Thursday, January 31, 2013


So, on January 23, the JFNA sent out an urgent announcement that Tribe Fest Is Coming Back.  (Like the world was waiting with baited breath.) And I want to thank all 57 of you who sent me the JFNA "tease" for your incredulity.

What was really meant follows:

Yes, our greatest waste of financial resources is returning. Why, you ask? Because otherwise we might actually do something constructive with your dollars -- something responsible, responsive to federations' needs. Why wouldn't we bring this piece of dreck back? After all, we proved that we could waste $2 million (+/-) so  far that might otherwise have been used to help the Jewish People, help our communities, our Owners --- so why not waste some more?

Sure, some of you true believers think that Festivus had some value -- of  course those would be the acolytes, the sycophants and those who just want to have a  swell time under the Big Top. As some wag once said when asked why year after year why he continued to clean up after the elephants at the circus -- "what, and get out of show business?"

I don't know whether to be more angry, more bewildered or simply howling with laughter. 



Monday, January 28, 2013


Twelve years ago, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, the United Israel Appeal and the United Jewish Appeals Boards voted to merge, creating with our federations what is today the Jewish Federations of North America. For the JDC and the Jewish Agency, one can only say that this merger has been a financial fact, a disaster in all ways. Perhaps the easiest way to define disaster in the this merger context is to look at annual cash distributions: since the merger, cash allocations to the Joint and the Agency have fallen by 52.4% and advocacy for both organizations by the federations' national organization has fallen to 0%. World ORT, since it was "welcomed" by JFNA as another "historic partner" in 2009 has seen its core cash allocation fall by 1/3. 

Almost beyond comprehension is the reality that unrestricted cash to the Jewish Agency had fallen from $185,000,000 in 2001 to $99,700,000 at the end of calendar year 2011 -- the first time in my history of involvement that unrestricted funding to JAFI had been reduced below $100,000,000. Whereas the UJA annual cash collection effort had always been a source of pride to its professional and lay leaders, today it can be nothing short of a source of embarrassment to the small cadre of professionals at 25 Broadway who still care deeply.

How does this happen? When federation campaigns felt the crushing blow of economic recession, some core allocation reduction was inevitable, but with the national organization sitting on its hands and with no advocacy for restoring core at least pari passu as federation campaigns regained traction and gained momentum,  there was and there is no voice for those of our People most in need other than from the JDC and JAFI themselves. (And, yes, as our two historic partners continued to battle with each other over formulas and "splits," they, too, lost track of the bigger picture.) The Jewish Agency's past Chairs had told JFNA directly and pointedly, that a $100 million allocations floor was the "red line" beyond which it could no longer sit by and await JFNA action. Today, JFNA's professional leaders have expressed neither concern nor apology for the federations' breach of this red line; continuing to expect JA and JDC to be nothing more (and a lot less) than limited partners in the ever more specious Global Planning Table assault upon them.

At the end of the day, JFNA, the organization formed in large part because of federations commitment to use the national vehicle to raise more revenues and more donors, has evidenced no commitment to do either.


