Thursday, August 9, 2012


On July 31, David Butler, the lay Chair of the Global Planning Table sent an e-mail ("An Important Message from David J. Butler") to the Global Planning Table Committee Members. In pertinent part, Butler's Message read as follows:
"From the very beginning of our GPT work together, we have emphasized the importance of members being able to speak with one another freely; to disagree forcefully yet politely, where necessary; and to respect the right of each of us yo hold and exchange unpopular views on issues we will be confronting in our work. We know that the work of GPT is of great concern and focus within the Federation community and beyond. We all know that our work is sensitive and important. And we all pledged to observe and respect strict confidentiality outside the walls of our committee work, so that each of us will feel free to speak freely and openly on the significant issues that we have been asked to address. That pledge has been broken by at least one member of our committee.

If you are not comfortable with the ground rules to which we have agreed, and are unable to observe strict confidentiality regarding the work of our committee, I invite you to resign...We are simply not going to be able to have the kind of robust and honest discussions our work requires if every speaker needs to worry that his words might be taken out of context -- or even quoted outside the committee in context -- in ways that chill the deliberative process...our work relies upon our members feeling protected by mutual pledges of confidentiality in the free exchange of ideas with one another." 
This was an "important message" but I would suggest that its effect will actually chill debate not encourage it. Forget for a moment that those who sent it to me were probably in breach the demand for "total secrecy" within the GPT; and forget for the moment that those who have called and corresponded with me on the subject have no recollection of any demand, express or implied, that the discussions within all areas of the GPT be cloaked in secrecy. (Given the number of times we have all heard the various Chairs recite the mantra of "confidentiality," the demand for secrecy was no doubt implicit in the very convening of the GPT.) Butler's message raises a critical question worthy of debate -- if JFNA ever actually permits debate.

My recent Posts on JFNA's posturing  and cover-up on "zionism" has brought forth the usual outcry, including: JFNA's meetings are all "confidential;" multiple parties (all of the "accused" are misidentified) are accused of "leaking" information to me that I should not have; I am accused of breaching "confidentiality" by revealing what I know in a public way; etc., etc.  All of this raises some serious questions:
  • Aren't the meetings of a public charity (and JFNA and the federations are public charities) required to be open and transparent? I recall that back in the day, reporters were actually invited to our organization's meetings (which typically bored the hell out of them) and confidentiality was only demanded when government officials were discussing things like Israel's security. Today, every JFNA meeting begins with Manning's (or another Chair's) admonition that "this meeting is confidential." Sure, what goes on here, stays here. JFNA doesn't even recognize its responsibilities as a public charity to act and debate in public.
  • Aren't transparency and openness good for an organization? The mantra "information is power" doesn't dictate that "information" be the sole province of a small group of leaders. The law actually forbids the kind of institutional secrecy that JFNA's leaders demand of its members. Imagine the kind of engagement that could be JFNA's with its owners if it shared all information with them. As an example: how many of the Owners know of the extent of any litigation pending against JFNA or settled?
  • It's timely that the Nonprofit Quarterly just explored the issues surrounding transparency in a lengthy, comprehensive article on August 7. The author, Rick Cohen, described the difference between "managed transparency" -- "telling the story" that public charities and foundations want their constituencies "to hear and understand" -- and "real transparency." Cohen concluded that "stage-managed transparency...simply isn't transparency." Cohen emphasizes the responsibility/obligation of the public charity to full transparency with its "stakeholders" -- i.e., in the case of JFNA, with its owners and donors. The author concludes by listing the benefits of real transparency over the desire by some for confidentiality: telling a better story; enhancing legitimacy; fostering greater engagement; increasing accountability; and mitigating "abuse of 501(c) confidentiality." So, while our system continues to demand "total confidentiality," best practice outside of our system is calling for greater transparency.
       And, as one commentator to Cohen's paper has written: There are two ways to consider transparency. We can conclude it an obligation -- a compliance issue. Or we can consider it a prerequisite to being fully engaged and participatory in how we do our work. The former brings with it layers of "how much is too much" and the often childish push back of "I don't want to" and "Because I said so." The latter, though, brings opportunities for creating a better world -- the thing we are all here to accomplish. When instead of transparency, we consider issues like "fully engaged communities" and "fully participatory leadership" -- well, we stop asking about being transparent, and we realize that there is power in inviting others to be part of our work at all levels -- including the decision-making and the strategic thinking that leads to that decision-making. We then realize what (sic) we can't have without everyone having the same information. That de facto leads to transparency. But it's not with the intent of "being transparent." It's because you can't have fully engaged "communities" if everyone is hiding their stuff.

And, at JFNA the dictate is "hide your stuff, hide our stuff" or you are o.u.t.!! No debate, dictate. No transparency; strict secrecy -- or you are o.u.t.!!



Anonymous said...

How does one reach you?

RWEX said...

Any reader who wishes to contact me directly can do so by e-mail to