Monday, November 19, 2012


Haviv Rettig Gur, journalist, Director of Communications at JAFI and, now, a journalist once again, has been engaged with our system in a serious way for years. In ejewishphilanthropy, Gur, after this year's General Assembly, offered readers the most insightful analysis yet of the futility of the Global Planning Table and of JFNA itself. It is a long and thoughtful analysis and I urge all of you to read it in its totality at

 I commend Haviv's analysis in particular to JFNA's new lay leaders (if I had any hope that JFNA's two professionals leading the GPT effort or "sell" would read and could/would understand what Gur has written, I would suggest they do so as well).

This is how Gur ended his piece.

"What is JFNA?

And finally, the GPT suffers from JFNA’s own lack of clarity about its purpose.
Is JFNA a trade association that offers services to constituent federations? A Jewish “government” or representative that lobbies in Washington and Jerusalem? A professional advisory (or even decision making) body where federation dollars are divvied up and shipped to projects and organizations?

Those are all radically different missions that demand radically different capabilities. As a lobbyist (at least in Jerusalem; its Washington office is widely regarded as successful), JFNA is not an effective agent of influence or change. Professionals from medium and small federations at the General Assembly say it isn’t even on the map as a trade association exchanging best practices, or offering skills development and fundraising expertise for smaller federations. And the GPT process notwithstanding, it is increasingly not the address for overseas giving, even from federations.

Instead of clarifying the organization’s purpose and role, the GPT process seems to be highlighting the confusion.

Those affiliated with the GPT often speak of the need to “grow the whole pie” rather than merely move around a shrinking amount of dollars. But the response of the GPT, the attempt to entice federations to shift more money to GPT-related giving and away from their own local investments, isn’t really “growing the pie” at all. The pie, after all, is generated by the constituent federations themselves. It is their budgets that must grow if anything else in the federation system is to flourish.

For many years now, JFNA has focused too much on its own place in the system, and too little on transforming into what many federations, particularly those smaller than the behemoths of New York or Chicago, desperately need it to be: a clearinghouse of serious research and knowledge, a repository of best practices and clear-headed analysis, an enabler of growth, a living social network for thousands of federation and fundraising professionals across America.

As the trade association of a struggling industry, it is time for JFNA to shift away from its focus on decision making and management of a declining pot of “collective” overseas giving, and truly commit itself to “growing the pot” – to transforming weak federations from beleaguered, collapsing dinosaurs to the innovators and inspiring storytellers that the best, most adaptive federations have become.

What is missing is not a new organization or process, or more terms like “collective” or “partners,” but rather a clear understanding of what JFNA is, and what it is not.
“One should use common words to say uncommon things,” Arthur Schopenhauer once advised.

Nowhere is that more necessary than in philanthropy, where fear of a donor’s displeasure too often paralyzes an institution and robs it of the ability to speak bluntly about its challenges and strategy. It is, perhaps, time for JFNA to speak plainly about the struggling industry that it serves. JFNA isn’t the cause for the weaknesses of the federation world, but neither is it part of the solution."

Kal ha'kavod, Haviv.



Anonymous said...

What I find most fascinating (and frustrating) is that it should be relatively easy for JFNA to pivot itself and become that clearinghouse for best practices; providing value as a trade organization. There are bright spots out there, with professional and lay leadership who are reinventing the Federation best practices for collective giving and redefining what creating and supporting Jewish community and infrastructure means in the 21st century. Nurturing and highlighting them should not be an unsurmountable feat. It is just a matter of making it a priority.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous one is correct. And they can start by sending their staff uptown and out to Queens and Brooklyn to see how one Amazing version of 21st century federation community building works when in a challenge mode.