Saturday, January 31, 2015


       350,000 -- The number of Jews at risk this Winter in the Ukraine
          $2.7 Million -- The amount in the aggregate raised at JFNA to assist
       Ukrainian Jews through the Ukraine Assistance Fund

Maybe you had some hope that JFNA would emerge from what is now approaching a decade of building on one failure after another, and might actually succeed at something...anything. But it was not to be. After the fiasco of its non-existent failed Continental response to the terror atrocity on the streets of Paris, the totally inadequate action to assist Ukrainian Jewry is like a period at the end of a sentence. As the NCESJ's latest Weekly Update asserts: "We continue to receive alarming news from Jewish communities in Eastern Ukraine" and the WSJ headlined yesterday "In Ukraine Civilians Again in Crossfire." Apparently the majordomos, lay and professional alike, at 25 Broadway don't read.

Across the Continent there appeared to be a recognition that with winter upon them, and the country still under direct threat with the prospect of peace talks having foundered and war reignited, we would step forward with an enhanced and focused effort for our brothers and sisters in the Ukraine. At the 2014 GA there did appear to be the hope of a real commitment to raise the tens of millions necessary to provide the Ukrainian Jewish community, through the JDC, with everything from blankets to food to medical care to our support for JAFI's efforts at increased aliya, at a time when it appeared that the Evangelical Christian community through the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews was on the cusp of meeting our historic and very Jewish responsibilities -- all at a time when the Ukrainian currency has been devalued exceeding 50% and, in Eastern Ukraine, occupied by Russian separatists, pensions wiped out, and the daily terror of renewed war everywhere. The speeches at GA 2014 -- as always with JFNA, words...just words; the effort...none.

Yes, once again, JFNA "efforts" consisted of an impassioned speech or two, maybe a letter or two, and some calls to the City-size groupings of federations. But fund raising, hell no. As I write this, there is a -31 degree wind chill and I am sitting at my computer in my well-heated office in Chicago thinking of my/our visits to the apartments of our Ukrainian mishpacha, bringing food packages, vital medicine and a human touch in the Summer and Spring, the apartments drafty even then, maintained with dignity, no matter the circumstances. I can only imagine the conditions under which our extended family are living in the midst of the bitter winter in Donetsk or Kiev, or wherever they may live -- with electricity blackouts, food and medicine running short and hope running out and war all around. The situation in Eastern Ukraine right now has been described by the NCESJ as experiencing "..a dangerous escalation of fighting and rising death toll."  "The war is exploding anew in Ukraine" the New York Times reported one week ago. And JFNA does nothing, its leaders'  ostrich heads in the sand.

The two Co-Chairs of the JFNA Ukraine allocations process are terrific leaders -- I know they would go anywhere to help raise the dollars to effect real "fund raising;" I know that they could recruit other lay leaders to join them. But, JFNA doesn't know how to raise money any more -- it is not even a shadow of what once was the greatest and most respected fund-raising vehicle in Jewish or non-Jewish life -- it does not even try. 

For JFNA -- just can't be bothered. After all, they had to plan a Retreat, a high end donor Mission to Shanghai, maybe another illusory Signature Initiative, and other, equally important stuff. And there were vacations. Oh, there is a Ukraine Assistance Fund and a nice link on the JFNA website to the "Mailbox" (JFNA must have a helluva time keeping track of all the Mailboxes it has opened over just the last year) it has opened to collect the pledges it doesn't solicit -- even Jerry "Mr. Mailbox" Silverman probably knows after five years that this Mailbox Method isn't fund-raising but with Jerry one never knows what he knows. 

Ahhh me. Where is the effort? Where is the passion? Where is the fund raising? What the hell does "Philanthropic Resources" do? Is there a National Campaign Chair any more? Is there a National/Continental organization any more? Was the Ukraine Emergency on the agenda anywhere at the JFNA Retreat concluded just days ago? Of course not.

The scoreboard tells the whole story. This episode is beneath contempt. It is not just a shameful episode, and it is just the latest one; it is a shame; it is our shame. It is our embarrassment. It is JFNA 2015 playing violins while the Ukraine burns.

My friends, it didn't/doesn't have to be this way. 


Wednesday, January 28, 2015


1. JFNA has many issues as we have identified on these pages from time-to-time. Engagement is one of the most serious. So, here is a critical Resolution that the JFNA Board just approved:
"WHEREAS, Article VI of the JFNA corporate by-laws identifies and defines the responsibilities of JFNA corporate officers, included therein, at Sections 6.5, 6.6, and 6.9, respectively, are the offices of Chair of the Board, Chair of the Executive Committee, and Vice Chairs, also identified more in the roster of corporate officers in Section 6.1-2, Paragraphs a, b, and c, respectively; and,

WHEREAS, as part of a comprehensive by-laws review and in the interest of clarifying and streamlining leadership roles, the Governance and By-laws Committee has recommended a re-configuration of three officers to specifically provide for:
  1. (1)  The Chair of the Board to preside not only at meetings of the Board, but meetings of the Executive Committee of the Board, as well.
  2. (2)  Re-designate the Chair of the Executive Committee as (sole) Vice Chair of the Board empowered to act in the absence of the Chair of the Board.
  3. (3)  Eliminate the office of all other existing Vice Chairs of the Board" 
Yep, an organization with an engagement problem eliminates all of five of its Vice Chairs, vests all authority in the Board Chair (if only we had one!!) and CEO (if only we had one!) and in the Chair of the Partnership Committee of the GPT (as of now, we do have one), and creates a new single Vice Chair whose only role will apparently be to preside in the event the Board Chair cannot. Friends, placing more power in the hands of fewer people has never been a good idea; and, when one of the people is the current CEO, even a more terrible one.

