Every once in a while I long for the good old days of JFNA -- and, then, I think of an episode like this one:
Steve Hoffman, then the JFNA CEO, pulled me aside at a meeting and asked if I would form and Chair a Task Force which might recommend the means by which JFNA could assist federations in the management of the FRD approaches to communities by the growing number of agencies, entities and NGOs which receive federation allocations. I felt this was something important, something that would help the federations and could, if properly structured help our beneficiaries -- from the largest, the Jewish Agency and the Joint, to the smallest. When I learned that our friend, Yitzchak Shavit, z'l, would be my professional partner, I quickly agreed.
We formed an excellent Task Force, with lay leaders and CEOs from many City-sizes -- some of the best and brightest in our system. I thought the ideal framework for our work would be a modification of Chicago's Resource Development Guidelines -- one that created a management and reporting structure for our local agencies' FRD efforts -- modified to fit the JFNA structure and the focus of our assignment. The Task Force agreed. With draft Guidelines in hand and Shavit's assistance and the professional direction of the past leaders of the national organization's Israel Office, we arranged a three day series of meetings in Jerusalem where we had great professional support from the then fully functioning JFNA Israel Office. I attended at my own expense.
We had wall-to-wall meetings with academic and legislative experts on Israel's NGOs, with federation Israel Office leaders, with the Israeli representatives of many major North American foundations and representatives of the Government. We found almost unanimous support. Then we met with Jewish Agency and Joint professional leaders, who after open and robust discussion, offered their support, as well. We felt we had achieved a real breakthrough and we were very encouraged.
Based on this success, we came with the Draft Guidelines to the JFNA Board for approval at a meeting at one of those February Retreats in Ft. Lauderdale. The draft Guidelines were sent out to the Board in advance. Itzik and I discussed them with the Chair, Bobby Goldberg, and with the new CEO, Rieger. They assured us of their support. At the Board Meeting, there was a rush to the microphone -- not in support. One great leader, a past Chair of many national organizations, expressed concern with the possibility of the creation of "a horrible bureaucracy." We explained the simplicity of the management mechanism, self-enforcing -- but, we were met with cynicism. Then, the future Chair of the Executive (who did not disclose that he was also Chair at the time of The Israel Project, a federation beneficiary) rose to object to the Guidelines on the basis that it could "hamstring" and "burden" small funded agencies. (This was curious inasmuch as this leader would condemn me for a "conflict of interest" when I would later chair UIA and the Jewish Agency North America simultaneously. But, never mind.) Neither the Board Chair nor CEO said a word in support; I took the Motion to approve off the table.
After the meeting, I sought out the CEO and questioned the lack of the promised leadership support. He told me he was "uncomfortable," but promised to garner support and he did so. At the next Board meeting, the Guidelines were approved unanimously on the Consent Agenda. The next day I called Shavit. "When can we start implementation?" I asked. "Well," Shavit said, "the Task Force has been dissolved. They are going to implement it through JFNA Consulting." "Who is going to be the Lay Chair?" I asked. "Nobody."
A few weeks later I called the then professional leader of JFNA Consulting to see how implementation was going. It wasn't. "Oh, we're going to discuss it at the Senior Management Committee level." "When," I asked? "Soon." The same conversation was repeated periodically but I knew that the Task Force, I and Shavit had wasted months of effort and expense -- the Guidelines died a quiet death, the potential management of competing philanthropies in our communities was dead. Why? Because of the parochial interests of a very few in national "leadership."
And this is the organization that now wants to manage everything -- from Overseas advocacy to a $1 billion special campaign for "free Jewish pre-school," to 350,000 Birthright alums, to everything else.
And, so it goes (or so it went) in the Lake Woebegone of national organizations.