Thursday, May 30, 2013


It's JFNA Budget time and, sad to say, it's worse than ever. The lack of transparency that we would never accept in our own communities, or at the Jewish Agency or at most national agencies, is a given at JFNA. And, given the fact that the current Treasurer and Budget Chair was no more than a cheerleader for past JFNA Budgets, it's no surprise that the 2013-2014 Budget proves to be the worst of all.

Case in point...The Network.  From time-to-time it seems appropriate to remind ourselves of the deconstruction of the 400 small Jewish communities that comprise the Network -- just another ATM machine for national Jewish life.  A little history...

In the 90's past UJA National Chair Marty Stein, z'l, and Russell Robinson, now the brilliant and creative Chief Professional Officer of the JNF, with a group of dedicated UJA lay leaders from those 400 small communities, created the Network of Independent Jewish Communities. Its Board was made up of leadership from within those communities and, from the get-go, as I recall, the Network raised about $6 million dollars to fund the work overseas of the Jewish Agency and Joint Distribution Committee. Even after the merger creating what is today JFNA, the Network made its own allocations decisions even while it began paying a disproportionate amount toward the JFNA Budget than did the Federation members.

Around 2008, the Network leadership became aware of JFNA's diversion of  funds they raised for Budget purposes. Quietly, the Network leaders attempted to work with JFNA to assure that the Network's determination of its allocations would be no less than that of the federations. The Network gained positions on the JFNA Executive Committee and a set of promises from then incoming Board Chair Manning in 2009-2010. But here is what Manning delivered with her sycophants nodding in agreement -- the Network was kidnapped by JFNA, its independent Board stripped, a new Chair, from Miami, installed, its long-time Director terminated and its share of the JFNA Budget "adjusted" -- upward -- with nary a peep.

The Network still raises about $6 million (the same as in its earliest years) which, were it a federation, would result in a Dues obligation of about $300,000. Yet, sources have advised me that JFNA "charges" the Network an estimated $1 million or more than three times what any federation would pay. Sure, JFNA should recover its "costs" of the Network's operation but, as has been the case with other areas of JFNA operations, it is JFNA that has now determined -- with no input from Network lay leaders (as distinguished from JFNA lay leaders) -- that the Network be staffed out of 25 Broadway with a national Director and Regional professionals around the country -- all to raise the same amount that was raised 15 years ago, if that. (The Network professional leader has congratulated the Network [actually seemed to congratulate himself] for an alleged 17% increase in the Network's 2012 Annual Campaign -- and, yet, the total raised seems frozen in amber. Further, JFNA has demanded -- literally demanded -- that any and all designated gifts to third party agencies [e.g., JDC, Jewish Agency, World ORT, Birthright] be sent through JFNA in a most transparent effort to pump up Network numbers even though these gifts are raised by the professionals at these partner agencies).

Finally, what's the actual "charge" to The Network for all that it receives from JFNA? Who knows? Why? Because it's hidden in a category titled: "Network/SEGO/Gov't Grant" -- at an astounding aggregate total of $3,156,000!! Thieves in the night.

Case in point...the Shell Game. But, that's not the only shell game being played within this Budget document. Join me in a brief tour:

  • The roles of the potential, as yet unhired, Executive Vice-President and Senior Vice-President of FRD are described in a manner that suggests that they, not the CEO, will be held accountable for immediate success/failure in their areas of engagement. CEO Silverman has flipped Harry Truman's maxim on its head -- to Jerry "the buck stops...there." BTW, these hires are described as just two of many "new investments."
  • If you examine "Revenue by Category," see if you can determine anywhere...that's this Budget how its "Other Grants/Fundraising" will be increased by JFNA by $1,108,000; or what's incorporated in the "Other (Revenue)" line increase by $90,000; or how the elimination of one of its few viable Israel programs -- the historic OTZMA -- results in a "Revenue" increase of what is a Budgeted decrease of $748,000? 
  • Having consulted with my CPA and several friends with expertise in corporate budgeting, they were extremely complimentary of the legerdemain that can convert a loss of $748,000 in income into "Revenue." One observed that in the wonderlands of Oz and JFNA, anything is possible.
  • Others asked how $350,000 of OTZMA expense showed up under Financial Resource Development, along with Consulting Services and the Rabbinic Cabinet? Was this a transparent (not a word I would use with this Budget) effort to make the FRD Budget appear larger?
  • And, what about Dues? Note 11 in the Budget document appears to indicate that there has been an $800,000 shortfall in Dues in 2012, but was that really $1.6 million that Dues-paying federations will have to subsidize? What's the real story -- inasmuch as the current Budget Chair is also the current long-serving Financial Relations Chair, I am sure that Steve Silverman has the answers at his fingertips, if he wants to provide them (or can).
  • Oh...and JFNA plans to raise an additional $1,108,000 to support its Budget. To do so it will reach out to your donors, your foundations, maybe its own leaders -- a total raise of almost $2,000,000 over and above Dues. How will it do it? How will an organization that believes that you raise money by sending letters? Easy...they can't.
  • And, try and find how much will be thrown at the Global Planning Table -- it boggles the mind that the amount is growing close in millions to what will be spent on an actual JFNA purpose -- raising dollars and donors.
There is more, so much more, so much drivel -- programs described without any budget attributed, $50,000 increments to organizations "to have a seat at the table," "Measurements/Outcomes" that are comical in the extreme -- and just words on paper'

Bottom line, this is not a serious Budget but there are some serious and even ridiculous programs proposed some of which we will visit in the coming days.

All part of the shell game that JFNA has become. Just as we will never know what the Network could have been, we will never know what JFNA could have become.

Stay tuned -- in anticipation of the unanimous vote that is to come at the JFNA Board meeting next week, more on the farce JFNA budgeting has become tomorrow.


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