It has been evident that the current Chair of the Executive, Dede Feinberg, has been so marginalized by the perfect storm of Board Chair, CEO and the Chair of the Global Planning Table Partnership Committee, that made this specious marginalized as to not even exist. Whether Dede is consulted on anything of substance on-going at JFNA other than reading the Executive Committee script is debatable. If this were happening to another leader, I have no doubt that the person would have resigned in protest; but Dede is too gracious to do so, the daily humiliation notwithstanding. (When Sonny Plant was ignored on Budget matters when he served as Treasurer, he resigned, only to be coaxed into withdrawing his resignation with promises of total consultation going forward [a total consultation that never happened].)

As I write this, prior to the Board meeting at which it will be approved, I'm certain that the Board heard that this is being done "consistent with best business practices"..."this will streamline our governance" and similar bulls__t. In an organization that hardly operates like a business in any way, isn't this preposterous? There actually have been instances where the Chair of the Executive performed critical functions -- Joel Tauber, Sonny Plant, z'l, and, of interest, Kathy Manning herself. The Vice Chairs who will be eliminated could be vital players for JFNA -- in FRD, allocations, etc. or they could be the sitting lay Chairs of the City-size groups -- but, to the perfect storm, these lay leaders just got in the way. 

And, when I say "got in the way" I am joking because the response should be "got in the way" of what -- the nothing that JFNA is doing? There is no need for Vice Chairs to assist in advocacy for JFNA's FRD...because there is none. There is no need for Vice Chairs to lead an allocations advocacy effort...because there is none. You name it...there. is. none. Not that there couldn't be, but no one's home.

When JFNA was created by merger, it was explicitly contemplated that the Board Chair would lead JFNA policy and the Chair of the Executive would be responsible for oversight of the day-to-day operations of the entity. Oh, what might have been the case had JFNA lay leadership followed the merger guidelines and had there been lay oversight of anything. But, of course, as in all things, those guidelines were first ignored (as early as in the formative days of the first Co-Chairs) and then heard of no more -- certainly for the last nine years and, probably, many more, there has been no oversight and no accountability. We would not permit this willful ignorance in our own communities, but at JFNA...

2. I don't even understand why this issue of French/European Jewry in 2015 had  but one place on the public agenda of the JFNA Board Meetings. Of course JFNA heard from Hillel's President, a report on attitudes of younger adults toward Israel but, other than a report from Malcolm Hoenlein, and the typical "table discussions" -- nothing. And here is how those table discussions were framed: "The Board will discuss how JFNA and Federations might support the European community." Filler. Just filler. Check it off the list and move on. Worse, the plight of the Jews of the Ukraine didn't merit a moment of this important meeting...not a moment for a major Jewish population more directly threatened -- "War is exploding anew in Ukraine" the NYT reported on Saturday -- than the Jewish community of France...not a moment. Can't be bothered.

3. Meanwhile another Board meeting passes with no questions about the waste embodied in a JFNA Budget which CEO What's-A-Budget? treats as merely a fungible framework for shifting funds with no apparent accountability.* Referencing back to the two years that Sonny Plant chaired the Budget and Finance Committee, or to the UJA/CJF years when Budget Chairs and the Committees took their roles seriously, it's hard to believe the depths we have reached today.

4. Following on its uncertain support for French Jewry -- no Continental FRD aside from creating a "Fund," asking for letters of support and a Mission -- Siegal announced a Solidarity Mission and scheduled it for February 8-10. It follows immediately upon a previously scheduled Jewish Agency/Keren  Ha'Yesod Mission which will convene February 2-4 in Paris. After asking a simple question -- why two Missions, why not just one -- I learned from several sources at JFNA and Jerusalem that the Jewish Agency requested  that JFNA join the JAFI Mission -- a single unified Mission -- and heard back "not interested."  Now, JFNA's subsidiary, UIA, issued invitations for the JAFI Mission. Of greater interest is the fact that both the JAFI and JFNA Missions have excellent Itineraries. 

5. Seeing as JFNA has abandoned FRD, it is no surprise that for the second meeting in a row, the Philanthropic Resources Committee/Council/Whatever discussed the Sapir Award Again; oh and how to raise money at the GA!! By whom? Don't know.

A mess.


See 1, above.

Monday, January 26, 2015


I admit to being misinformed when I wrote that the lay and professional leaders of JFNA, Israel and Overseas and the Global Planning Table had met a few weeks ago to establish guidelines for the smooth functioning of JFNA in the overseas arena. I apologize for this misinformation. I know I was misinformed because I, like many of you, received the GPT: Phase Two -- Next Steps one-pager immediately before the JFNA Board meeting and it disclosed that absolutely nothing has changed.

To wit:

  • It is the GPT that will "work in collaboration with our partners and other organizations" on all overseas "initiatives"
  • It is the GPT that will "assess the impact of collective funds"
  • It is the GPT that "will continue to serve as a planning arm for JFNA...facilitating a next round of thinking and strategizing by Federations
Oh, there is lip service to the GPT's work which "...will complement and be synchronized with the work of the Israel and Overseas Coordinating Council and advocate for increased Israel and overseas funding, but, just to underscore its hegemony in this area, the GPT paper makes certain that we know that it is the GPT "Partnership Committee (which) will continue its mandate (??) to develop..." allocation recommendations (which the Partnership Committee [permanent Chair, Kathy Manning, of course] will "advance" to the JFNA Board). 

If you were to read the real, original mandate of the aggrandizing Global Planning Table, you would know that what were originally to be requirements of Phase One of the GPT -- funding its Strategic Initiatives and assessing the impact of global services and funding, among other things -- now have been shifted to a Phase Two that was never contemplated.

And, just to further put JFNA's Israel and Overseas Coordinating Council in its place, the GPT unilaterally announced, in this "paper" that it "...will continue to be a freestanding Committee within JFNA, reporting to JFNA's Board..." and, thereby, not reporting to Israel and Overseas.

And the Israel and Overseas Coordinating Council -- what will it be doing? Best I can tell, its new Chair will be tossed a few bones -- like leading a Solidarity Mission to Paris -- and sent to the corner where he can reflect upon being misled. 

In America we have grown used to reporting our losses as victories (Vietnam, Iraq come to mind), declaring victory and moving on. At JFNA, and especially, within the GPT "process," we just deny our failures, count losses somehow as "victories" (after all this spurious "Paper" reported that "[D]uring its first three years, the GPT successfully facilitated planning and program development processes" -- that's three years and that's success and over there -- that's the Brooklyn Bridge we want to sell you) and just continue to  build loss upon loss, with never ever a report on how much money has been and is being wasted 24/7 on this thing.

David Butler, in a very generous farewell and thank you letter upon his retirement as karaoke singer to Kathy Manning's voice as GPT Chair, announced his successor, a lay leader from MetroWest with a wonderful reputation for independent thought, and a number of changes to Co-Chairs of the various Initiatives. Not surprisingly, with all of the changes, one thing is forever...Ms. Manning will continue to make or influence all matters related to the GPT as Chair of the GPT "Partnership" (what the hell does that mean in the GPT context??) Committee.

But, with all the changes, don't worry, the GPT (not JFNA, not its Israel and Overseas thing), will be "[e]ngaging and educating Federation leadership on an on-going basis, to ensure that Federations of all sizes are fully updated about GPT efforts." Sure, just as these same professionals -- and those are exactly the same folks -- have not done for three years. 

So I will ask Michael Siegal once again: "Why don't you act like a Board Chair and (1) replace the self-perpetuating oligarchy at the top of the GPT pyramid; and (2) merge the GPT into the Israel and Overseas Coordinating Council -- and take these steps now?"

Oh, I forgot, Michael Siegal doesn't do that. 

Yes, as it has been explained to me: JFNA is to the Global Planning Table as Poland was to Germany. 


Sunday, January 25, 2015


In a recent column in The Wall Street Journal, Jason Gay lamented the pathetic New York Knicks. He wrote: "At the moment, the Knicks have a record of 5 wins against 32 losses (it's now 6 wines, 36 losses)...the Knicks have won just one game in their last 23. It is really hard to go one-for-23 at any human endeavor." Of course, Gay has not heard of our JFNA, 0 FOR THE LAST 9...YEARS.

Recently, one of my dear friends, a major philanthropist with unmatched experience in Jewish communal life at the local, national and global levels, raised the following with me:
"With all due respect, it is the failure of the JFNA lay leadership over the years that has been the largest contributing factor to the decline of the national system.  It is apparent  that they have consistently made poor choices, among themselves as well as in choosing professionals.  You know their history and track record as well as I do.  I just arrived at the conclusion long before you!

There are multiple solutions that would probably work should there really be an appetite for change.  However, their implementation would mean abandoning or terminating the entrenched decision makers and a complete re-engineering of the organization.  This kind of turnaround means someone or some group with authority and resources will emerge out of the current malaise to spearhead the effort. As you know some of us have done so in the past with great success but now it is time for the next generation to seize the reins.  So far, they haven't figured out the logistics."
This friend, sadly, walked away from the system when his advice and counsel were consistently ignored; he walked away at about the same time that Michael Siegal, a terrific person with a big and generous heart, a major Federation presence with alleged major direct contact with P.M. Netanyahu (from his days as the national leader of Israel Bonds), was parachuted into JFNA lay leadership with no prior experience or exposure there. The lay leadership he inherited already had their allegiances to others (and to themselves) and have consistently rejected Michael's efforts to reform the organization and focus it on its core purposes and bring the Global Planning Table into and under the JFNA governance. So, like some of his predecessors, while still in office, Michael appeared to wash his hands of any hope of effecting change, and limited himself to signing Briefings, giving impassioned speeches without follow-up and calling federations to plead that they pay Dues. What a waste of what could have been the leader of transformational change.

When, at the birth of the merger, Charles Bronfman, JFNA's first Board Chair, faced objection from the federations over his determination of to whom an Assistant CEO would report -- Charles or the JFNA CEO, Steve Solender -- Charles simply threatened to resign. This occurred on the cusp of JFNA's inaugural GA (in Atlanta, as I recall). So, a group of Federation lay and professional leaders was organized to meet with Mr. Bronfman and (1) apologize and (2) plead with Charles to modify his position. Whether Bronfman prevailed is less important to this narrative than is the fact that he acted as the Board Chair should. In the case of Michael Siegal, any pushback on any initiative he has begun has resulted in...nothing...absolutely nothing. So we can expect that until Siegal's Terms as Board Chair end, that is exactly what is going to happen...absolutely nothing.

The place has been and still is on fire and there is no fire extinguisher in sight -- one cannot even see hope in the distance. Here we are waiting for someone, anyone, to step forward and assert him/her self with a promise to effect change and with the will, so lacking today, to act. But it almost as if that person will have to hide his/her intentions or else their emergence will never be permitted. 

So, while I can ask "why?" I know that the answer will be "why not?" 



Thursday, January 22, 2015


These are perilous times in the Jewish non-profit world. In New York City alone the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty has been impacted by the "discovery" that corruption and self-dealing ran rampant among trusted professional leaders; FEGS suddenly "discovered" tens of millions in losses; Yeshiva University is reeling from $100s of millions in deficits -- each has suffered devastating fund-raising and allocations losses. We know, as well, that organizations including Hadassah and the ZOA have experienced lapses in financial controls that cost the former control of its most prized asset and the latter the loss of its 501(c)(3) status (allegedly now restored). Then there are federations which hide fund-raising failures behind transfers from Endowment funds including them within annual campaign figures. 

What the hell is going on? Well, there are probably countless reasons but I lay the bottom-line responsibility on the collapse of the lay-professional partnership across the board. It's not alone a phenomenon in New York City, it's just that it is there that this breakdown has manifested itself in financial catastrophe too often accompanied by organizational corruption. In some instances, Officers and Boards of Directors have chosen to delegate away their fiduciary responsibilities to professional leaders rubber-stamping professional decisions without the requisite inquiry; too often Board members who actually exercise their duty of inquiry and examination go on the blacklist and watch as their services are no longer wanted...ever. And the consequences of "hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil" have never been more clear. 

