the other, of the implications of the Global Planning Table. Articles in The Forward and JTA provided perspectives from the GA itself, The Jewish Week interviewed an ever-optimistic Jewish Agency Chair of the Executive, Natan Sharansky. And, in a brilliant commentary, Dan Brown, the founder of eJewishPhilanthropy, hit it out of the park. These articles and opinion pieces were factual and insightful -- we'll compare them to the hyperbole and outlandish self-serving comments of JFNA's leaders, astounding in themselves.

Certainly the JDC sees a short-term benefit -- the 75/25% "split" will go away.  (To be followed almost immediately with the Joint becoming [along with the Agency] just another supplicant.)  JAFI, in its comments, welcomed the "competition in the marketplace, joining the JDC in doing so. The reality is that short-term benefits will be offset by the confusion, competition and diffusion the GPT will inevitably, even immediately, sow. A division that will not just pit the Agency and Joint against each other but against other organizations and agencies -- all within your federation and mine. The discipline of a system committed to collective responsibility will not just be eroded, it will be destroyed.

In Nathan Guttman's excellent article in  JTA -- Federations Drop Overseas Giving Formula -- one gets the impression that JFNA's leaders live in some alternate universe, clearly detached from reality. Thus, the Board Chair was quoted: One of the things we lost over the years is the understanding of what our partners do, how they use our dollars to make a real impact on the needs they deal with. Unbelievable. Here are the facts -- JFNA, unlike the predecessor organizations, failed and refused...that's right, advocate on behalf of either JAFI or the Joint at any time. Assuming that the Board Chair and CEO understand what the Jewish Agency and JDC do (and they should, for they dutifully attend almost if not every Board meeting of both organizations and, in the case of JAFI, sit on its Executive Committee), on the ground, in service of needs identified by the federations, it has been incumbent upon them to explain those needs to the JFNA constituency. They haven't. At times (for example, during the Wars in the North and South of Israel) JFNA's leaders demanded that neither the Jewish Agency nor Joint communicate their efforts even to their own leadership. And now, they wish to control them completely without even the courtesy of allowing them a seat at the table where decisions will be made.

Guttman pointed out that "...the JFNA plan...reflects a continuous drop in allocations by federations for casuses outside their immediate communities." And, it is so much worse than that. JFNA sat moot as federations reduced their core allocations to Israel and overseas needs by over $200 million -- on their watch. The JFNA CEO believes that this is a marketing issue ("you're just not getting your message across") -- isn't everything? But JFNA, charged with the responsibility of increasing resources to the Joint and JAFI by the Merger itself, stood silent, and failed to respond to the pleas of the partners and now, somehow, through the magic of the GPT suggest that all will be well. Again, I am reminded of the child who kills her parents and pleads for the mercy of the court because now she is an orphan.

In all of its written and oral presentations of the GPT, JFNA's leaders emphasized, without a single detail to support their conclusions, that the GPT will revive allocations and bring the federations' collective power to bear on the needs in Israel and overseas. They permitted no questioning of these conclusions. And there were no answers -- the federations, more or less unanimously, approved "a work in process" without detail other than a structure that makes the proposed Egyptian voting process seem simple and direct.

It was Dan Brown, in his The Jewish Federations' Big Gamble, who concluded that the GPT is, for the federations and JFNA, "...a big step backward." The federations, Dan wrote, are " saddled with a new level of bureaucracy." The author framed two key questions that neither JFNA nor, apparently, the federations paused to consider: Does JFNA really think the GPT will help grow donations (even slow a decline); and Does JFNA believe the next generation of donors will embrace this type of organizational structure? In fact, back in the Spring, as Jerry and JFNA's consultant trotted the GPT Draft across the country to Regional Meetings, these were among the questions asked and the criticisms leveled -- many by the very federations who a few months later, never having received an answer...none...just voted in favor of a Plan and structure which if changed at all from that which Jerry took notes on at those Regional meetings, changed, believe it or not, for the worse.

And a third question: How can JFNA, unable to date to execute the simplest of programs, be expected to manage and control a process so complicated as to be inexplicable? That's rhetorical, of course.

Brown concluded that "...the Global Planning Table is not the solution, but rather a ticking time bomb that will negatively effect Jewish giving going forward." And, friends, it's so much worse than even that.


1 comment:

Jewish Philanthropy News and Views said...

Be sure to check out the comment flow on the eJewish Philanthropy post: