Sunday, February 2, 2014

CATCHING UP

Clearly, the biggest story of the last few weeks has not been the GPT, or the upcoming TribeFestivus 3, or the JFNA Board Retreat But, instead, it has been the hiring of a fine, bright 54 year old Modern Orthodox lawyer, philanthropist and communal lay leader, Eric "Ricky" Goldstein as New York UJA-Federation's new CEO, succeeding John Ruskay. While I know of no media story about this decision that didn't wish Eric Goldstein well in this critical position, the defensive posture of New York's leaders to even the discussion of this hire in the context of the Jewish communal profession, was enlightening, if not surprising.

The New York response endorsed on the pages of The Jewish Week and The Forward (http://forward.com/articles/191917/eric-goldstein-new-york-federation-chief-is-not-ou/?p=all) I think can be boiled down to this: "it's no one's business but ours; we hired the best person for the position, the best person for NY." And, the implicit addendum: "If it's bad for the Jewish communal professionals, let them eat cake" or something like that. (If I am misinterpreting the New York response, someone will surely let me know.) And, this is New York leadership's right, of course, as it would be for any federation. But I, like many of you, would like to know that the implications for the communal system of the hire of an "outsider/insider" as opposed to promoting one of UJA-NY's brilliant senior professionals or even engaging a senior professional from outside New York City were considered, debated and rejected.

But New York-UJA's leaders owe us no explanation whatsoever; and we aren't going to get one. Ricky (I don't know why but that sobriquet, nickname or nom de plume eludes me) will be judged by his success, by the achievement of the goals he has articulated and the goals established by his lay leadership. The concerns expressed by me and others, including those who commented on the relevant Posts of this Blog, have been with the impact of the New York and, before, so many other similar federation search results on the Jewish communal service profession -- what ejewishphilanthropy correctly identified as a "tsunami." (Quotes from the ejp analysis appearing in JTA, were censored in later editions of that story excising the impact on the profession, at the demand of whom exactly?) The best and most successful Large City federation chief professional leaders in and of our federations today were all -- each and every one of them -- professionals from within our system. Nasatir, Hoffman, Terrell, Shrage, Ruskay, Solomon, Kleinman, Kaufman and many, many more. At smaller but very important federations, I have to come to know so many more who view their profession and the work to which they have dedicated their lives as sacred. But, the more are becoming fewer and fewer still. And when a Ruskay signals that continuing the "tsunami" in New York City is just fine, the profession trends toward further diminution, even irrelevance.

And, if this deconstruction is an issue, where is the debate? And who will or can lead it? Certainly not JFNA whose CEO was hired as a direct result of the desire to go "outside the box" for the professional leadership that JFNA isn't getting today...and where the decision to hire Jerry -- not Jerry per se, but Jerry as one from "outside" the federation system --  was never debated by any leadership group (as that would have breached the requisite "confidentiality" of the Search "process" -- see, you can only "trust" the Search Committee [or more likely some "special" subgroup thereof] to maintain that Confidentiality). And, because there has been ("can't be") no debate, the "system," if there still is one, has gone along to get along with every hiring decision made by a small leadership group in every community regardless of size. 

As we have pointed out, there is not one example as yet of communal success in a federated community which has chosen as a new Chief Executive Officer one with no prior real experience as a communal professional. May Eric Goldstein and New York UJA-Federation be the first.

Rwexler

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

Going outside the system is the symptom not the disease. The disease is the bad decisions of Federations over the past two decades - some not reacting to changes happening in and around them, some throwing out the baby with the bathwater and abandoning the better more enduring aspects of the communal culture.

Anonymous said...

The underlying problem is that, increasingly, there is little respect for boundaries. Lay leaders believe that they "know better" and there is profound disrespect for professional analysis. The appointment of a non-professional to a CEO position at our largest federation is an extreme example of what happens on a daily basis as allocation and program decisions are made on the basis of funders' gut reactions about what's best. Being able to select and manage stocks, sell jeans, or litigate business contracts may be worthy activities, but they are not the essential qualifications for Jewish communal leadership. Our federations are adrift and it's not clear that they can be rescued by the new generation of leaders.

paul jeser said...

Richard - THANK YOU!

Anonymous said...

The underlying problem is that, increasingly, there is little respect for boundaries. Lay leaders believe that they "know better" and there is profound disrespect for professional analysis. The appointment of a non-professional to a CEO position at our largest federation is an extreme example of what happens on a daily basis as allocation and program decisions are made on the basis of funders' gut reactions about what's best. Being able to select and manage stocks, sell jeans, or litigate business contracts may be worthy activities, but they are not the essential qualifications for Jewish communal leadership. Our federations are adrift and it's not clear that they can be rescued by the new generation of leaders.

Anonymous said...

The underlying problem is that, increasingly, there is little respect for boundaries. Lay leaders believe that they "know better" and there is profound disrespect for professional analysis. The appointment of a non-professional to a CEO position at our largest federation is an extreme example of what happens on a daily basis as allocation and program decisions are made on the basis of funders' gut reactions about what's best. Being able to select and manage stocks, sell jeans, or litigate business contracts may be worthy activities, but they are not the essential qualifications for Jewish communal leadership. Our federations are adrift and it's not clear that they can be rescued by the new generation of leaders.

A Sad New Yorker said...

