Wednesday, February 27, 2013


As I write this Post, I am in Jerusalem where everyone with whom I have spoken -- from family members, to academics, to those in the government and political process -- has told me in the most stark terms that Israel's economy is (or soon will be) in crisis. The impacts will fall, as everywhere else, on Israel's most vulnerable, those living near or in poverty in this Land that we love and whose people we cherish as our mishpacha. 

And, I fear that at a time when we most need our national and international  agencies to be laser-focused on our historic obligations to care for those most vulnerable, wherever they may live, I find JFNA distracted and deflected by the machinations of the Global Planning Table and some form of Strategic Directions   that would move us away from those obligations as if they do not even exist. A brief history: when JFNA began 12+ years ago, it did so burdened with the ONAD (you remember, although it best forgotten, "the Overseas Needs and Distribution" process). After a year of in-depth study, ONAD determined under a brilliant Chair, that there should be no change in allocations until such time as allocations to our partners increased and, then, that those increases be appropriately adjusted. I won't bore you with further history other than to note that five years later, after no increases in these allocations, Steve Hoffman and others led the charge to terminate the ONAD process after an overly ambitious ONAD Chair attempted to unilaterally override the ONAD Committee's decision to maintain the allocations for the self-same reasons as were articulated in Year 1 of the "process."

And, here we are once again -- only the times are worse. But we are "here"  without a Steve Hoffman as CEO of JFNA, not even close (although Steve is intimately involved with the GPT), with another overly ambitious Chair of the GPT Steering Committee, and with a CEO who has articulated to many that a failure to approve GPT (one might ask fairly "approve what???") will mean that JFNA will self-destruct (as if, given what has happened with our money, starting over would be a bad thing). 

So, while here I have come to literally feel the social welfare safety net falling apart, at 25 Broadway they are studying ways to divert our allocations from serving vital, basic needs in Israel and elsewhere in the Jewish World where the needs are greatest, to "other things." Why? Because we have told them "go ahead, let's see what you come up with." While we should be saying: "Shut this GPT, this thing, down and now.  

Meanwhile, Nero fiddles while Rome burns....again.


Sunday, February 24, 2013


JFNA has managed to become nothing more than the Potemkin Village of Jewish organizational life. It is a facade behind which is hidden a vast nothingness -- a void into which the federations pour $30.3 million in an unquestioning and obsequious manner. There can no longer be any question about what the federations receive in return for their payment year after years, some in the seven the an organization without any sense of responsibility to the federations which own them.

The return on investment remains what one would expect from a Potemkin Village or worse. One Commentator reflected on CEO Jerry and the GPT:

"If toys just seem to incite too many quarrels and tugs-of-war, you may want to steer clear of them altogether and engage your Jerry and his playmates in a project such as the GPT, making pretend cookies with modeling clay or drawing pictures. That way, they can be involved in the same fun activities without having to share possessions."

Another then wrote that it's far worse -- more "like giving children dynamite." Because they either know not what they are doing or just don't care or are thinking "boy this is gonna be my legacy" these interlopers are willing to go "all in" putting the entirety of JFNA if not the federations at risk for literally nothing...for the Potemkin Village that is the Global Planning Table.

Even the most dense among those pushing the GPT understand that the results of all those JFNA papers (in the main futile exercises in the suspension of disbelief) will be the distribution of small amounts (but still in the millions) to a distribution list on many in JFNA's attempt to curry favor with favored NGOs in Israel. I am reminded of one Large City which had about $150,000 "left over" from a special campaign in the early 90s. Rather than distribute those funds to JAFI or JDC where they might have an impact, that Large City chose to divide the $150,000 among 30 NGOs -- caring only about clout among the 30, not about the impact its funds might have. Because, and trust me on this one, the GPT is nothing more than a camouflaged effort for JFNA through the Global Planning Table to become the "player" in Israel that it wants to be but isn't...and never will be. (This JFNA belief that it can be a "player" by doling out miniscule amounts can be equated with its attempts to "sell" TribeFest because that failed exercise in wasting communal assets attracted tens of "partners" (a term that for JFNA is without any meaning whatsoever) which, themselves, offer little to the federations which have provided the millions already wasted on this effort in....what, exactly...and will now be called upon to waste even more.)

Then there is the reality that decisions on allocations should best be left to the market -- the exact direction these decisions were headed until a couple of people at JFNA decided they knew better than the partners, better than the federations, better than the donors and imposed their will on a system to weak or too disinterested to push back. Yes, the market, as evidenced by the many federations that no longer felt bound by decisions made by the overseas partners any longer, had already made the "split" -- that red herring bane of the system's existence -- an irrelevancy. Federations are already controlling the overseas allocation as never before. And, now, through the convoluted GPT JFNA would snatch the overseas allocation away -- to a much worse place; to the Potemkin Village that JFNA is.
At the end of the day, federations are being asked to delegate their overseas allocation function, so treasured by the communities and so vital to their donors, to a failed organization. Federations which resist, and there will be many...many...will again be told: "If you reject the GPT, you will destroy our system." This is no more than JFNA doublespeak -- for the reality is "if you divert funds to this GPT, that will be the end of trust."


Thursday, February 21, 2013


All one need do is listen, not even carefully, to various presentations from the pitchman in chief, to add to the JFNA Lexicon a whole bunch of meaningless jargon. Here are the latest, sent to me by a FOB who shall, of course, remain nameless:

JFNA Bullshit Buzz Word Bingo

Push envelope
Drill down

You are free of course to add to the list. For example, here's one phrase with no meaning used over and over and over again: Global Planning Table.


Monday, February 18, 2013


Dear Michael and Dede:

I read with great interest the JFNA STRATEGIC DIRECTIONS 2013 AND BEYOND. Then I listened with declining interest to the Chair's and CEO Silverman's presentations to the JFNA Board of the same. And I came to one conclusion that would be self-evident to anyone who has been involved in our national organizations over time -- as one FOB wrote me: "there is some good stuff in here -- and it was good when I first heard about them 15 years ago or more." And, this friend was spot on -- but this is exactly what happens when institutional memory is purposefully erased. This is not the fault of the current Chairs -- it is a process that began 12 years ago and just increased in pace over the last 6, and, in particular over the past 3 years plus.

For example, CEO Jerry seems to have discovered the value of "deploying" (the latest [and, among the worst] JFNA "buzz words/jargon") "best practices." This is nothing new -- it had been going on for years until JFNA went out of, inter alia, the fund raising business (other than to report data and talk about it). Just stopped distributing best practices; federations began to distribute best practices through their City-size groups and JFNA just never got it. Now...whoooppppeee! We are going to be into best practices, big time.

Clearly, the "new" ideas are so small -- increase JFNA revenues by charging for advertising on FedWeb, charging "independent foundations" fees for...what exactly, fees for services? Supplement  JFNA's budget through an undefined "corporate fund raising" and, maybe, an "annual budget raising event."  Find a professional to manage the JFNA operation as an Executive Vice President -- something suggested to this CEO three years ago but which he rejected. It must  be made clear that the position is not one to "protect the CEO" (or to bring him his Coca Cola) but, as it should be, to advance the common goals of the federations and JFNA. It all sounds so small, essentially "rebranding" much of what has been done before...only doing it better somehow.

And, as with all things JFNA over the past 6+ years, concepts are rolled out without being fully thought through because, in the current iteration, "we've got a damn Retreat coming up and we better have something for the Board to talk about." So, while CEO Jerry talks about "expansion," the new Board Chair spoke to "narrowing focus" (and congrats to you, Michael Siegal for doing so). The result in two to three years is somehow going to be "delivering excellence in three-four areas." And, that would be great, exactly what JFNA should be -- an organization of excellence in three or four areas. But...let's see how the 2013-2014 Budget spells this narrowing of focus out -- because for the last six-plus years that Budget has eschewed focus for spraying money in every possible direction, in allowing a dysfunctional JFNA-Israel to become a mini-empire of non-achievement, promising accountability and delivering none, promising a "new version" of the TribeFest and, once again, a "new GA" (where have we heard that before?), yada, yada, yada.

Just read along the "Strategic Directions" for Fund Raising and Donor Engagement:
  1. "Help grow all streams of financial resourcing by partnering with Federations to engage Foundations, major donors and prospects through: research, facilitated networking, solicitations and specialized missions..." Sure...what does JFNA bring to this "table?" Nothing although it once could and, perhaps, in the future, will. We discussed this at UJA and actually were in the process of implementation at the time of the merger and,since then, words...and nothing more.
  2. "Enhancing the capacity of fundraising professionals through the launch of Fundraising University" with no mention of the reality reflected in an analysis just two weeks old that discovered "Half of Fundraisers in the Top Job Would Like to Quit."
  3. "Energizing outreach to Young Leadership Cabinet alumni while continuing to support Women's Philanthropy" -- what does one have to do with the other? How have earlier attempts at this specific "outreach" succeeded or...failed?
  4. "Promoting endowment funding best practices and pooling of assets" -- aren't these about all that the Planned Giving and Endowment Department does, if that?
  5. "...Researching and recommending means of growing the low end donor base." Something that has been on-going at JFNA for how long?
So, there you have it. What does it all add up to? NOT VERY MUCH AT ALL. Perhaps to CEO Jerry, this all sounds like "achievement" -- but even were JFNA successful with each of these, at the end of the day, JFNA would have accomplished little more than it should have accomplished, in one form or another, by now, 12 years plus from its creation.

And this goes the "Strategic Program Initiative" for People and Programs, the goals are even more limited: "Support Federations by: strengthening CEO training and professional development, especially for those early in their tenure; enhancing volunteer leader orientation, training and networking, assisting Federations' collaboration and mergers including through providing education and toolkits for the field and conducting a futures oriented review of United Israel Appeal's (UIA) roles and strategy." All  of this used to be a priority, either dropped by JFNA or so diminished as to be invisible...except for the "futures oriented review (whatever that means) of UIA -- one of the very few branches of the national system actually functioning according to its charge.

And, so these four "Strategic Initiatives" go -- small ball, an already diminished national organization promises to become even more diminished or, in the case of the promised GPT -- a promoter of chaos. As a few pointed out, thew four areas of focus are fine, but the implementing programs are weak and limited.

Michael, I heard you say more than once, that this is a work in process. What I perceive is that JFNA's professional "Leadership Team" and "an Advisory Committee" threw something together for purposes of the Retreat -- and, other than Best Practices, it's just the false promise of "success by doing fewer of the same things better," and, thereby, our system will be better. Is that really the return on investment that we want, that you want, for $30.3 million per year? 

I doubt it.




While we are in Israel, the Prime Minister is struggling to form a coalition, riots rage on the West Bank, the Iranians accelerate their nuclear bomb implementation, and a myriad of other issues of incredible complexity face and continue to confront Israel. So, it was great to have some comic relief.

On February 18, The Jerusalem Post reported on Glidagate:
"Dreaming about eating pistachios means you will earn 'blessed money' in the near future, according to tradition. Perhaps Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was dreaming when he asked for 10,000 Shekel budget for buying pistachio and French vanilla ice cream from the high-end Jerusalem gelateria Metudela near the Prime Minister's residence.
          The entire country was up in arms when word of his large personal            
       expenditure at an ice cream store was published...revealed that
          Netanyahu asked for and received 10,000 Shekels per year to order
          ...'his personal taste' in ice cream."

There is not much to add to this "crime of the century" other than this -- after the story first broke, "customers streamed to the store from as far away as Tel Aviv and Rehovot;" incredibly, "... a kilogram of ice cream at Metudela costs 72 Shekels, meaning for 10,000 Shekels per year the firsts family and their guests are eating about 11.5 kilograms per month." FYI, 1 kilogram = 2.5 pounds or 25 pounds of this stuff per month. OMG!!

And, of course, "Netanyahu canceled the request, calling it 'extraneous'"

Another day in Israel.



