Saturday, March 1, 2014


All of you who read this Blog regularly know of my continuing frustration with the National Agencies-Federation Alliance. From the merger forward, but especially over the past eight years, The Alliance's relationship to its funded national agencies (which were those created by and for the federation system) can be characterized as one of neglect. The Alliance is another example of JFNA dropping the ball, apparently so disinterested, JFNA's top lay and professional leaders don't even know what's going on.

Eight years ago the New York UJA-Federation, which was then providing a disproportionate amount of Alliance funding made it clear to The Alliance leadership that it wanted to reduce that annual funding. Rather than seek additional federation participation, and additional funding from the federation members, or engage in any advocacy with New York lay leaders, The Alliance leadership went through a faux planning process, the transparent purpose of which was to reduce funding to as many member agencies as it possibly could. Some less favored national agencies were given Draconian cuts to their allocations while a number of federations dropped out of The Alliance and two funded Agencies, one of which, JESNA, was always fully funded (whatever that meant in the context of Alliance funding) went out of business. If there was ever an active effort to increase the number of Alliance members or to solicit additional funds for the agencies' pool, that "effort" was never evident, and, certainly, unavailing. 

Many readers know of my continued involvement with and support of the work of the NCSJ-Advocates on behalf of Jews in Russia, Ukraine, the Baltic States& Eurasia. Even before the creation of The Alliance, there were (and are) those who targeted the organization for defunding. I have argued that the NCSJ, with its efforts with Jewish organizations and the governments throughout its areas of expertise and work, was and is an inexpensive insurance policy for the system, and a first responder in times of stress and need. It proved it a few years ago when its intervention on behalf of one of our system's treasured partners helped to save that organization with over seven figures in alleged tax liability. And, of course, it has proved its worth in its daily reporting to our federations on the impacts of the "revolution" in the Ukraine on the Jewish communities there. (And, of course, NCSJ's work was ignored in Chair Siegal's  otherwise excellent report --What Ukrainian Unrest Reminds Us About the Value of Overseas Allocations. But, it should be noted that the NCSJ's work was added in a later communique.) My federation transmitted the NCSJ Reports (and those from the Jewish Agency and Joint) directly to its constituencies -- yours? Those Reports will certainly continue as the drama in the Ukraine and its impact on the 250,000 Jewish Ukrainians continues to unfold. Also, the efforts by a group of Alliance "leaders" to further defund the NCSJ will continue as if these efforts on our behalf never took or take place.

A most interesting commentary on the demise of the Foundation for Jewish Culture and JESNA, theretofore two of the national agencies created by the Federations, appeared in an op-ed in ejewishphilanthropy -- utm_source=Mon+Feb+24&utm_campaign=Mon+Feb+24&utm_medium=email -- where Marcella Kanfer Rolnick and her father, Joe Kanfer, a past Chair of JFNA questioned: Do We Need National Organizations? In an otherwise thoughtful piece, nowhere do the Kanfers "confess error" to Joe's own neglect of the national organizations during his terms as JFNA Chair. But...never mind.

Let's face it, The Alliance has been a flop...or worse. Its staffing went from a full-time professional dedicated to its work, to a professional effort that is part-time (and who knows how big that "part" is); a succession of Chairs seem not to understand The Alliance purpose; its federation membership is down; its funding pool is way, way down; it has lost national agency members; and every member agency has had to devote more of their resources to fund raising than at the time of the merger. There is a sense among the federations which I have visited that national agencies funding is not a JFNA priority; and there is a real feeling among national agency leaders with whom I have discussed funding that they have been ignored and abandoned. It's another sad in a series.



Anonymous said...

I spent 10 years working as a planner at a large city Federation, and my portfolio included the National Funding Council (Now Alliance). I think a major part of the problem was that the NFC met once a year, at the GA, and was basically asked to rubber stamp the allocations. There was little community input or substantive discussion, which could have created buy-in on the local level.

I also think some of the national agencies could have done a better job educating the NFC members of their work. We received regular email updates from some agencies, but not all, despite repeated requests for them. This especially made it challenging when the Federation Planning and Allocations committee and Board needed to make funding reductions, and they struggled with our obligation to keep funding the NFC at the same level as the prior year, while cutting local programs. Unfortunately, the NFC (and national agencies) eventually also got cut after several years of keeping them whole.

This seems like something that is fixable through more effective communication and time spent among the Alliance, Federations and national agencies. However, I am not sure all three parties are invested in this effort, which is a shame for our system.

Perhaps JCSA and the local Jewish communal service associations across the country can convene a web series that highlights the national agencies on a regular basis.

Anonymous said...

I am s leader in my own federation. Never have we had any presentation from JFNA or the Alliance on the benefits of membership, on joining or on the value of these national agencies.

What is going one here?

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the decline in NFC participation and emphasis is a reflection of the marketplace. Federations don't see that funding some/all of these national agencies (especially the national umbrella agencies) is important or as important as funding other priorities. Let the JCCs fund the JCCA. Let the JFCS/JFSs fund that national agency, etc. Federations are already funding those agencies locally.
Now as to agencies like JTA and others like it that are not umbrella but direct program/services providers, I'd see them differently -- but even with them the marketplace rules.