Friday, January 25, 2013


I suppose that I could have titled this Post Deja Vu All Over Again, because , like Groundhog Day, that's what JFNA is...has become...always was.  For example....
  • I was terribly wrong about a forthcoming umpteenth "Strategic Plan" to be sprung on an unsuspecting JFNA Board at the imminent Board Retreat. In keeping with the rebranding that has become the one constant at JFNA, the Board will experience the roll-out (which it appears it will not see in advance but be expected to discuss) of the...drum roll please...Strategic Initiatives Project. Yes, this "project" we are now told "...will enable JFNA to focus its resources on the issues of most importance to the Federation system." Pardon me, isn't this what we had expected JFNA to actually have been doing these last 13 years(at a cost in excess of $600,000,000)? I, for one, can't wait...And, these don't appear to be the very Strategic Initiatives sprung on an unsuspecting GPT Committee one month ago? So, while the Global Planning Table hasn't yet literally swallowed up the entirety of JFNA, this is but a sideshow...a constant one. "Strategic Initiatives" -- everywhere.
  • The latest transmittal from the tiny group that is bringing you the catastrophic Global Planning Table, continues to take the federations down a disastrous path toward calamity. Now, although only a privileged few have actually seen it, your federation and mine have received a "Toolkit" prepared by these GPTers with which we are to "engage" (as only these characters define "engagement") our leadership with...something. You start with a thing called (and I am not making this up) The GPT Community Input Session Pre-Reading Document -- yes, your community and mine is supposed to "pre-read" this "background info." I guess before you read...ahhh, never mind. But, that's not all, there's a "Facilitator's Guide" -- in actuality, a five page, single-spaced script that you facilitators are apparently to read out in haec verba to the assembled --  and, leaving nothing to chance,  a "Community Input Session PowerPoint" to facilitate (that includes "audio clips of GPT Chair David Butler..." -- which, in reality, are the best evidence that the GPTers don't really trust you to "facilitate" even with a script and a PowerPoint as these "audio clips" preempt you from leading this session and substitute Butler instead -- maybe the GPTers can send on a hologram as well) ) that consists of 28 slides. Unfortunately, there is nothing in the Facilitator's "Guide" to suggest that participants bring a cot or air mattress. What the GPTers are demanding is really nothing less than total acceptance of their dictation of outcomes within a very narrow framework in the guise of a community "process."
  • You remember our Post on those December GPT Webinars where Chair Butler spelled out the "Strategic Initiatives" that had never been discussed before. Well, surprise surprise, those are now the topics for communal considerations as if they had been vetted somewhere...anywhere. Thus, the Global Planning Table continues down the path determined only by its leaders. THIS IS NUTS.
  • So, these "Strategic Initiatives" are to become the raison d'etre of JFNA going forward? Or will it be some alternative universe in which countless Strategic Initiatives are "debated." Give us a break.
Yes, friends, plus ca change...$600,000,000(+) and counting.


* I should note that on January 23, the Board Chair, with confidentiality warnings transmitted the Strategic Initiatives document. Given the strictures on confidentiality, I have not revised the Post above.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013


In New York City  (or somewhere in New Jersey), toward the end of a 2012 football season that can be charitably described as a debacle, fans of the New York Jets were heard to announce, behind masks and with bags over their heads,, that these were once again and apparently forever, the "same old Jets." For, after all, what can one say about a season in which the "Highlight" was what has come to be known as the "butt fumble?"

And then came JFNA's professional leader announcing what was 2012's JFNA "Highlights" -- the shutdown of TribeFest. Yes, TribeFest, the "butt fumble" of Jewish organizational life. JFNA finally (maybe) shut down programs that were ridiculous from the start -- these shut downs (add #ish and Community Heroes to a long sad list) were the equivalent of someone hitting you over the head for the past three years, then stopping and expecting thanks.

As we have noted on these pages, JFNA's administration over the past six, and especially the last 3, years has been a true opera bouffe. Hysterical...but not in a funny way.

Back to those Jets: it used to be that the fans would chant "JETS. JETS. JETS;" now the chant has become "MESS, MESS, MESS." And so it has become at 25 Broadway. If the new Co-Chairs don't act it will continue to be "MESS, MESS, MESS."


Saturday, January 19, 2013


The idle mind.....

~ Why is Abe Foxman, who I thought was the chief professional of the Anti-Defamation League, offering his own version of an almost endorsement of Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense? Does the ADL lack a mission statement (or a mission)? Is anti-semitism no longer of any interest to the ADL or has the organization branched out into the political realm? Does it no longer "fight anti-semitism, bigotry or extremism?" Jeez.

~ I read a very exciting article in the January 8 Wall Street Journal on the great value of "small bursts of exercise." I told my wife who is always urging me off the couch that walking up the stairs, walking down the stairs, getting up   from the couch, walking to the kitchen, lifting fork to mouth (vigorously) and similar, will henceforth count toward my weekly exercise totals. I should be svelte by June. Thank you WSJ.

