Friday, November 22, 2013


Somewhere in the bowels of JFNA HQ a lonely professional (or two or...ten) was charged by the CEO or the Co-Chairs (or all of the above) to come up with a list of "programs" that demonstrate how JFNA "serves the Federation movement." I doubt that the document will ever see the light of day -- it shouldn't, because most, if not all, of the federation CEOs who might read it or hear it, will find it laughable. Here is the preamble:
"The Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) convenes Federations to maximize our impact as a united continental community. JFNA is focused on delivering ever-greater value to Federations by offering critical skills to help them raise money, engage existing donors and attract new donors; operate more effectively; advocate for our communities at home and overseas; respond to crises; recruit and develop talent; and maintain and build relationships with partner organizations."
Really? Does the author of this 9 page recitation even believe what he/she has written? I doubt it. But, if only it were true. 

On JFNA's watch: (1) resources for our system's partners and beneficiaries -- e.g., JDC, JAFI, the National Agencies -- have fallen like a rock; (2) the number of donors to our system have reduced like the City of Detroit's population; (3) the best and brightest of young federation professionals have seen their aspirations for joining the ranks of federation CEOs frustrated by JFNA encouragement of an "outside the system" model (you know -- "like Jerry"); and (4) there has been no advocacy for the work of our "historic partners." Other than those, that Preamble is spot-on. 

But, then, there is also the waste embodied in programs like TribeFest, that Festivus for the Least of Us, that has already drained about $2 million from JFNA's budget and, now, will be repeated in March 2014. This is a program that is the best/worst evidence of the aimless wandering of JFNA -- without purpose, without Vision and, some would say, without hope. Ask JFNA what benefits the federations have reaped, what the federation ROI has been, from two Fests; no, better, ask the federations -- they paid for these exercises in institutional futility and now will pay again. (And, remember, the JFNA Treasurer/Budget and Finance Chair approved this JFNA as Groundhog Day event.) BTW, the same folks who projected, actually asserted, that 2500 registrants for the GA are now projecting "1500 participants" in March 2014 for this thing.

The saddest part of the recitation of program after program evidences just how much JFNA could accomplish, could have accomplished, had its leadership not been so pathetic, so distracted by the next small idea, by the next shiny object. What has been so sorely missing from leadership have been those lay and professional leaders who understand how federations work and, thereby, how best to assist them. The belief by too many Large City Executives that what works in our largest communities is always transferable to federations of smaller size has had the most unfortunate results -- the worst of which has been the almost total elimination of annual campaign assistance and leadership ("we" don't need it, so why would "you?")

When JFNA was created through the merger process, leaders of Large Intermediate, Intermediate and Small Cities feared that JFNA's programs would be dictated by the largest among us. The leaders of the merger process tried to assuage these fears but, in practice, the size of the communities from which a number of failed JFNA leaders emerged suggested that, in the main, the smaller the community, the greater likelihood that it would be ignored, patted on the head and told "we'll get back to you." The patronizing was/is palpable. 

But, after the General Assembly, one supporter of JFNA, writing anonymously in commentary on one of my Posts, expressed hope:
"Both Michael and Jerry outlined ideas for plans in their speeches at the GA and asked for others to join the planning for implementation. They are trying to get things going. Past experience may have been disappointing, but they are now really trying. Michael's call to action was very well received, as was Jerry's. Maybe we should try to work together instead of giving in to cynicism. You may be right about a lot of things, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try."
It would be nice, so nice, if this apparent insider's hopes could be realized. But what are "ideas for plans" and don't you do the "planning" and the "planning for implementation" before announcing the "plans?" Don't JFNA's leaders have it backward?

With this miserable record, the lack of North American lay attendance at GA after GA, the failure to fund "Completing the Journey," the lack of any sense of vision or mission, and on and on, it is almost shocking that at the highest levels of JFNA lay leadership there is the actual contemplation of extending CEO Jerry's term -- something an earlier Chair and leadership wouldn't contemplate for CEO Jerry's predecessor whose record of success was modestly better.

And, even as there are some excellent programs in this recitation and in the grandiose "big ideas" at the GA -- how many will probably ever see the light of day. But, OMG, in the meantime, the waste, the travesty and...the waste.



Anonymous said...

Cry, loudly.

Anonymous said...

Next to the definition of "nincompoop" in the dictionary is a photo of Mr. Silverman

Anonymous said...

JFNA's 3 Stooges: Jerry, Michael and Dede

Anonymous said...

When you think about how much has been wasted just on Silverman's contract alone -- over $2.4 million over four years -- all one can do is weep.