Friday, February 15, 2013


It has become so evident that the JFNA push for the Global Planning Table is nothing more than desperation but in that desperation there is great evidence that this thing is nothing more than the tail wagging the dog. CEO Jerry has been heard in the hallways of meetings here, there and everywhere, pleading that if "we" (don't exactly know what or who "we" is/are) don't get the GPT, then JFNA will self-destruct. I do know this -- if JFNA's very survival is based on the Global Planning Table's construction, maybe JFNA should no longer exist.

There were four "Strategic Program Initiatives" presented to the poorly attended Retreat; three were nothing more than a rehash of previously successful efforts going as far back as the predecessor organizations or programs presently within a succession of JFNA Budgets but which received little if any real support.

Then, the fourth of these "things:"
"Collective Influence and Impact -- Increase collective advocacy and impact through: effective implementation of the Global Planning Table and forging of synergies with other JFNA functions; strengthened access to and collaboration with influencers in Washington and Israel and our historic agencies (JAFI, JDC, World ORT); nimble emergency preparedness; and a refocus of our messaging, marketing and public relations to promote Federations' unique collective role and relevance."
It is clear that all things JFNA will rotate around the earth that is to be the GPT like the moon rotates around the earth. Forget the JFNA hyperbole -- how does one "increase collective advocacy through...effective implementation of the GPT" when the GPT as currently driven diminishes the role of the overseas partners to supplicants? Easy for JFNA, they just say they are going to do it in the same manner that they believe they have done it.

Do you remember the fiasco of JFNA's demand that the overseas partners pony up for something called Select Core Priorities? The precursor to the Global Planning Table -- in the mind of the now Chair of the Partnership/Exec Committee of the Global Planning Table, the micro-program that would "prove" how valuable the GPT would be in a macro sense? Well here is what I wrote over 1-1/2 years ago:
"Then there is the curious case of something called Select Core Priorities. This "process," begun in 2011, was to be the incredibly successful precursor to the Global Planning Table. JAFI and JDC would put 10% of their highest priorities into a hat, putting 10% of their allocations at risk of reallocation, and federations would jump at the chance to reallocate core resources. (Why either JDC or JAFI would subject themselves to this is another story with all kinds of questions for another day.) Well, at then end of the day, 10 of 157 federations participated ... that's 10 federations 6% of the total... and $2 million at risk, about 1% of total allocations. And JFNA? Its senior professionals applauded and shouted that this meant "...the GPT will be an incredible success." OMG and woe is me. This demonstrates that at 25 Broadway, no one even knows the definition of "success" or the difference between "success" and that other thing....oh yeah, "failure." I ask you to recall that JFNA staff (probably the Philanthropic Resources staff unless they were otherwise busy with the Festivus) was frantically calling federations begging their participation. That effort failed too -- 10, count 'em, 10 federations participated. And, now, in the tradition of repeating failure, we have Select Core Priorities -- the Sequel. For every flop at JFNA has a Sequel. Subject JAFI and the Joint to further unnecessary expense, pressure federations to participate, only more so. We take what we have learned, misinterpret it, and do it all over again."
And, then, in the second year of this failure, even more dismal results -- results so  abysmal JFNA doesn't even report them -- the drum beat for the GPT just gets louder and louder. The facts...with bloviated representations from the then Board Chair, the senior pro of Israel/Overseas and CEO Jerry that the federations would jump at the opportunity to find new dollars to fund an investment in Select Core Priorities, $300,000 in new money was produced over the two years. And, these JFNA leaders were warned that these would be the sorry results. Now, this same sad trio leads the GPT promising that the Global Planning Table priority programs will produce new money, greater resources -- ask why or how and watch eyes glaze over. They just "know it will." And, so the tail wags the dog.

Friends, this is JFNA's cliff and, absent intervention, it's going over and down.

It's all so pathetic; so JFNA.