~ I give great credit to JFNA for scheduling a Panel discussion at the 2012 GA on succession planning. The Panel included Dean Hal Lewis (whose speech was expanded into an excellent paper in ejewishphilanthropy), Mark Terrill, the brilliant Baltimore Federation CEO and the mysterious and elusive Debra Smith of JFNA. What successful business operates without a succession plan? And, what federation has one -- whether it be a presently successful federation or one currently in stasis? The attitude in our system (including JFNA) toward succession planning is clear: "I don't need no stinkin' successor..." Sure, who needs a potential successor learning the ropes, ready to succeed when succession occurs? Are you kidding me?


Wednesday, January 16, 2013


Way back in November, JFNA leaders (uh, CEO  Jerry) unilaterally announced that it was dumping (for lack of a better term) the cherished, leadership-building 27 year-old OTZMA Program. No plan for continuing the Program elsewhere -- it would just be gone. I saw this, as did others, as a budget savings decision -- to JFNA where 4 Jerusalem based staffers were assigned to OTZMA; and to the Large City Federations which supplied the bulk of the significant financial support for OTZMA participants. Forget that OTZMA was one of the few stars in the JFNA firmament -- I imagine a conversation among a some Federation CEOs and their faithful servant: "Jerry, get rid of OTZMA -- and we don't want to ever see our fingerprints on this decision." Without a second thought, Silverman did so -- after all currying favor with the Execs is CEO Jerry's first (only??) priority, as it should be. But, of course, this is all, ahem, speculation on my part.

No one apparently expected that the OTZMA alums, as a group and individually, groomed for professional leadership, might speak out, let alone lobby for the continuation of a Program that actually produced positive results for our system and other Jewish organizations. The return on investment in OTZMA was disproportionate to the federations' investment -- directly and through JFNA and its predecessor organizations. So, under pressure, JFNA desperately sought out an organization that might provide the requisite continuity.
And, so it came to pass that two months after JFNA announced that it was closing OTZMA down, it broadcast that OTZMA would continue as part of the Jewish Agency's Israel Experience operation. I chaired the United Jewish Appeal during OTZMA's first years of implementation -- now, OTZMA is returning "home" as it were, But, at least two questions remain: (1) what support will the Federations provide in 2013 and beyond to a program, its value to those very federations notwithstanding, to a Program they really...really...wanted to just disappear or, even better, continue without federation financial support? And, (2) inasmuch as the Jewish Agency itself ceased its financial support for OTZMA in 2009, and as JA's core budget support from the North American federations has drastically declined for all purposes since then, where is its financial support for OTZMA come from today?

And, here is the bizzaro JFNA "moment" in all of this...In announcing that OTZMA will now be in the hands of a Jewish Agency operation, washing its hands of this "problem," Silverman wrote on January 4: "In determining the best new home for OTZMA, JFNA utilized a professional task force and advisory committee comprised of past and present OTZMA chairs." determining that OTZMA's home should no longer be housed within and funded by the federations' umbrella task force, no advisory'...

Just asking....when does this stuff stop?


Sunday, January 13, 2013


Friends, would you believe that any of the following could be true?
  • that when Michael Siegal accepted the White House invitation to a December Party at the White House on our behalf, CEO Jerry had a visible temper tantrum at 25 Broadway because he believed that he should have gone? After all, his "peers," like ADL's one-man show, Foxman, went, so why not CEO Jerry?
  • that the head of JFNA-Israel identified herself as JFNA's "CEO" in a wasteful, ridiculous communique to "...a limited list of influential Israelis...?" And that wasn't the worst of it...for this lengthy (characterized as a "short") "update" was one of the most patronizing documents yet produced by an organization that seems to exist for only this purpose. For example, I know of no group other than the most involved Jews in our federations that is more knowledgeable of the nuances in American politics than are Israelis -- the "update" presumes that "Israeli influentials" know nothing. Just another waste of precious staff time for the Seinfeldian "nothing."
  • that the JFNA Israel Office staff includes...a Director General, an Assistant Director, a Special Assistant to the Director General, an Executive Assistant and a Program Coordinator -- all in the "Executive Office?" What would you guess the personnel total is in the JFNA Israel Office: 10, 17, 22, 27, 35....higher? (For the answer, see below) And what do these folks do? What are their goals, accomplishments? What is their accountability?

