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
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
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
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
Kal ha'kavod, Haviv.