Monday, May 27, 2013


The paradigm, for lack of a better word, for new federation CEOs over the past seven years has led federation after federation away from the "field" to explore so-called "outside the box" hires -- culminating in a bunch of leaders who should have known better acquiescing to Chair Manning's urging the hiring of a Dockers executive almost 4 years ago. The mantra I have constantly heard has been: "He/She has such a great resume(??)" followed by "he/she gave such a great interview. He/she blew the Search Committee away." 

Now, however, some of the evidence is in -- it's just not working. Those from outside our federation system have proved to be, more often than not, overwhelmed by it. Failing to speak the unique language of federation, having no understanding of the timeless principles that have guided federation, they tend to supply their own definitions and, in the process, often find themselves without a mission or a vision consistent with the communities or their donors. Many haven't a clue as to what the Annual Campaign means to the federations they now are to run and find themselves unable to raise the funds necessary to build community. They are, too often, like deer in the headlights -- and what they are seeing is not the light at the end of the tunnel but a train heading right at them.

At the end of the first week of May, the Philadelphia CEO, who came straight to that position from academia, "resigned" effective...well, immediately. (see: His original contract had been extended as I have come to understand by the unilateral actions of that Federation's chief volunteer officer even as the Annual Campaign growth was negligible if not diminished notwithstanding some curious additions to beef up annual campaign totals. And, as has become the norm in too many communities, there was an effort to forestall real accountability by the adoption and embrace of so-called "new strategic allocations plans" or, in the case of JFNA,  alleged "New Strategic Directions," a hodge-podge which proved to be nothing more than old wine in new bottles. 

In a confused article in The Forward on this CEOs termination

the reporter evidenced, among other things, how little he understands of how federations work -- perhaps he is ready to become a Large City CEO. For example, the reporter confused Philadelphia's dismal annual campaign results with the total income of two federations whose annual campaigns, though better than Philly's, are still meager. Further, this author seemed to not understand that the "weak volunteer culture within federation" (any federation [or at JFNA for that matter]) is a direct result of, in this instance and others, the CEO's belief that this somehow "protects" him/her, at least for a while. Most misleading was the headline -- Philadelphia Jewish Federation Faces Crisis as Ira Schwartz Abruptly Leaves -- I don't think so.

In its public release upon its CEO's "stepping down," after seven years, there was still no transparency. Bragging on an $18 million annual campaign hides the fact that at least one federation of equal population raised $80 million in its Annual Campaign the same year; no discussion of how a growing leadership population -- major givers, young, old, potential -- had been alienated away from federation; that the community ranked 17th out of 18 Large Cities in per capita giving; that the number of campaign gifts dropped by 28% over the CEO's terms to a meager 16,000; and that all the while the CEO was the 4th highest compensated among his peers. This all gives rise to two questions:
  1. What took you so long; and
  2. Why wasn't JFNA inside this important Federation hands on helping both the professional and lay leadership???? (both are rhetorical)

And there are more, far more: In one community with great potential, if "great potential" is what one can call it after 10 years of flat or diminished campaigns and where the federation finds it can't compete with a separately incorporated Foundation (created and led by federation lay persons), a new CEO, a lawyer and lay leader in a another community, was hired...his leadership was short-lived. In another federation, another academic, charming and garrulous, has been hired; that new CEO is on "a two year leave of absence" from his professorship -- not necessarily the kind of "total commitment" by the chief professional that that federation and every other so desperately need. And, so it goes.