The answer: 27 (not including 10 federation Israel representatives)

Thursday, January 10, 2013


If there is one change I would hope the new JFNA Chairs would make -- after getting rid of or significantly downsizing the GPT -- it would be to revive the organization as an effective fund raising leader for our system. And one way to do so would be to understand, as the Chairs do but, apparently no others do, would be to assure that no national Mission ever again is without a fund raising component. That's not the case today.

Case(s) in point -- the most recent Solidarity Missions bringing leaders to Israel to experience first hand what our Israeli mishpacha was experiencing during that Terrorists War on Israel. Our message of "we are with you" appears to have been so well-delivered and so appreciated. Participants on both of these Missions have told me first-hand how meaningful the experience was to them...and that there was no fund raising whatsoever. Most amazing of all -- one of these Missions was led by the National Campaign Chair herself. From her own experiences over the years, she knows better. Way, way better. Yet, she has failed to raise the level of JFNA engagement with fund raising over Terms that now far exceed any...any...of her predecessors.

Yes, Mission experiences...these Solidarity Mission experiences...have value in and of themselves. But all of us who have had those experiences know and understand that those experiences have even more meaning when one expresses himself and herself, with the financial commitment that grows out of the Mission experiences. And, here is but one place where JFNA's past leaders and its current Philanthropic Resources Chair have failed us -- for they know (or at least once knew) that one expression of our values is in our campaigns, now almost totally ignored.

At the beginning of what is now JFNA, there was agreement, expressed in the merger supporting documents, that JFNA would have a "leadership of equals" -- Board Chair, Executive Chair and National Campaign Chair, the last being an expression of the federations' commitment to "more dollars and more donors." Over time, the National Campaign Chair's role has been reduced to the Chair of an important Committee, Philanthropic Resources; there is no troika at the top.

And just as the framing title has been "rebranded" (isn't that what we do?), eliminating even the word "Campaign" from the JFNA lexicon, so has the critical emphasis of the organization to the Annual Campaign, the lifeblood, been down-graded and, generally, ignored but for a speech now and then. No more do we here goals of "one billion dollars and one million donors" -- we have had no national aspirations for at least the last six years and certainly over the last three plus.

We are but a shadow of what we once were. And more's the pity.


Monday, January 7, 2013


In the Week in Words column in the Wall Street Journal, December 22-23, 2012, the following appeared:

                                   never events

They are known as "never events" -- the kind of mistake that       should never happen in medicine , like operating on the wrong patient or sewing someone up with a sponge still inside -- yet new research suggests that they happen with alarming frequency.

As we have come to learn, never events are happening every day at JFNA. Let us count the ways -- at least some of them:

  • #ish -- what the hell was that all about? And...why? Perhaps ask that one Large City -- was it good for you?
  • Community Heroes -- another wasted investment at least, perhaps, a good idea. One Large City that adopted the program claimed 1000's of applicants and "some great ideas." Where do those stand today?
  • The TribeFests -- oh, more over-hyped than any other non-program has ever been before. Two years and close to $2 million wasted before the thing was put on hiatus. Did no one have the courage to tell CEO Jerry that he was directing the waste of precious assets, or should he have known?
  • Personnel -- a great hire to run the GPT -- and the GA...and a few other things -- run off by mismanagement  and disillusionment within the first year of her hiring. (She has been replaced, we read, by a Klezmer band-leading, enthusiastic  former Federation pro (from Northern New Jersey) , the former "Co-Director of Community Planning and Capacity Building" at his federation. Qualifications for "planning the Global agenda,' who knows?); the JFNA Senior Advisor on all things who was  flipped to JFNA by his federation as had been that federation's CEO a decade earlier, will reportedly retire in June leaving no footprints in JFNA's sand, to be succeeded by: a successful federation pro who knows the FRD "business" or one of the JFNA sycophants with no federation experience on his/her resume? Sam Astrof, a paragon of integrity as CFO/COO gone with hardly a good-bye. Adam Smolyar, JFNA Chief Marketing Officer, resigned to pursue that role with a for-profit real estate company. A most seasoned administrator and fund raiser run off the reservation because she was found to have communicated with the press. Friends, between the hiring of Mindy Hepner and Danny Allen (really a UIA/IEF engagement) and retaining William Daroff to run JFNA's Washington efforts among other responsibilities, three terrific professionals, the recruitment and management of JFNA's personnel has been...well, you call it. (And Debra Smith...still there)
What you have is JFNA rapidly becoming a "never event" itself.


