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.




Anonymous said...

Here's one great idea for 2013 - take the hit and do not renew CEO Jerry's contract. Then task the search committee with finding a real professional to run the organization.

Or, better yet, hire a top-notch EVP for half Jerry's cost and have the large city CEO's rotate the CEO position among themselves - after all, they're the ones really calling the shots. They can't possibly do a worse job than the current CEO and this way, JFNA just might, maybe, start coming back together.

Anonymous said...

""Energizing outreach to Young Leadership Cabinet alumni": For most boomer age cabinet alumni an aggressive solicitation posture (as either donor or solicitor) was once both a right of passage and point of honor. Why not specially train and send current cabinet members to systematically co-solicit these boomer alumni not only for their dollars but for active re-involvement. They may indeed be the sleeper cells of our system.

Anonymous said...

Richard. You've said it before -- this is Emperor's New Clothes stuff. Were I one of the new Chairs, I would have to immediately question Silverman's credibility and honesty -- how can he just take stuff from the past and foist it off as "new"?

RWEX said...


Maybe it's this -- purely and simply, CEO Jerry believes that he can just simply get away with it. Can you picture hime yelling at someone: "Get many anything...I need anything..and, don't worry, I am the master salesman -- I can sell anything."

So far he.s been right, hasn't he?