As a New Yorker, an UJA-Fed Board member and donor, I have to admit that the promotion of Eric Goldstein reflects on my community's sense of an unearned "exceptionalism," of "we'll succeed where others have failed" as few other of our decisions. The realities reflect that we ought to be a bit more humble and that we recognize that we do have responsibilities to the system for which we pay maybe more than $6 million/year in Dues.

Anonymous said...

The disrespect for federation professionals is rampant. It's not, on the whole, a disrespect manifested via mean or discourteous behavior (although it is implicitly discourteous). Lay "leaders" think they can do all federation jobs, from ceo to marketing director and beyond. Professionals are glorified clerks and messengers, checking in, getting approvals on various operational items like invitations, colors and name tags, navigating egos, styles and personalities. Micromanagement is widespread and paralyzing. Individual federations and the system as an entirety are unable to focus on identifying doable priorities and apply sustained effort to achieve priority objectives. Lay "leaders" from board members to various committee members fail to restrain themselves. The ensuing cacophony of voices is shrill, unfocused, contradictory and distracting noise that simply adds to the already significant challenges facing an American Jewish community in the midst of significant changes. Actually all the noise prevents addressing with real focus and energy the real challenges we face. Professionals who've been around (and aren't the Big Shots you mention) rapidly conclude there's no way out and certainly no reward for thoughtfully bold and focused decisions. Too many meetings, too many people (and seemingly never enough) needed for the elusive and actionable "buy in."
Should federations hire from within? Not necessarily. But at the same time, the trend toward outside hires is a strong indication that something is wrong.
Federations need governance and the strategic direction and overall (and ceo) evaluation that along with fiduciary oversight are fundamental responsibilities of a governing board.
But they should stick to their job. In fact, if they got the strategic part right maybe our federations and the entire system wouldn't be so adrift right now.
There are many necessary roles to play. We need to define and respect the roles, lay and professional, played and let lay and pros play their role without interference and excessive process.

Anonymous said...

All of us who have spent our lives in federation work, lay people and pro's, should take a step back and admit that we are all a party to where we have arrived. Have we over professionalized our campaigns leaving only the color of invitations for lay people to worry about? Down campaign- ok let's hire a REAL fundraiser. Do we adequately prepare our boards for tough decisions and do boards allow the professional to be a true partner in those discussions? Our board meetings are like Super Bowl commercials but without cute kids or puppies.

joebrown42 said...

I am glad to see that at least Philly chose differently.
http://ejewishphilanthropy.com/philadelphia-federation-names-female-ceo/?utm_source=Philly+CEO&utm_campaign=Philly+CEO&utm_medium=email

joebrown42 said...

I am glad to see that at least Philly chose differently.
http://ejewishphilanthropy.com/philadelphia-federation-names-female-ceo/?utm_source=Philly+CEO&utm_campaign=Philly+CEO&utm_medium=email

Anonymous said...

New Philadelphia Federation exec announced today:

http://www.jewishexponent.com/philadelphia-jewish-federation-names-first-female-ceo

"...CEO-designate is Naomi Adler, a 47-year-old attorney who left the practice of law to pursue a career in nonprofit fundraising and management.

"...She began that phase of her career in the Jewish communal world, but spent the past 13 years as a top executive with the United Way. She currently is the president and CEO of United Way in Westchester and Putnam counties in New York, a post she has served since 2008.

"...She served as director of the Community Relations Council and Women’s Division of the Jewish Federation of Dayton, Ohio, from 1997 to 1998. Following that, she was the director of development at Rutgers University’s Bildner Center for the Study of Jewish Life from 1999 to 2001.

"...In 2001, she took her first post at United Way. She served as president and CEO of United Way of Rockland County for seven years and then moved to her current position overseeing the central fundraising body that funds education, health and income initiatives for disadvantaged populations in Westchester and Putnam counties.

paul jeser said...

Naomi Adler Picked To Lead Philadelphia Jewish Federation

First Female CEO Takes Reins at Charity Group

http://forward.com/articles/192094/naomi-adler-picked-to-lead-philadelphia-jewish-fed/

Anonymous said...

And one more from outside the field. No mention of her experience in federations but at least she did work in "the Jewish communal world." Also no mention of JFNA nor did JFNA send out a note yet - is it possible that they didn't use the Mandel Center.
Philadelphia’s Jewish Exponent is reporting that the Federation has named Naomi Adler, a United Way professional, to fill the vacant Federation CEO position:



“For the first time in its 112-year history, the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia has selected a woman to lead the community’s central fundraising body.

The CEO-designate is Naomi Adler, a 47-year-old attorney who left the practice of law to pursue a career in nonprofit fundraising and management.

She began that phase of her career in the Jewish communal world, but spent the past 13 years as a top executive with the United Way. She currently is the president and CEO of United Way in Westchester and Putnam counties in New York, a post she has served since 2008.”

Anonymous said...

Let's give this professional all the good wishes and support she needs and deserves. Philly is a difficult community for any pro and unfortunately she will not have the strong and wise board she deserves from the outset. Hopefully she will find colleagues and friends from the larger federation world. Congrats to her.

Anonymous said...

Philadelphia DID NOT use the Mandel Center. And JFNA should be ashamed of itself for not sending out a release.

Though with CEO Jerry, is this really a surprise?