Nowhere do we see more evidence of the abandonment of fiduciary responsibility than at the hallowed halls of 25 Broadway where the JFNA Board of Directors blindly rubber stamp incompetence and failure  on a weekly if not daily basis. The motto that should be engraved over its portal is "abandon principle all ye who enter here." Surely, no one has yet has been found to have their hands in the cookie jar, and this Post isn't meant to suggest that; instead, we have seen almost $650,000,000 in Dues, in donors funds, wasted in the aggregate without return on value to the federations who have willingly supplied the funds without either questions or accountability. That may not be stealin' but it ain't good either...and the waste is a lot more, hundreds of millions more, than have actually been found to have been stolen by those convicted of corruption of other organizations. 

Isn't it time to call a halt to the mess we have, by silence and inaction, permitted? Example: last year JFNA elected leaders actually determined to exercise the powers of their offices and take back the arrogation of powers by the Global Planning Table elite; the GPT would become the subcommittee of Global Operations: Israel and Overseas that it should be. But, moving forward, incredibly, the leaders of the GPT and a few federations pushed back and the JFNA leaders dropped it, leaving the I and O Chair to resign and the system in the sorry state we find it today. Where oh where was Jerry I'm-CEO-of-What? Well, I am told he was on both sides when he could be understood at all. There's not much more that needs to be said.

JFNA is a catastrophe...but it's a an even bigger catastrophe waiting to occur. 


Tuesday, January 20, 2015


I think I first met Becky Sobelman-Stern when she worked in the Western Region for the United Jewish Appeal -- thinking back, she must have been but a child -- even though she was already the bright, creative and eager young professional who grew into a major, still young professional leader while at both UJA and JFNA. I loved working with her, challenging her as she challenged me right back. Because of JFNA's policy of "no fraternization with our perceived enemies," I have watched Becky's professional growth from afar with admiration as she rose in the ranks to National Vice-President of Consulting..

At JFNA, working first under the leadership of Barry Swartz in Consulting Services, Becky grew to lead Consulting Services and JFNA's participation in any number of communal planning efforts and a series of mergers (one federation professional leader called that effort "taking two failing federations and putting them together to form one larger failed federation").

Becky had been at JFNA from its creation. Her departure announced just this morning will leave a gaping hole in JFNA's Consulting Services but, like Philanthropic Resources a/k/a FRD, it's not clear that JFNA wants to be in that "business" any more or, maybe, Mark Gurvis will take it over.

Becky has joined the Senior staff at the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. She will go from strength-to-strength.


Monday, January 19, 2015


Here is the list of accomplishments claimed by JFNA's Planned Giving and Endowment Department since Joe Imberman took the professional reins there under the CJF "brand" as recited in Joe's "farewell missive" to the field:
  • the provision of basic and advanced gift planning and compliance services for all
  • the creation of a Bi-Annual Investment Institute and the beginning of a move to establish an investment office at JFNA
  • myriad training and continuing education opportunities for professionals and lay leaders including Endowment Leadership and Professionals Institutes, Senior Advisory council meetings etc.
  • collaboration with our Washington office on matters of legislation and tax policy affecting the field
  • the build out of the highly successful Create a Jewish Legacy model which has raised in excess of $500 million in future commitments
  • the creation of a highly successful Multi-Generational Family Philanthropy program in collaboration with 21/64 of the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies
  • the creation of a National Jewish Federation Investment program as well as a national Charitable gift annuity program.
  • annual endowment surveys and corresponding health checks to assist communities in comparing peer performance
  • web based newsletters and Listservs to allow professionals and lay leaders to communicate and learn what the national system has available in this arena
  • development consultation for all on endowment topics
  • an innovative Social Venture Fund for Jewish Arab Equality and Shared Society which has distributed over $6 million since inception
  • a national endowment recognition program entitled Star of David which encompasses 1700 names
  • the management of our own JFNA Endowment fund which makes $2 million of grants per year supporting not only the annual campaign but individual community legacy and other development efforts
  • research on topics that impact endowment philanthropy in the system

I remember when Joe Imberman joined us to lead the professional effort -- he was a strong and respected federation professional who feared that UJA professional and lay leaders would interfere with his efforts to build a national and then continental endowment/planned giving effort. He probably won't remember that I assured him that he had nothing to fear...and he didn't. While many of the accomplishments on the list are due to Joe's creativity, many  of these were initiated by the federations and, as is appropriate, grown by Joe and his lay and professional team.

Joe Imberman just announced his retirement after guiding that endowment and planned giving effort from before the merger and then for the last 15 years within JFNA. Joe was a professional of great integrity while being very conservative in his approaches -- particularly so if he received push back from "the field" (even if it was but a small portion of that "field"). Over time Joe and I had some good discussions about the need for more aggressive leadership on issues that I knew were important to him and the system. Yes, I also remember that Joe proceeded with more than just professional caution -- especially when his federation professional advisory groups pushed back -- and resisted the integration of endowment and planned giving into what used to be campaign. Those were valuable learning lessons.

Joe Imberman's accomplishments for JFNA and to the field were many and he will be missed at a place where a superb professional's departure means the organization is further diminished. We wish him well as he joins an esteemed roster of former JFNA top pros who have moved into federation consultancy. 

May he go from strength-to-strength.


Friday, January 16, 2015


There is no doubt that there are a variety of reasons that we rarely, if ever, see or hear a comprehensive discussion, let alone criticism, of the growing differential between Federation executive pay and perks and executive performance in so many places. 

