I've written before of the potential for abuse when power in a Jewish non-profit is held too tightly by too few. And now, once again, the evidence is in that JFNA, our public charity, owned by us, is being run as if it were but a private business -- and none of ours.
We've noted on these pages that this leadership has cut Dues "deals" without regard to "hardship" with federations like Los Angeles and Las Vegas (the latter certainly a candidate for hardship) and, no doubt others, each without any disclosure to the JFNA Board of the extent of the "deals," individually or in the aggregate. We have been told, time and again, that JFNA has "never, ever" made its budget at times of Dues non-payment or under-payment by taking dollars from the ever-reducing core allocations to JAFI/JDC. Yet, somehow, annually, JFNA has managed to spend down its $30.3 million Budget. What's the magic formula? We'd all like to use it at home.
But, now, an even more serious action, writing off in excess of $1 million in unpaid allocations to JAFI/JDC with no governance approval and no consultation with JAFI or JDC reflects on how a miniscule group of our leaders have been taking unilateral action that impact on all of us -- with no standards and, worse, no process. A little history...
Back in the day, I chaired the United Jewish Appeal's Allocations Committee -- a great and dedicated group of men and women. You will recall that UJA was owned by the Joint and UIA, JAFI's principal; we loved going out to the federations to advocate for increased core allocations, prepped by UJA's brilliant CFO, Lee Twersky. I was succeeded by Norm Tilles, z'l, and then Alan Shulman, terrific and dedicated lay leaders. In some instances, we had to negotiate allocations write-offs, transactions that we (a) put in writing; and (b) always accompanied the write-down with what we called a quid pro quo -- an agreement with the community to increase its core allocation as its campaign grew. In each instance, we took those agreements to the UJA Executive Committee for approval. And in every instance, but one (and that one, in which the leaders of a single Large City unilaterally and without notice of prior disclosure breached its agreement with UJA, a story for another day), the agreements were honored by honorable people, leaders in their federations.
I just read, in the Jewish News of Greater Phoenix (3/2/2012) a report of the sorry state of overseas allocations from a community with which JFNA "partnered" in its aborted "Emerging Communities" effort (aborted unilaterally by JFNA without discussion with those of us involved in the effort)...a federation now reframed as The Jewish Community Association; a community with so much potential and almost no realization. The news story reported a $350,500 allocation to Israel and Overseas needs spread among 17 programs...an average of $21,000 per program. But, at least the community, in its new framework, is trying to do something. And, then I read that "...over the next five years, JCA will reimburse the Jewish Federations of North America, $500,000 in total" for allocated but unpaid allocations -- that's $100,000 per year for the next five years. Then came the topper: "JFNA has also forgiven the JCA for approximately $1 million in unpaid overseas allocations..." That's $1 million..."forgiven by JFNA"!!!!
Now, it seems pretty clear from the News story, that this JFNA/Phoenix "deal" was in the form of a quid pro quo -- a write-off and a promise to pay some of an unpaid allocation and a commitment of not less than 20% "from future campaigns...for Israel and Overseas needs." But this is no longer the era when the overseas partners owned the UJA; this is now. These unpaid allocations are not the "property" of JFNA, they belong to JAFI and the Joint...period. Everybody who believes that the JFNA "leaders" who cut this deal spoke with JAFI and JDC, please raise your hands. Seeing none, let me ask: how many believe that JFNA even thought that speaking with JAFI/JDC might be appropriate, raise your hands. Uh huh; same response. This is not about whether this is a good deal for JFNA, for Phoenix or for JAFI/JDC; this is about JFNA arrogating to itself the authority to make deals on money owed to and the property of others. This is about JFNA's continued disregard of its fiduciary responsibilities.
There seems to be an ad hoc policy at JFNA that reflects the sad state created by a closed off leadership: if you Chair an activity or Department, e.g, Financial Relations, and are deemed to be a "go along" kind of leader (e.g., in the thrall of the JFNA leadership, a vocal cheerleader, etc.), you can serve in perpetuity; if you are deemed by the Board Chair and CEO to be "not JFNA" (e.g., you may have questioned some policy, practice or expenditure and you are not "protected" by your federation)m you are "rotated" out of your position with, maybe, a form letter. What kind of behavior does this practice encourage? Is this a form of institutional corruption?
So, now the threshold question: was this write off of $1,000,000 of funds owed to and owned by JAFI and the Joint ever approved by any governance body of JFNA? And, clearly, the answer is "no." Friends, this "deal" is more than a shanda; it is as clear a violation of fiduciary responsibility as anything JFNA has or hasn't done since the first year of its existence when JFNA paid employee severance out of the overseas allocations.
This is JFNA at its worst. And, as always, the fault dear Brutus is not in our stars but in ourselves.