Monday, February 11, 2013


The national federation-agency Alliance (you remember that thing, created in part, to increase the resources of the member national agencies, wholly failing in that purpose [sound familiar?]), which attempted four years ago to disconnect the federations systemically from one, if not more, of its national agency members, has now scored its own form of vengeance for agencies standing up for their rights, for fighting back. With neither warning nor reason, and with no prior discussion with the affected agencies (each thought to be and characterized as a "partner" in this now perverted process), the Alliance determined, over the objection of a number of its member federations, to cut three member agencies by 40%. Yes, you read it correctly -- 40%...allegedly based upon a Survey in which the Agencies did not participate.

These draconian cuts were accompanied by the admission to "membership" (about as valuable as being a JFNA "partner," they should be forewarned) the BBYO and American Jewish World Service, extremely worthy organizations for sure but those that bear no direct relationship to our federations or the federation system. So, here are NCSJ, the Foundation for Jewish Culture and HIAS all cut beyond bone and muscle, while not only is the Alliance adding "strangers" to its version of "funding" but holding back 20% of its allocated funds for...more new agencies, while funding for those agencies "lucky" enough to avoid the draconian cuts stagnate?

When four years ago one of the now punished national agencies fought back against defunding and prevailed, there was an implicit threat, if not explicit, from Alliance leadership that "we won't forget this and your time will come." And, now it has -- not because the three national agencies suffering these inexplicable and indefensible cuts have somehow failed in their missions on behalf of the federations but because the JFNA Alliance itself has failed...and failed miserably. And, why...just because it can. If this is any way to run our national system, then we can't be very proud.

Consider this: the NCSJ, whose membership consists not only of advocates but federation leadership, through its credibility as the institutional representative of American Jewry with the governments of the Republics of the FSU, was able to assure that one of our treasured American organizations saved nearly $1 million in claimed taxes; it is an organization daily on the firing line fighting  growing anti-semitism and xenophobia. Did the Alliance consider either of these matters? Was the Alliance staff aware of them? Come on, these horrifying cuts are the results of the Alliance's failings, not those of the NCSJ, not those of HIAS and not those of the NFJC...nothing more, nothing less.

I have reflected before upon the futility of the Alliance, the growing toxicity of its decisions, decisions announced from its star chamber to the agencies, its pitting national agencies against each other for the table scraps of funding it dishes out and now, this. I see so many parallels in so-called process and decision-making to the emerging outcomes of the Global Planning Table as to offer an evermore frightening picture of the months to come.

Meanwhile, no additional federations have joined the national funding process , which might have increased the pool of available dollars, a number of federations have left or cut funding deeply (LA and San Francisco have dropped out, among others) and the national agencies are more and more "demonstrating their mandates" by approaching federations and donors directly. And, what was, at the time of the Alliance creation, to be a more positive national funding process has become, as a direct result of its failures internally and externally, a "national agency defunding process."

It's shameful and they are shameless.


Thursday, February 7, 2013


During the recent American election, the inexhaustible Bill Clinton, sarcastically criticized the Republicans for ignoring "arithmetic" in their so-called plans. I was reminded of Clinton's admonition when reading a comprehensive "Update on Federation Response to Operation Pillar of Defense." Let me say at the outset that the analysis is excellent and the work of the JFNA Israel Terror Relief Fund (the "ITRF") task force exemplary. Yet....and yet....arithmetic.

The ITRF allocated federation resources in three tranches: $3.45, $1.6 and $.6 -- a total of $5,650,000. OK, 10% over the fund raising goal but all of the allocations appear thought through with care. Yet...and yet....arithmetic. 

Nowhere in JFNA's excellent transmittal (it must have been sent to all federations and JFNA Board members -- I received a copy) is there any analysis of know, the money. I know that my federation more than met its "fair share" and did so before raising the funds...but, that's all I know. What has JFNA, you know the organization that used to raise money in particular for special campaigns, done to raise the $5 million? Sent out a Memo? Called the federations one-by-one? Followed up. G-d forbid? We don't know that; we do know how the funds that may or may not be raised will be allocated, but not how or how much.