Here is how the process works (or, in so many places...doesn't work):

  1. For a newly hired CEO, a sitting Compensation Committee examines competitive salaries for the position, engages a Consultant to "advise" that the amount being considered meets standards of "fairness" and equity, the CEO in negotiation submits the "comparables" -- the compensation being paid others similarly situated (usually by City-size) -- and the parties allegedly "negotiate" a pay standard that the lay leadership believes it can defend. At no point, in most instances, do these Committees consider the reality that this incoming CEO has yet to accomplish a thing; whereas those with whom he/she is being compared probably, hopefully, has.
  2. For a sitting CEO, the Compensation Committee operates in exactly the same way. Given the results listed in The Forward's annual salary study, it is evident that in too many instances compensation is awarded without regard for achievement.
I served on the "Compensation Committees" of multiple law firms in the course of my career; at none of them...not a one...were partners rewarded for anything other than actual performance -- they were compensated for their success that contributed to the success of the Firm. That's true in any business -- but, just look at JFNA where the current CEO compensation has no rational connection to success or performance. He (and his predecessor) were paid according to nothing more than their demands -- G-d forbid if we were to lose them! (I remember when Bobby Goldberg, then the JFNA Board Chair, told me in total incredulousness that Silverman's predecessor had demanded higher pay than Steve Hoffman, his predecessor. When Bobby asked him how he could make such a demand, the response: "Because I am better." P.S., he received the compensation package he had demanded. [And, he ended up being far from "better."])

When an excellent federation CEO left the system to lead FRD for our most major overseas partner, his compensation requirement was simple: that it equal the amount he would have been paid had he remained as his federation's CEO. This was agreed to by the organization's Chairs but came as a shock to many within the organization, some of whom used that compensation as a basis on which they worked in the shadows to undermine the new FRD professional's work from the get-go. My response when asked: "It's the price one pays to get the best -- but be certain you are getting the best before you pay or overpay for mediocrity." (In the instance of this example, the FRD professional has far, far exceeded what I or anyone else could have predicted -- raising tens of millions essentially on his own.) Organizations which have paid far more for far, far less are the ones whose leaders should hang their heads in embarrassment.

In too many instances today, the lay leadership rationale for what was once considered to be "excess compensation" is: "I have comparative numbers that justify this pay level in my file." And, that's it -- not performance, not success, not even competency; just a file that will withstand IRS or State scrutiny and will "protect me.". In the trial of former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell and his wife for, among other things, public corruption, the Judge gave a seminal definition of "circumstantial evidence" in his jury instructions. The Judge   defined by example: "...awakening after a cold night to find six inches of fresh snow on the ground and concluding that it snowed overnight." This is exactly the parallel evidence that the JFNA Board Chair and his cronies and too many Federation leaders have chosen to ignore in awarding compensation unrelated to performance or success. 

Of great interest in this context is the requirement of New York State non-profit law that executive compensation directly relate amount of pay to achievement. As one New York State Attorney General put it: "the compensation paid must equate with the value of the services received." In other words, a State law requires more of non-profit CEOs and the Boards who hire them than do the lay leaders of the regulated non-profits themselves.

How and when will this stop? When will lay boards and officers stand up and "just say no" to the preposterous demands of job applicants and sitting CEOs who have not demonstrated success? Well, probably...never. Unless at some point there is a court decision determining that "compensation fairness opinions"  and comparative data are insufficient, in and of themselves, to award compensation unrelated to successful achievement. 

In other words...never.


Tuesday, January 13, 2015

OH MY G-D!!!

As I write this my head is about to explode. (I know that some/many wish that would just happen and the sooner the better, but I have more to write before I go.) I just can't believe the latest sorry episode of the sorriest organization in Jewish communal life; yep, JFNA, so feckless as to be beyond feckless.

Let me explain.

It is all about France.

In the wake of the Terrorists' murders in the Hyper Cacher Kosher Market and the fear that we attribute to the Paris and French Jewish community, JFNA leadership, as they always do, wrote some letters -- to French Jewry and to its own constituency. At one and the same time some federation leaders began to contemplate some actions -- yes, actual "actions." My own Federation, in evident anticipation of a true continental effort on behalf of and in partnership with French Jewry, sent a detailed action plan to Chicago's constituency, announcing the creation of a "French Terror and Security Fund" (the "Fund") for the following purposes:
"This Fund will provide financial aid to victims' families, security to Jewish institutions in France and help support the expected additional costs in increased aliyah from France, beyond what our annual campaign provides. French philanthropists and the institutions themselves have committed to 80% of these security costs, and the American Jewish community has pledged to absorb the remaining 20 percent."
And Chicago's leaders announced the first $100,000 contribution to the Fund.

OK so far? And, then JFNA stepped forward -- remember, in the JFNA world "forward" means "backward" and "go" means "stop."

So JFNA, over Michael Siegal's signature, had sent out an excellent "leadership briefing" Sunday evening, summarizing steps to be taken by JFNA. Then, the next morning, yesterday, JFNA convened its Executive Committee and less than 24 hours after that excellent letter, it backed away with a speed unbecoming a Jewish organization at a time of crisis. These are the action steps as JFNA described them:
"JFNA’s Executive Committee met today to discuss the situation and our response as a system and approved three specific recommendations:

1)       That Jewish Federations send their own messages of support to the leadership of the French community and encourage other Jewish organizations and community members to do the same.  We want to ensure the broadest possible expression of support
2)       JFNA will organize a national solidarity mission to France as soon as possible, in consultation and coordination with the French community leadership. 
3)       JFNA will open the France Emergency Fund as vehicle for communities and individuals who are motivated to provide philanthropic support. Funds will be used to address security needs of the French Jewish community, as well as to provide humanitarian assistance to the victims of the terror attacks. You can link to this fund here:

       With respect to the last item, JFNA will convene an ad hoc committee to analyze the            needs in this situation and approve the allocation of monies contributed to the fund.

       If you have any questions, please let me know."

