One of you, an insightful communal leader, recently wrote to us:
"To me there appears to be an interesting and seriously unfortunate result from the lack of JFNA advocacy and support of Israel. The observation is not based on research, only intuition. Because JFNA does not advocate for Israel, federations either aren't pushing overseas to their donors or can't as easily go to their donors and ask for increased donations because of the overseas needs. The result seems to be a very large decline in numbers of donors yet campaigns are about the same in total, hovering around $900 mil or so. Yes, this may be a decline from historic highs, but it certainly is not the 50%-60% reduction that is the decline in numbers of doors. Probably this is due to the old time donors who understood the importance of overseas partners and the critical nature of their work continuing to give and to give more than ever before per capita. At the same time we observe what appears to be a drastic rise in dollars raised and numbers of donors to other Israeli organizations, including hospitals, universities, and other worthy charities. One can only assume that these organizations have stepped into the cracks and captured disenfranchised donors to federations thanks to JFNA."
And, then, another Commentator:
" I believe this is exactly the discussion that needs to happen and I applaud the respondents for their thoughtfulness in reply. The basic questions begging debate and conversation are in my mind: What is and should be the Israel agenda of Federations and is it donor and market sustainable? How should we define our philanthropic relationship to other diaspora communities? Locally, have we met our responsibilities in giving our local communities the best modern day infrastructure of caring and inclusive services they deserve? Do we populate our boards and staff our efforts with people who are motivated by these concerns and have understanding of and empathy for the populations we claim to serve?"And this is but one symptom of the cancer that has metastasized within JFNA, an organization created and historically, until the last ten years, committed to "more dollars and more donors."
And, from another of you:
And, even a thoughtful contrarian view of our system:
"Thoughtful question and thoughtful and impassioned suggestionI have a different take. Not saying it's right or even what I'd like to see happen.To this writer, it's time to debate and discuss the "'right' approach." Yet, we lack the venue to do so. That venue should be found at 25 Broadway but its leaders are so fearful of just the kind of open discussion that the Comments above represent.
It's time to understand and accept that the federation system isn't needed any more, at least not at the same scale as it's been. Thankfully, we don't face the same problems and challenges as we did decades ago, and the challenges that exist are nowhere near as compelling or unifying (to say nothing of our total freedom to connect, live, join, marry, donate, learn, work anywhere and anyone we want).
Yes we have slogans like "better together," "the strength of a people, the power of a community" etc, but to the degree these are even compelling concepts to many people, folks are finding these slogans come alive for them through other mechanisms (organizations, causes, etc). We assume that these slogans mean one thing: Federation.
It's easy to find a cause you like and donate to it -- in fact just about every federation beneficiary, local or overseas, is doing just that and so obviously are many donors.
The continuity agenda, as mentioned by a prior commentator, is not compelling to many as tzedakah. It seems to be the province of the wealthy and foundation types (sometimes one and the same), rabbis and federation types-- this isn't a criticism.
For many, social gaps in Israel are more or less compelling than social gaps in the U.S. If you're into Israel maybe more so. If you're not, then less so. For many, it's the job of the government to address these gaps-- we all know that charity alone can't come close to solving them. Gone are the days of tiny, struggling Israel looking to erect tent cities for new immigrants etc.
If federations indeed reflect what "the community" wants (and I'm not sure who/what "the community" means today -- seems largely self proclaimed), then we'd best decide what that is and go do it. That means making decisions and executing. Demonstrating impact that is directly attributable to federation and/or partnerships that enable federations to demonstrate its distinct and compelling value added.
I'm sure there's more than one "right" approach. It's time to pick one and do it. Let's be realistic about it's market potential and scope. Trying to recapture the past because we remember the glory is a mirage."
And, JFNA does nothing and appears to be unable to do anything to meet the basic needs of our federations and those of our People most in need. Again and again and again, JFNA has failed us. One "special initiative" after another -- failed; one "special ask" after another -- failed. Now, an operational "Education Unit" arises in the ashes of a JFNA that has no ability to "operate" it. To induce a well-meaning leader to take on the moribund role of National Campaign Chair, that leader's personal "Business Plan" for Campaign (which is based as much on hope and guesswork as anything else) appears to have been inserted in haec verba into the 2015-2016 JFNA Budget doubling the budget for Major Gifts to over $7 million without a prayer of achieving the modest "goals" JFNA has set for itself absent a significant and experienced FRD staff, something JFNA is totally lacking.
So where is the debate that these Commentators -- you -- and I believe must take place going to take place? JFNA appears unwilling to convene any real, open debate -- part of the reason clearly anchored in the core belief of a number of the LCE that the only great ideas are the ones hatched by them; all other ideas end up either suppressed or "we'll look into that" (and then suppressed). Suppressed unless, as we have pointed out on these pages, lay leaders are able to convince their professional partners that these ideas are really those of the professionals -- not an easy task. Had the Global Planning Table actually dedicated itself to the debate of ideas rather than the dictation of outcomes, that could have been the place, but that was never its leaders' intent. Were CEO "I-Can't-Formulate-A-Decent-Idea" a leader worthy of his compensation, he could push the organization toward meaningful debate -- but he isn't and can't.
I am guessing but I sense that some of this debate has been framed by Federation CEOs on their annual Retreats, in their "chat rooms" and at their meetings. Then...nothing further. But, one can dream -- dream that Eric Goldstein, the current President and CEO at the New York UJA-Federation, coming from the lay ranks where he was a major donor, may actually take a look behind the black curtain and discover that there is no "wizard" back there...just Jerry. And, then do something about it.
So...where? When? Can Richard Sandler, Jay Sanderson and Eric Goldstein lead us to do what needs to be done, leading the federations in the reformation, refocus and restructuring of JFNA; something we had hoped Michael Siegal would have proved capable of -- until Michael decided he would preside over three years of further back-sliding and deconstruction?
We'll know soon enough.