We know that there were at least two national Operation Pillar of Defense Missions  -- with no fund raising, the presence of the National Campaign Chair notwithstanding -- what follow up took place with those communal leaders and how much was subsequently raised from their communities? We don't know; we haven't been told. BUT JFNA KNOWS AND THEY AIN'T TELLING.

We know that $5 million has not been raised, only that $5.650 million has been allocated and committed by our representatives. Oh my. Arithmetic.


Sunday, February 3, 2013


A few days ago, I wrote about the historical implications of the lowest core allocations ever transmitted to our system's historic partners and JFNA's ostrich-like non-response to the fact that on its watch, these allocations have fallen by 52% without apology or peep.

Then I began to focus on the implications of this horrific decline in allocations and I was sickened further. Are we reaching the day when JDC food assistance to Holocaust Survivors in the Former Soviet Union will be denied any of these impoverished elderly? Or will the day soon arise when the Jewish Agency will be forced to come hat in hand directly to the federations or to their donors to rescue the surviving remnant of a long-forgotten Jewish community somewhere in this World of ours in order to bring them home to Israel? Or will World ORT soon have to close training sites in Haiti or Montenegro because ORT's resources have been reduced? 

Friends, I fear that we are well down the path toward each of these horrible possibilities and, yet, not a voice is raised, not a cry is heard. In each instance cited above, we are talking of the work of our federations' partners that they have executed for us -- feeding the most impoverished of our People, bringing those who need rescue home, training even non-Jews -- all of these and more are part of our collective responsibilities. Have we forgotten who we are; have we forgotten what we are about?

Today, the Global Planning Table, operating in the dark corners of our national organization, proposes that the global responsibilities that have always been our collective obligation, be relegated to something called "signature initiatives" -- that they be no more than "electives" -- what were once our sacred obligations relegated to the decisions of a Steering Committee on which none of our historic partners has a voice. Collective responsibility will be redefined by those who have provided no evidence that they no its meaning -- as Orwell wrote with such prescience: "First they steal the words; then they steal their meaning."  And all of us should know full well the implications of this deconstruction of collective responsibility -- when it is gone there will be nothing to distinguish the federations from any other charity...and even the best of us will disappear.

Observing JFNA as I have since its birth has, tragically, been like watching a train wreck in slow motion -- there is a growing sense of calamity. This sense has been accelerated and exacerbated by a Global Planning Table exercise that has been allowed to grow without restraint into something it was never intended to be -- all without regard for the potential consequences. Watching a small group of senior executives constantly being forced to step in to rescue JFNA from itself has become like watching a bunch of jockeys trying to carry their horses over the finish line...or pallbearers hefting a large coffin to its grave. They only have the strength to do it for a while. And now, at long last, they must say "no more."

The following is a Comment received that deserves careful reading and attention:
I am the President of a large Federation.

I believe with all my heart and soul in Federation Giving/Collective Giving/Collective Responsibility.

My Executive shared the GPT toolbox and related materials. I am appalled.

This process is engineered to encourage every Federation to ignore our historic partners and make their own party. Even calling them historic as opposed to our partners says it all. We will be encouraging small programs instead of community strength.

From my perspective, this GPT will simply reduce the real value of Federation in the overseas agenda.

How Michael Segal can sit by and let this happen just because it is perceived by the promoters as their personal legacy is beyond my understanding. Michael may perceive that he is being a mensch (which he is) for not wanting to hurt these people's feelings, but he knows better. Michael: stand up before it is too late.

I have made up my mind. I will be forced to vote with my checkbook. I will complete my term and maintain my gift. But when my term is over and if this GPT goes forward, with tears in my eyes, my family's gift is leaving our Federation's overseas efforts.

We will have our own Family GPT Partnership Committee, thank you very much. 
The tragedy of our times is that no one is listening. It is time for JFNA's new (although not so new any longer) Co-Chairs to take the reins of our national organization and point it once again in the direction of our federations, as it once was and must be once again. JFNA can no longer be the captive of former Chairs and a CEO who appears not to have any understanding of federations -- their present, their history or their future.