Saturday, June 29, 2013


Mark Zuckerberg's mantra at Facebook is "move fast and break things." JFNA's CEO (not in any way comparing him to Zuckerberg) is "just break things." Let us count the ways: FRD -- broken; Federation Consulting -- broken; Federation Allocations -- broken; relations with the Jewish Agency and Joint -- broken. Almost four years into his Presidency, JFNA is floundering as never before -- with Harlem Shakes, the Global Planning Table, Festivus 3, and on it goes.

These are serious times for JFNA -- the most serious JFNA has ever faced -- and we need serious people to face them. I believe in the sitting Chairs; I admire their patience in coming to understand the fix in which JFNA now finds itself. Yet, it has now been eight months since their installation...they have to understand the is time for them to act.

One Anonymous Commentator, responding to an earlier Post wrote:

"I have been following this blog for what must be years now and agree that the system is very broken. 
What I don't see being addressed is "What can we do to fix it?"
Instead of continuing to try to convince the convinced (I imagine that the unconvinced are simply not reading or not paying attention), how about trying to get something going to attempt to change things before total collapse?" 

While I believe that I have offered a series of changes that would "fix it," let's be certain of one thing: JFNA can only be "fixed" by federation lay and professional leaders first understanding that JFNA is badly broken and then taking charge. Today, at 25 Broadway, there is not a single lead professional member of the Senior Management Team who has any federation experience...none. 

Our Chairs have to know that during times of crisis such as these, no leader of any organization, certainly not one owned by the federations should be, among other things: appearing on YouTube feigning the Harlem Shake; involved in the planning of a Third TribeFest; traveling on minor Missions merely to demonstrate how well they relate to the "newgen;" or trying to pass off as "new" a set of nothing more than programs of the past, many of them already well beyond their "use by" dates, as "new Strategic Initiatives." Further, our Chairs need to use their power to question the institutional judgment that permits search processes to begin for a COO and a Senior V-P "Philanthropic Resources" in the last year of the CEO's own employment contract. Yet, these are many of the very "things" with which this CEO/President has been "busy" with these past months.

With the merger that created what is now JFNA, successive lay and professional leaders were handed a precious legacy -- what one of my dear friends and partners characterized as one that was "extraordinary." These leaders had the chance to act and think boldly in shaping that legacy for the present and into the future. Instead, as we have noted, our leaders have constantly been distracted from purpose, vision and resolve by shiny objects...actually by anything and everything.

So, how do the lay leaders of JFNA reshape the legacy in the present and for the future? My suggestion: go "back to the future." Take what was great, what made the predecessor organizations great -- those timeless principles and core values -- and bring them into the present and the future. 

What we have permitted JFNA to become and what JFNA is today, is nowhere near where or what the federations are, let alone what they want. The Chairs must announce to the federations with all their strength and passion: "From this day forward, JFNA will be about you." And, then, make it so.

As the brilliant writer, Mike Lupica, has observed in another context equally applicable to JFNA today: "These guys are so beyond the 'Clown Line,' they couldn't find it without a GPS."



Anonymous said...

When governments, organizations or systems implode the telltale sign is the silence of arrogance. If a visitor from Mars showed up last week what she would have discovered is a system that fires good people, makes no apologies or explanation and is above any and all response. Within our own increasingly little world the last week was a case study in the negative branding of federations that would make Paula Dean consider herself lucky.

paul jeser said...

I think that asking leaders in place to make the changes necessary to save the JFNA just won't work.

There needs to be an intervention from the 'outside' - Jewish style.

One possibility is for former Fed/CJF/UJA/UJC leaders, major donors who care about the system, major 'thinkers' (Yitz, Gordis, etc.), and pros no longer in the system (thus with nothing to lose), form a task force which will design and help implement the necessary changes.

This has to be a broad, national effort. There is too much at stake not to succeed.

Anonymous said...

These are not totally original ideas; I've seen some posted on this blog by Richard and from its respondents. I've discussed some of them with former and current Federation & National System professional & volunteer leaders. All lament the uselessness of JFNA as it now stands - self important while poised for the scrap heap of irrelevance.

How about firing the dead weight (start at the top and include most existing staff). Then hire a real system CEO with some vision and a success record?

Then rehire a few of the past UJA & CJF stars who have deep knowledge, success and credibility as federation and national system pros in key areas buttressed by some later day wiz kids from federations which are winning the relevance/success battle on the local level.

Key areas needing immediate national attention and leadership are FRD (all revenue streams), Core Consulting, Community Organization/Collective Action, Israel & Overseas Advocacy & Funding, Finance & Administration, Legislative Action (Washington - one current piece of the organization I'd tweak but leave largely intact), Mandell (needs a complete overhaul with people who know federations and reject black-balling federation pros simply because a vindictive local/national lay leader poisons the well), governance, leadership development for the system....

One can dream.

paul jeser said...

The question to 'One Can Dream' anonymous:

Who is going to do all of those things?

Anonymous said...


What you are leaving out is that more and more Federations are being run by outsiders. After a 20 year plus career in the Federation field, I am now working for a non Federation agency. Middle level Federation professionals who devoted their career to the field, are not being considered for jobs. My Federation leader was taken from the lay side to run it, and there are countless examples. I and many of the best and brightest have left their Federations.

How can we fix a national organization, when there is no respect or understanding of the professional role, that you so eloquently referred to in describing Paul Kane.

The Federation system you and your colleagues nurtured with professionals at your side is a relic of the past. I don't believe there is a future for a Federated system nationwide, and so we need to prepare for life after JFNA.

Hopefully, in a few years, people will realize that there is a lot of independent fundraising and no coordination, and they will create a new body to do that. Right now, as evidenced by GPT debacle, the end of JESNA, a JTA solicitation every other day, JDC resources being siphoned to devote to fundraising etc. We are in a new reality, and most Federations have seemed to lose the importance of national and international collective, and only care about their local community, of which they have diminished resources to allocate, because without the national/international collective, people give to local agencies independent of Federation. I have witnessed it personally, and yet most of the lay and professional leadership continue to spin their wheels.

Anonymous said...

How can this group find inspiration from the past values and principles when they reject all of them without even knowing what they were?