Monday, April 8, 2013


Here's a huge problem that Uncle Blabby didn't confront but one of our great national organizations is....right now. On March 22 The Wall Street Journal and other newspapers reported on the disbarment of one of the most prominent plaintiffs' lawyers (the "master of disaster") in this country. The disbarment arose out of the alleged misapplication of millions of dollars in settlement fees. The lawyer in question was a leader of the United Jewish Appeal and the JDC; he is now the National President of the Jewish National Fund.

This disbarment raises serious questions for all of our organizations: what do you under circumstances like this one? What is a Board's responsibility? Your organization has a wonderful philanthropist as its President or Chair and you find out he has been disbarred...or that you are about to elect as your Chair someone about to be exposed as an alleged slumlord or some other negative activity. What do you do? What are your fiduciary responsibilities as a Board Member under these circumstances?

Well, let's start with the basic tenet of all philanthropic organizations: we operate on the basis of trust. The donors must trust the organizations with the donors' funds. Can you continue to trust an organization the lay chair of which has been accused/alleged/proved to have misused "client funds?" Or similar? Clearly, this is a risk that no organization can take...not for a moment. You wouldn't elect a known slumlord or one who has been disbarred for the misapplication of client funds to your organization's top volunteer position, would you? So how can you allow the same person to remain in that office? You can't. The leader in question, who clearly cares deeply about the organization, must demonstrate that caring by resigning...and he  must be counselled into doing so by those closest to him in the organization. Failing that, By-Law provisions on Removal need to be invoked.

This is serious business.



Alan Dabrow said...

Dear Richard:

In response to Tuesday’s blog post, we agree that this is a serious issue as you stated. Our great organization, Jewish National Fund, must be totally transparent – and it is! Jewish National Fund is very proud of a Board of Directors that meets monthly and its 40 members have an attendance record of more than 95%. And as a collective and dedicated lay leadership they set policies and maintain all of our activities.

We are also proud of our transparent budgetary process that involves leadership throughout the country, a Budget & Finance Committee that meets quarterly, and a Board of Trustees which scrutinizes the budget and has final approval. The process also involves hundreds of volunteers and many hours of meetings.

We are very proud that we continue to receive the highest approval rating from Charity Navigator and the Better Business Bureau.

Jewish National Fund supports the land and people of Israel through a number of programs including: JNFuture, a group that engages young leaders who are committed to environmentalism and community development in Israel with 300 of them coming together in late April at a Summit Meeting; a Positively Israel initiative that conveys a message about all of Israel’s wonderful and innovative achievements that make the world a better place and which has reached out to more than 60 college campuses this year; committees on the Environment and on Zionist education which involve hundreds of synagogue schools and day schools; committees on Israel Relations and Government Relations; and numerous others. Additionally, we are proud of a Committee process that includes 15 pro bono attorneys serving on a Legal Committee that meets on a regular basis.

Richard, we are also grateful that you refer to JNF as a “great national organization.” Our many achievements include the Sderot Indoor Recreation Center, where hundreds of youngsters can safely play in an indoor recreational setting despite the daily threat of rockets. Additionally, JNF’s Blueprint Negev campaign has led to the revitalization of the great city of Be’er Sheva with playgrounds, the largest amphitheatre and the largest man-made lake in the State of Israel as the centerpieces and has increased the population of the entire Negev. No one makes the impact we do.

I cite these examples because they have come during the tenure of our current president who, as you noted, is a wonderful philanthropist. With only a brief time left on his current term due to end on September 30, last week he requested a leave of absence from his official role and responsibilities of President. This has been accepted by our Board of Directors. He has been a terrific president who has helped to accomplish great things during his years of leadership and we look to his continued involvement with JNF and the land and people of Israel in the years ahead.

Alan Dabrow
Acting-President, Jewish National Fund

RWEX said...

Dear Alan,

Thanks for your thoughtful and comprehensive response. JNF can (and clearly does) take justified pride in its achievements not just during Stan Chesley's tenure but over a long period of time during which its substantive achievements, many of which you have listed, have been enabled by a strong lay-professional partnership but by an incredible FRD achievement.

I think you know of my pride in having been Russell Robinson's lay partner "back in the day." His creativity then and now have served both JNF and, before that, the United Jewish Appeal. I treasure that period of time in which I was, as so many have been, propelled in national communal life by Russell's infectious enthusiasm and optimism.

All the best to you and JNF's lay and professional leaders,