Thursday, January 3, 2013


Imagine this: a federation in an unnamed City, with an annual campaign of over $10 million, makes an allocation to JAFI and Joint core that is about $86,000 -- or 0%...that's zero percent. It  received a "2 star (of 4)" rating from Charity Navigator amassing a score of 45 out of 70. Its administrative  and fund raising expenses, as calculated by Charity Navigator, are 22.2%. Its CEO, an Associate Member of the Jewish Agency Board, elected by his City-size CEO colleagues (or serving by a rotation he could have declined). In doing so, he succeeded colleagues from Large Intermediate Federations like Mark Freedman, then of San Antonio, now of Nashville, and Alan Margolies, Jacksonville's CEO, serious professional leaders, who studied JAFI's work, and were articulate spokespersons for the Agency.

But, this CEO, smooth and articulate, clearly sees no issue with his service on the Jewish Agency Board with the minuscule allocation his federation makes to JAFI core -- $21,500 (that's $21,000 on annual revenues of in excess of $10 million -- an allocation of .0021%) . His compensation, based on the 2008 990 was $316,000 (which includes  $79,000 from "Affiliates") in a year in which it appears the federation he leads spent almost $600,000 more than it took in.

Now, if this weren't bad enough, this CEO has ranted publicly that if the Agency or Joint fund raise in his federation, then "every cent raised" will be reduced against this federation's allocation. When one of the partner organizations offered to raise funds from its supporters in this community with the federation, this CEO rejected the hand extended in friendship...and the organization raised almost ten times its allocation. I doubt that the organization is worried about a set-off.

His Large Intermediate federation does have speaking privileges at JFNA; and if Dues are the only measure, the federation's payment of $166,000 to JFNA in 2011 measured up. And the CEO has used his speaking privileges well. He has ranted against Jewish Agency and/or JDC fund raising in his community, never reflecting, apparently, on the lack of any measurable overseas core allocation.

So, here's my proposal for amending the Second Membership Criteria:

    1. No federation shall allocate less than 90% of that federation's City-size grouping's average allocation to JAFI/JDC core; and

    2. No federation shall allocate less to Jewish Agency/Joint core than it pays in gross compensation to its CEO. (Only kidding about 2., of course. G-d forbid.)

While JFNA has kept its head firmly in the sand, this land far, far away is but an example of the abuse of collective responsibility that has been on-going. How can any responsible community sit side-by-side at the embryonic GPT with communities like these? And, how can communities like these be allowed any input whatsoever on how our system should meet our global needs?

I have asked these questions before and what I heard in response went something like this  -- the Manning Mantra, if you will: "If the under-allocating communities sit at a GPT with communities that meet their collective obligations to our Israel and overseas partners, they will learn of the criticality of fairly sharing their resources and they will do so." Of course,that's good "selling" but already has proved time and again to be an argument without merit. ONAD existed for six years -- under-allocating communities sitting with those which allocated according to a communal ethos supportive of collective responsibility. Not one...that's n.o.n.e...of the under-allocating federations (as measured by their City-size allocation averages) increased the percentage of their annual allocation to our system's overseas partners. What's changed?

Ponder this.