Monday, April 28, 2014


It's not just change, it's a "profound, revolutionary move." It's how Orwell would  say we define "nothing" as "change." It's illusion. And just what is it? The story, in part, is told in a Forward article Denver no longer has a Jewish Federation. Yep, it is now JEWISHColorado "f/k/a Allied Jewish Federation of Colorado." Let the Colorado f/k/a CEO tell it:
“'We’re dropping the F-word, both for ‘federation’ and for ‘foundation,’” said Doug Seserman, president and CEO of JEWISHcolorado. He explained that the name change is part of a 'profound revolutionary move' to fit the needs of the 21st century. 'It still says ‘federation,’ without the word ‘federation.’”
Friends, only JFNA could match this bullshit. But, the Forward, which should know better, thinks that this is all innovation:
"Colorado may be the most visible example of how a small number of Jewish federations are adopting innovative ideas for change, but it is not the only one. In Pittsburgh, another leader in innovative practices, communal activity is now measured and publicized, enabling ordinary Jews to see what their philanthropic dollars are doing. Ideas like this would have been inconceivable a generation ago, but now they are seen as a possible model for the entire federation system."
This font of innovation, this JEWISHColorado, is one which hired as its new CEO over a decade ago, a marketing guru in the private sector with no federation experience -- you know "cutting edge," "outside the box" and all that. Seemed at the time that he was hired because of his articulation of a new communal vision -- what I would describe as "thematic giving" but which resonated in that federated community as "Total Choice FRD." Just words without meaning; and now moved to titles without meaning. This is big-time "innovation;" probably "profound, revolutionary." Uh-huh.

I was in the community shortly after the hire, explained to the new CEO at a private meeting that this form of designated giving had only worked in federations where there was a vibrant annual campaign in place -- that's still the case. This new CEO threatened right there to resign. Cooler heads prevailed, Total Choice FRD did as well, and, then, it didn't. Here's how it worked/didn't work. Donors would be solicited, given the choice -- the total choice -- to donate to Federation's "Core Funds" to support federation's "core" purposes I guess, or to any philanthropic purpose of the donor's choosing. least in theory.

Over a decade has now passed; where is this community? The annual campaign results for federation's "core" purposes are down in real dollar terms, way, way  down in comparative values to 2003. The so-called "increases" in campaign in this Federation are mainly in large gifts to non-beneficiaries where the federation has acted strictly as the donors' conduit -- "Total Choice" equals "Donor Choice" and the community is the loser but for one real gain -- keeping some donors names on the list. You can place your own value on that.

So, what do we call communal data that suggest that the community is raising significant dollars when the majority of those dollars are committed to non-federation purposes? Well, you may choose my term (which you may guess) or any other you wish. 

So what, you may ask, this CEO's constituency must not care -- after all the chief professional officer has been there for over a decade? Well, that's true, but I have no doubt that in interviewing for new positions elsewhere, this CEO  has been representing vastly increased campaigns under his leadership -- of course, careful examination would have revealed that those "increases" have been generated by adding in the "conduit funds" "raised" and transmitted to entities outside the federation ambit -- in other words, wholly illusory increases. 

Now, this community is moving rapidly to an even more radical fund raising approach -- one that will assure that this place will no longer be a federated community -- truly "profound, revolutionary." Believe it or not, this community will no longer fund those agencies which actively fund raise within the community. Get this straight now: by dint of its failed FRD -- this ferkocht "total choice" -- agencies were told to fend for themselves -- if you aren't receiving enough through "total choice." you have to raise your budgets yourselves. Today these same agencies are being told, so you went out and raised money, now we will not raise any for you!!! Brilliant!!! Make this CEO the successor to Jerry Silverman. 

Oh, JAFI and the Joint?? They have already been told, in the loudest voice imaginable: for every dollar you raise in our community we will offset our communal allocation to you. And, as is typically the case, the reason the Agency and JDC are fund raising in this community is because it has been allocating nothing to them. 

The Forward piece, which suggests that the reporter knows far too little about how the vast majority of federations are doing and how they are doing it,  talks repeatedly about something called the "black box," probably meant to reference the "federation as a black hole." (A sorry pejorative seemingly perpetuated by those who lead the community.) But, if Colorado or other communities (incredibly, one community cited as a shining example for Colorado is San Francisco where failure is the sad communal reality) believe that a name change is the answer to its problems or even an answer, one can only pity them.

Oh, Jerry Silverman? He looks on the system he leads with obvious disapproval: "Right now, we're (that's the federations) because we still believe in the concept of annual campaign and in collective giving." Pathetic. Has Silverman ever had the feeling he ought to not speak on a subject about which he knows nothing but just can't?

If this place is not the Tower of Babel, it's certainly in the picture.



Anonymous said...

As long as Silverman is in office, I will argue at my federation Board meetings that we withhold our Dues, the consequences be damned.

Anonymous said...

I think we need to keep in mind that everything west of the Mississippi is a different 'Jewish World', and it is a mistake to view and evaluate their Jewish reality through a Midwest or Eastern Jewish lens.
Seserman has always had a keen eye for the market, and I think that he deserves to be evaluated by his leadership and the Colorado Jewish Community.
Regarding TCT (Total Choice Tzedakah), regardless of what the actual comps are that Richard presents in his post, I would suggest instead a comparison of what the downside would have been had that change not been made to their strategy.

RWEX said...

Points taken and appreciated. At the same time one would have to ask what the upside might have been had Colorado reemphasized and implemented an intense annual campaign rather than the gimmickry of "TCT."

Anonymous said...

I believe that analysis took place, meaning that TCT was the result of a 'reality check' of their community.
TCT was really the first strategy that began to address philanthropy in the 21st Century as being about the 'passions' of the 'donor', instead of the 'needs' of the 'institution'.
Names (TCT, Extreme FRD, UJA Campaign) aside, I think he was ahead of the curve.

RWEX said...

I applaud your passion and unqualified support but, really, "philanthropy in the 21st Century" is, as it always was, in my community and so many others, about the "passions of the donor" -- that's why there has been continued success in so many places and failure in those, like Colorado I'm afraid, where attempts are made to hide failure behind cliches postured as change but which have proved to be meaningless.

Anonymous said...

Hey Michael and Dede,
Not to pick on JFNA but the one thing most appropriate for a national organization to produce would be an intelligient and serious quality piece explaining the Federation model to new and old constituencies. The article could elucidate our approach to a global Jewish community and annual giving while recognizing the 21st century changes and realities head on. It's time to reconnect!