Tuesday, September 18, 2012

FEDERATIONS IN DECLINE

To paraphrase the brilliant Wall Street Journal columnist, Bret Stephens, on a wholly different topic than he had focused upon: "I tend to think that the buzz about (federation) decline mistakes the mediocrity of (JFNA leadership) for the destiny of the (federation system)." We have heard and read that we have entered the "post-federation system;" and a large number of recent CEO hires suggest that lay and professional leadership in so many places haven't a real clue about federation core values or about the lay role in the lay-professional partnership that is at the heart of federation qua federation -- and certainly there's no one home at JFNA who might coach them as they are clueless at 25 Broadway as never before. Is it any wonder, when coupled with a crushing economic reality and a national organization incapable or unable to provide any guidance, so many of our federations feel they can no longer find their way?

We can point back but a few years in JFNA history, when the organization positioned its Consulting Services professionals at the intersection of consultants and federations in strategic planning processes. Rather than any attempt to infuse those communal-led processes with federationcentric values, in apparent ignorance of them, federations like San Diego and Philadelphia, once at the center of federation work were led away from the centrality of federation in Jewish communal life and planning -- and the results, as they say, speak for themselves. Those who raised substantive concerns about JFNA's role in this process at the Departmental level were merely cast aside.

And we can point to the deconstruction of the entire financial resource development effort at JFNA. FRD, its most critical effort, the one most wanted by federation after federation in JFNA's own internal federation polling (polling discontinued when it consistently conflicted with JFNA leaders' determination to turn its fleeting attention elsewhere. Staff down-sized (at one point the entire FRD operation was placed under the control of an unknowing, out of touch, Consulting Services professional), lay Chairs cast aside or ignored (until they quit), federation lay visits for suite solicitation, FRD solicitor training, leadership development eliminated. JFNA now saw itself as something for which its current leadership were far better suited -- party planning, big (although they turned out small) "events" like the Festivus and the like. Pretty soon they will be doing cruise ships. But having announced a new and enhanced national Missions program, JFNA produced a NWP Mission of some success and...then...announced and recruited for and canceled a King David Society Mission to "Peru," scheduled it to compete with the Prime Minister's Mission to Berlin, make that Rome, and Israel, canceled the KDS Mission, and have fewer registrants on the PM Mission than over the history of JFNA. They can't even run the events they hype -- more on TribeFest later this New Year.

We can point to the millions spent on JFNA marketing itself as another act of terrible futility. Rebranding, tag lines...millions gone. Waste everywhere we look. An organization in search of its purpose when purpose is found in 157 federations and 400 Network communities.

Then, there is the JFNA executive placement process operated by JFNA with its Mandel Center for Excellence in Leadership and Management. Best I can tell, the Mandel Leaders of the yada yada yada feel no responsibility to input federationcentric values into the CEO search processes they lead. They don't get it. You want a guy who marketed khakis and worked for a third echelon Jewish organization, we got that guy; you want someone from outside the federation system, we've got plenty; you want a sitting Federation campaign Chair or similar who wants to lead a Large City federation, we've got a few of those. JUst us tell us what you want. Federation values....what are those? Experiences...who needs 'em? This is the same Mandel Center, by the way, that ran that short-lived (two "classes") program for future federation CEOs -- if that Mandel can't connect with what they are doing in this Mandel, what hope is there?

Now, federation after federation has turned  away not just from hiring from within but to hiring from far, far away. While converting lay leaders deeply involved in federation A to CEO in federation B may work (e.g., Atlanta) or not (e.g., San Diego and so many more), empirical results aren't yet in and the sample is small. Of greater concern are those communities whose lay leaders fail to comprehend that it is the professional leader who represents communal continuity not them. This conflation of professional leaders with no historic experience with federation where lay leaders are similarly lacking strikes me as a recipe for communal disaster. And JFNA's leaders? They sit back, wring their hands and issue Briefings.

A recent hire in a major federation was described in the puff piece announcing the  appointment thusly: "______ is typical of an increasing number of accomplished business executives who, after achieving great success both in business and as a community volunteer believe they can achieve even more good by devoting their full energy and talent to their true passion." Let us pray. This new CEO comes from within the Federation family with a federation lay background; so many more, like Jerry Silverman, as one example, do not. This new CEO succeeds a talented and experienced federation professional who had earned her chops with the superb leadership of another federation; her successor, whom we wish every success, earned his in a marketing role at Nationwide Insurance and in multiple lay roles at federation. 

As I close, Federations "in the market" for a new CEO should understand this: not one federation which has opted "outside the system" believing that this evidenced their "thinking outside the boxes" can point to sustained successful outcomes. From JFNA through every federation that has done so...not a single success. We've seen the "deck chairs" move, oh yes; we've seen new "tag lines," sure; we've seen community after community "revisioning" -- but, we have seen not a single example of success. At least not yet.

Not one.

JFNA, at $30.3 million per year is on life support, without purpose or vision.. Introspection, any one?

L'shana tova tikateivu.

Rwexler




5 comments:

paul jeser said...

THE JEWISH FEDERATION SYSTEM IS DEAD; LONG LIVE THE JEWISH FEDERATION

Paul Jeser – fayepaul67@aol.com

http://ujtheeandme.blogspot.com/2010/07/federations-are-deadthe-jeser-approach.html

Anonymous said...

How did JFNA become complicit in the destruction of the system? Do we need a national organization for this?

Anonymous said...

The fiasco that is JFNA and its dedication only to itself is our fault, no one else's. "When good men and women are silent..."

Anonymous said...

Now, federation after federation has turned away not just from hiring from within but to hiring from far, far away. While converting lay leaders deeply involved in federation A to CEO in federation B may work (e.g., Atlanta) or not (e.g., San Diego and so many more), empirical results aren't yet in and the sample is small. Of greater concern are those communities whose lay leaders fail to comprehend that it is the professional leader who represents communal continuity not them. This conflation of professional leaders with no historic experience with federation where lay leaders are similarly lacking strikes me as a recipe for communal disaster. And JFNA's leaders? They sit back, wring their hands and issue Briefings.

Love this quote. It's a similar issue in large city JCC's and Family Service Agencies. GREAT POINT!

RWEX said...

Thanks