So, who is at fault here? There are so many at whom the finger points:
  • The profession -- where is the hue and cry from the Jewish Communal Service Association (which, by the way, offices at...25 Broadway) or any/all of the organizations dedicated to building the community organization leadership profession? Doesn't the field itself have a power coupled with an interest in seeing CEO positions filled by the best and brightest of its up and coming professional leaders? And where are the CEOs? Why has there been such a terrible void in mentoring those who need it? And, why, given the CEOs' dedication to the profession, have they not raised their voices in unison? Is their legacy to be the deconstruction of the profession they love?
  • Those at Mandel and JFNA -- like these: the "Associate Director of Professional Recruitment and Placement in the Professional and Volunteer Development Department" at JFNA (and, probably some other title at the Mandel Center for Leadership Excellence) along with the mysterious Deborah K. Smith, "consulting partner" on HRD (what does that mean, BTW?) at JFNA who was paid, according to the 2011 JFNA 990,  $321,672, who sits on its "senior management team" but is not even a professional employee of the organization (in a scheme that one Commentator to this Blog, deemed to be in violation of Internal Revenue Service requirements), who seems to be an advocate for what passes as "outside the box" hiring (meaning those outside the system) -- you know, " Jerry." In fact, Smith appears to report to no one at JFNA other than Silverman -- maybe he can explain what she does from Naples, Florida for our federations.
  • JFNA and federation lay leaders -- those who have merely nodded their heads in Search processes rather than assert themselves; those who have been so swayed by "great interviews" that they have ignored the fatal flaws of candidates knowing nothing about federation; and, those who not only are unfamiliar with annual campaigns but have never contributed to them.
It should be noted that to my knowledge not one federation professionally led by those "outside the box" has had the successes of those led by those from inside the system. (And, if any of you are aware of a federation that has had success under an "outside the box" new chief professional hire, please let me know; offline if you prefer, and I will correct the record.) This doesn't mean that we don't wish all of them well; we do. But, who is helping them set and reach goals, professionally and communally, beyond cheering from the sidelines? 

Leadership has failed the profession; if we want to continue to build the professional cadre, then young women and men entering it from the great schools of Jewish Communal Service (as opposed to the great school of, e.g., Dockers) must see the potential for growth right up to the CEO position. 

Let's see to it.



Anonymous said...

Just where are those CEOs who must know how badly offline JFNA is? Have they no sense of shame? Have they no sense of obligation to a system that is in terrible decline? THEY should be ashamed of themselves -- and we all know who THEY are.

Anonymous said...

Yes, we all know who THEY are.

From eJewish Philanthropy:

“Here lies “xxxx” – a good, dedicated, hard-working man, though one who couldn’t comprehend the world had changed around him.”

paul jeser said...

Richard - sorry to say that this is one of your most important - and deviating - blogs!

First - you can not count on the JCSA for anything - they are a morally bankrupt organization which proved their worthlessness when they decided not to review the important study/book about the UJC z'l by S.Windmueller and G.Bubis.

More importantly, as I've written 'ad-nauseam' - the Federation System (Feds and the profession) is no longer viable - for sure, it is not the much-needed and effective system we knew it to be.

I believe that there needs to be a community Federation to be the community leader, planner, convener. From what I read and hear, many agree. So, the question is, are there any leaders 'out there' who are strong enough, who care enough, and who willing to get together to develop and execute a plan. If not, the Federation System will continue its slow death.

paul jeser said...


Richard - sorry to say that this is one of your most important - and devastating - blogs

paul jeser said...

My spell checker needs a spell checker.. :-) sorry..

...Corrected last sentence...

paul jeser said...

The Death of the Jewish Communal Service z'l

When someone asks me what I do, I respond that I am a member of the Jewish Communal Service. Inevitably, I'm asked to explain and I respond that the simple answer is that I am a fundraiser. I then expand my answer to say that as a fundraiser, I help build community, I help build a nation, I help build a People.

I was privileged to learn from the two major founders of the Jewish Communal Service, Bernie Reisman z'l, and Jerry Bubis. They built a Jewish Communal Service that was effective and personally/professionally satisfying. I was honored to be part of that great enterprise.

It is with horror that I watch 'my' field disintegrate. I truly believe that the Jewish Communal Service, as developed by Resiman and Bubis, and many others, does not exist anymore.

Richard's blog just reinforces my perception.

Anonymous said...

Who cares if a pro gets the system, the mission or Jewish life? For tomorrow's exec, it matters that they're young, slick and have hair (straightened if you're female). That's how they do it at Xerox, Bausch and Coty.

Anonymous said...


My federation agrees that we must look outside the box -- I have suggested a Gentile.

Anonymous said...

If the exec "gets it", religion should not be an issue.