Although Michael Siegal's expression of the steps being taken don't need footnoting, let me package them for you even more succinctly: you send letters (yes, adopt the JFNA methodology, send letters, lots and lots of letters, letters are great); you come on a Mission; and you contribute if you feel like it. We'll collect whatever you send and we'll decide how to allocate it. And, what's not in Michael's Memo?

  • No mention of the 80/20 split between French Jewry and North American Jewry;
  • No mention of any "commitment" having been made by...uh, JFNA?? raise the 20% share;
  • No mention that Chicago and LA have each committed $100,000 to the Fund; and
  • No mention of any commitment to assist JAFI in meeting the needs created by the anticipated increased aliya.*
Maybe they just forgot.

And, if you go the link above, you will find the most pathetic, woeful "ask" I have read in 40 years of fund raising (and the link therein to a JFNA letter [what else?] to French Jewry doesn't connect). We all know that there is a crisis; JFNA just can't express it.

We have reached rock bottom -- but we will probably sink even lower. I'm just guessing.


* Meanwhile the Jewish Agency and JDC are already at work accelerating their own fund-raising to help meet the needs they are trying to meet in France. 

Saturday, January 10, 2015


You may remember that one of the windmills at which the earliest JFNA leaders tilted were the alleged "silos" remaining post-merger in the form of United Jewish Appeal holdovers and those of CJF. In my opinion, these silos were, in the main, a fiction, but it gave leadership something with which to distract themselves from the real issues facing our system. 

Then, over the last decade, JFNA effectively eliminated any remnant of the FRD "silo" by effectively ending the continental system's engagement in fund-raising.  First, critical FRD professionals were forced out of the organization's ranks, one-by-one along with their lay partners; then, in a truly incredible move, the FRD function was subsumed by fiat under Consulting Services; then, the National Campaign Chair position was relegated to JFNA  cheerleader status with a succession of ineffectual Chairs after David Fisher's resignation; and, ultimately, FRD became nothing more than a minor cog in the JFNA bureaucracy "rebranded" as "Philanthropic Resources." Ineffectual to the point of irrelevance, JFNA would still claim, on paper, that 50% of its budget is dedicated to raising money. Yes, the  imaginary "silo" was no more.

That wasn't the end of silos, of course. While ostensibly deconstructing that represented by FRD, JFNA was busy constructing a remarkable set of ineffective silos, one-by-one, accompanied by waste and confusion, the hallmarks of JFNA under this leadership. Let me explain by JFNA acronyms: I and O, UIA* and the GPT and the JFNA-Israel Office. Now and forever. Four silos, accomplishing nothing separately or in the aggregate.

Now, this should not be...but it is. Oh, yes, it is; oh, yes, they are.

  1. Israel and Overseas -- at one time one of the most critical "pillars" of the new JFNA; now, invisible.  Its formal title: Global Operations: Israel and Overseas Coordinating Council. In reality, it coordinates nothing. So ignored with the onset of the futile Global Planning Table that its immediate Past Chair, Miami's Sabi Behar, resigned (only to be "rewarded," if that's what one calls it, with a minor chairship at, vu den?, the GPT, of course). Now chaired by Chicago's David Brown, unless David is given authority over both the GPT and the UIA and the direction of JFNA-Israel -- and, to date, those ain't happening -- he will be the Chair of nothing;
  2. UIA -- this subsidiary of JFNA is actually performing its sole functions -- monitoring the U.S. Refugee Grant, operating its owned properties and the income therefrom in Israel and vetting allocations to the Jewish Agency on our behalf -- very well. Yet, it is lost in its own ambitions and in the restraints placed upon it by JFNA. Two of UIA's leaders were charged by the UIA's current Chair with developing a strategic plan for the "Future" of the organization, approved by its Board and JFNA's and, then, at the whim of UIA's Chair, shelved. Now, UIA is engaged in an attempt to mount an advocacy effort -- Chaverim -- which would deploy 30 trained lay advocates to the communities which will have them solely on behalf of the Jewish Agency. Surely a conflict of interest for the parent company, JFNA, which, were it ever to understand its role vis-a-vis overseas needs must advocate for all of its partners, not just one and that would never be UIA's role...but it would be JFNA's.
  3. The Global Planning Table -- what can one say that I already haven't? This Rube Goldberg joke of an entity has arrogated to itself JFNA responsibilities, one after another -- planning, domestic and overseas, fund raising, priority-setting, among others -- and executed not a single one. It is JFNA in microcosm...and no one is watching the store. If JFNA is a democracy gone bad, the GPT is a kleptocracy (sans financial corruption) gone nowhere. It has been a five year distraction that has driven JFNA closer and closer to the drain.
  4. JFNA-Israel -- an office bloated with staff and budget, a mini-empire within the empire of JFNA, operating with no apparent management by the JFNA CEO, deciding what and where it will focus operate without any regard whatsoever to the priorities of the federations. This is the natural result of having a Global Operations CEO who came to the Office with neither federation understanding nor experience much like the JFNA CEO himself. JFNA-Israel assured itself that it would control the GPT, control UIA, ignore Israel and Overseas and...accomplish nothing.
Now, this remarkable quartet of ostensibly Israel-focused entities within JFNA share one characteristic in addition to their ineptitude...they do not relate to each other. Each is a mini-silo within the huge silo that JFNA has created and, apparently, ignored, letting each flounder to the extent that the totality of our system's work in Israel lacks focus, purpose and coordination. We have been advised that many of these parties have worked over the past weeks to develop "guidelines" for their future work -- we don't know what those guidelines are -- and only time will tell.

If there were a CEO and a Board Chair, this futility would not be allowed to continue. But, this is, after all, JFNA.


* The UIA staff continues to do first class work in its areas of assigned responsibilities.

Friday, January 9, 2015


A good friend, a great fund raiser and a careful reader of the Israeli press sent me an article -- -- on the "prodigious" fund raising by (or, in my case, on behalf of) MK Nachman Shai's campaign for reelection to the Knesset. Shai, according to the article, had raised NIS 140,000 in campaign contributions -- at today's exchange rate, that's about $35,000. (It's worth comparing that sum with the reported $11,000,000 raised by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel for his reelection here.)

Anyway, this would all be just a footnote but for the following opening paragraphs:
"Labor MK Nachman Shai succeeded in attracting NIS 140,000 in campaign contributions for next Tuesday's party primary, mostly from prominent American Jewish leaders...
He received  large donations from Minnesota Vikings owner Marc Wilf, Chicago philanthropist Richard Wexler, Milken Family Foundation executive director Richard Sandler, and Ben Gurion University of the Negev executive director Doron Krakow."
I am honored to be on a list with two such generous lay persons and a great professional and I hope their contributions were truly substantial -- my "large donation" was for all of $100, and I wish it would have been more. It's clear that $100 goes a long, long way in Israeli politics, at least to the Post.

I hope Nachman gains a high spot on the Labor Party List in the party vote next Tuesday. Our friendship and my respect for him grew out of his  professional leadership of JFNA's Israel Office, where he provided North American federations and JFNA with the insights of one with his great background and where his interests were always in serving his constituents, not in building an ever-growing silo as has been his successor. 

So, my thanks to The Jerusalem Post for elevating $100 to the level of "large donation" and my best wishes for success to our friend, Nachman Shai.


Wednesday, January 7, 2015


The quotation above is a bastardization of that attributed to the late Massimo Vignelli in the year-end edition of The New York Times Magazine; it might even have read: "One Life is Too Short for Doing Anything...Anything at All. It is clearly the mantra of the do nothing/accomplish nothing JFNA 2015. The organization stands for nothing; it is without passion or purpose; it is so far from where its founders intended that that intent and their/our vision can no longer even be found in JFNA's work or direction. And, it's lay leaders? Either too disinterested or too lazy or too "I can't be bothered" to hold themselves or their professionals (helllloooooo Jerry) accountable. How did we get to this dystopian state? Let me count the ways.

Before the merger "negotiations," UJA leadership took our great leader, Corky Goodman's, counsel to heart -- "we have to trust the federations." By that Corky meant simply that those leaders whom he knew so well could be "trusted" to always do the right thing for our system and for the Jewish Agency and Joint Distribution Committee. From the outset, however, it soon became clear to me and others that the federations' interest in the new entity did not extend beyond the concept of "control" -- merger, I am afraid, to those who contributed the most to the budget of UJA, which until the merger, they supported but did not feel they controlled, was the means of gaining control of those tens of millions of dollars. And, merger, almost immediately, meant that the federations now "controlled" program -- for example, the largest of federations gained no benefit from what was UJA's FRD efforts or those of the nascent JFNA -- so why support those even if they had the highest value in every survey of the totality of the field. And, so, FRD became first a shadow of its former self and, ultimately, cast not even a shadow to the point where JFNA today has failed in every one of its impotent FRD efforts over the past 9 years.

There have certain consistencies over the past 9 years at JFNA in addition to the elimination of FRD capacity:

  • The identification of constructive criticism, any criticism, as treasonous dissent;
  • A JFNA-created growing chasm between North American Jewry and our partners in Israel and overseas;
  • A greater distance between 25 Broadway and the Federation owners;
  • An abdication by JFNA laity of its responsibilities everywhere one looks;
  • An inability of JFNA itself to articulate its vision, its purpose or its goals.
And, one of my least favorite moments of 2014 -- when the total confusion emerged between the Government of Israel and the Jewish Agency over which would be responsible for aliya, JFNA issued a strong statement of support for JAFI's continued leadership role in bringing Jews to Israel. Yes, another letter to the Prime Minister for which JFNA has become so infamous -- yes, infamous, because when it came to backing up that support with money, with allocations, JFNA followed through as it always has under this leadership -- with the lowest allocations to JAFI, to the JDC, to World ORT than ever before. Thanks for the support guys.

The legacy of Michael Siegal and Dede Feinberg, two wonderful people and great philanthropists, will be four years of "nothing." JFNA had become the institutional version of the game of Whac-A-Mole, a series of failures, one following the other so quickly that heads spin. 


Sunday, January 4, 2015


Let's start 2015 with a few updates:

1. For those of you who believe that JFNA is bound by federal reporting requirements, consider the Instructions for filing the IRS 990:
File Form 990 by the 15th day of the 5th month after the organization's accounting period ends (May 15th for a calendar-year filer). If the due date falls on a Saturday, Sunday, or legal holiday, file on the next business day. A business day is any day that is not a Saturday, Sunday, or legal holiday. 
Hello!! The JFNA fiscal year ended on June 30, 2014 (I am talking about 2013-2014) . Yet, JFNA has yet to file its 990 for the 2013-2014 fiscal year -- on its website remains the 2012 990 - that 990 was for the fiscal year that ended on June 30,2013 -- 1 and 1/2 years ago. Yes, JFNA may have sought an extension but, if so, who knows about it and who knows what JFNA is trying to hide?

2. A FOB sent me this: a friend was interested in joining a national Singles Mission, like the ones that UJA ran annually. Checking with JFNA and his federation, they had either never heard of such a thing and certainly had none on the Calendar. Then the friend went to the Jewish National Fund -- . And, that JNF Mission is headed to Israel. No doubt JFNA will create one headed to Shanghai.

3. Who among all of us knows of Thompson Habib and Denison? No, it's not an obscure law firm; it's a Boston-based FRD Consultant. JFNA hired that firm and in 2012 paid it $162,000 to apparently raise about $684,778. I don't know who authorized this hire and for what purpose but I can tell you that if my federation or yours had a cost of fund raising of 23%, heads would roll. At JFNA, where no one is accountable, that's just fine. 

4. While the JFNA leadership was no doubt still patting themselves on the back, they no doubt were caught mid-clap by the op-ed in ejewishphilanthropy on December 1 -- Fear, Fearlessness, and Forward Thinking -- written by "a Jewish professional living in Brooklyn" and a Wexner Graduate Fellow, Naomi Adland. I won't paraphrase this superb and incisive coda to those whose highest praise for  this GA that I heard was "the Plenaries were well-organized and managed." Read the entire article at I perceive the author as what should have been JFNA's audience -- maybe they will invite her to the next Festivus. 

Given the self-congratulatory "wasn't our GA great" added to "wasn't our TribeFest great" added to " wasn't our (fill in the blank) great," I call your attention to a tremendous and relevant cartoon in the December 8 The New Yorker. Picture this: a king, bow in hand, a quiver filled with arrows over his shoulder is examining a wall with many arrows stuck therein at random and a serf painting a target centered on each mis-aimed arrow." In our's JFNA of course. 

5. I was mourning the University of Michigan's annual loss to The Ohio State University when Michigan announced that its pathetic football Coach who, after four years, had a winning record, was fired. That happened shortly after the University of Nebraska fired Bo Pelini, its football Coach, after years of success, averaging 9 wins per season. Both were let go because they hadn't done well enough. Both came to these universities well-schooled in coaching, in the training of men, in building football programs elsewhere. Of course, those terminations caused me to reflect on the extension of Jerry Silverman's contract after five years with no victories...none, not one winning "season' in five. My opinion is that those who participated in the decision to grant this CEO more years because they just could;t be bothered to search out and engage a truly visionary, experienced leader breached their fiduciary duty to the federations and to our donors.


Thursday, January 1, 2015


Welcome to 2015 -- or deja vu all over again/

An incisive Comment from he/she who must be an ardent student of our system crossed our threshold recently. The Commentator raised extremely provocative and important points:

"...Belief is great but it can lack persuasiveness when it isn't backed up by anything but broad assertions ("public accountability being a major casualty"). What do you even mean by public accountability?
I get that you long for the institutional structure and power of of past decades. There's something powerful and compelling about centralized planning, fundraising, allocating and decision-making. It worked for the North American Jewish community for decades.
But the Jewish market place has changed. For sure there is a loss in the shrinking of the collective system. I'm not here to bash it and in fact I share your pain. But other things are gaining via the democratization of Jewish philanthropy -- and besides, you can't put the genie back in the bottle. 
When the market place changes, it's adjust or disappear. It doesn't mean Jewish philanthropy is dying. It just means that the traditional delivery mechanisms are shifting.American Jews know that the needs are not what they were during the heyday of the federation system.Thank God. It means we solved many problems and overcame many challenges. Declare victory and move on.
The segment of Jewish needs that is receiving increased focus is that of Jewish identity and engagement (just look at JAFI's strategic programmatic shift away from rescue and relief/aliyah). But it's also not as compelling (to many donors) as meeting basic human needs and there's lots of human misery and suffering in this world.
We can deny that change is happening. We can long for the glory of times past. I think we're better off understanding, embracing and engaging in change. The alternative, which denial and legacy genuflection succor, assures creeping irrelevance. And judging by the comments on this blog, irrelevance doesn't feel too good." 

The express assumption embodied in this Comment is that we face stark choices -- it's either adapt to change and abandon core values that have built our system or continue to be the dinosaurs and be abandoned as you/we wallow in self-pity and criticism.

The same knowledgeable and articulate Commentator then responded once again with the following:
 "As the author of the sections you've cited, I can tell you that I don't see change as requiring the abandonment of core values, and I regret leaving that impression. There are many options in finding ways to interpret and express these core values via institutions/structures and philanthropic enterprises/relationships. The federation system and its national collective are but one way -- and it seems the Jewish marketplace of the near past, present and future haven't/aren't/won't embrace this means of delivering on these core values.

A national (to say nothing of international) system that cannot decisively and with unrelenting commitment coalesce and deliver around vision, strategy, resource allocation and tactical execution has zero chance of successfully expressing these core values via the work of its membership (ie individual federations).

For the collective to demonstrate that its role is decisive -- that tomorrow is better than today because of it -- requires the individual to subordinate to the collective. (And by this I mean the donor to the collection of donors -- federation - and federation to the collection of federations -- JFNA.) This isn't rocket science, but in these times it is (obviously) difficult and elusive. The more the collectives don't deliver (federations to donor; JFNA to federations) the greater the challenge and the self-reinforcing notions of the irrelevance/obsolescence of this local/national collective."
Brilliant stuff whomever you are. (And I would love to know just whom you are, of course.)

This Blog in retrospect has become a 5 year jeremiad; and no one could be more sorry about that than I. JFNA is suffering, has been devastated by a continuing series of self-inflicted wounds...and, instead of "getting well," the organization, suffused with inept leadership, just keeps shooting itself in the foot to the point where it not only cannot walk, it can hardly crawl. Yet, the decline continues and, with it, the decline of the federations as well. So, what do JFNA's leaders do? They keep repeating the errors of the last decade; they perpetuate the myth of their own strength while the facades of their Potemkin Villages crumble into dust. They never learned the "First Rule of Holes" -- when you're in one, stop digging. And, so they dig, dig away, pretending that all is well when almost nothing is.

In response to the ejweishphilanthropy invitation, two experienced leaders, one the Houston Federation CEO, the other, that community's Chair, offered the rational and responsible suggestion that JFNA convene a "Conversation" on the future, on purpose and revisioning. But, like one with an addiction to alcohol, who must first admit his/her addiction before the process of "getting sober" can really begin, the leaders of our federation "system," if one still really exists even in theory, must admit that there is the threat, if not the reality, of their own failure before that "conversation" can be convened let alone begin. And, these guys think all is well -- for they are the "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil" leadership -- literally the ostrich leadership of a system that once was. They truly believe that if they don't acknowledge failure, then all will be well.

Well, they are wrong.