Tuesday, August 11, 2015


1. Searching for Something. Leading off this litany of the dumb -- the Mandel Center for Leadership Excellence. Once again, JFNA's "search firm" in its CEO headhunting is attempting to sell the "sizzle" while the "steak" (Or "stakes") goes unmentioned. You may recall, when seeking a new CEO for the Buffalo Federation, Mandel emphasized the lack of rush hour traffic in Buffalo -- a most major selling point, I'm sure. Then, with the Broward CEO search begun, Mandel was selling the "weather" down there. I am certain that in all instances at some point, Mandel's search personnel mention the challenges (which in Broward are daunting in the extreme to be certain) but, first and foremost, the weather. OMG!!

2. Dr. Feelgood. Hidden amongst the names and no-names on the Speakers List for the GA is one Dan Pallotta. I didn't know Mr. Pallotta until good friends in the field sent me on a brief quest for Pallotta's consulting record and his mantra. I now know him as Dr. Feelgood. In his bio for the GA, here is one cite:
"At TED2013, Pallotta gave a powerful talk asking the public to rethink their assumptions about charities. Pallotta shared the story of his own nonprofits — AIDSRides bicycle journeys, which raised $236 million for HIV/AIDS over a period of nine years and Breast Cancer 3-Days, which raised $333 million for breast cancer over a period of five years. Both went out of business because of public outrage that his organization spent 40% of its gross on so-called “overhead”—things like staffing, marketing and creating a great experience for those who participated." (Emphasis added)
Those "restraints?" They are otherwise known as "accountability," "responsibility" and "fiduciary duty."

Pallotta's mantra is simple: your success as a non-profit requires a greater investment in overhead; ignore those who complain about costs of fund-raising and spend all that you need to spend to achieve your organizational objectives; 50% overhead; 60%...don't worry about the objections. The good Doctor's message will resonate with those whose communities are spending 20%, 25%, 50% and more to raise a dollar...But it's a dangerous message. Just right for a JFNA GA. But good Doc Feelgood is getting a lot of play.

3.Silence. Usually I am just aghast at JFNA's silence on every issue of importance to the Jewish People. But, now, you may have noticed that for the past months, nothing whatsoever has been heard from the usually open mouths at 25 Broadway. So, I am suspicious that something is up beyond the 5 year vacation that CEO Jerry has been on since his hiring. Is Jerry out racking up more Frequent Flier miles or does he go dormant in the Summer? Like a snail. Or is something about to be sprung upon us -- another TribeFest or a Tel Aviv 2 (again) or...G-d please...his retirement with benefits. Waiting fearfully.

4. Abandonment. Speaking of silence last month the "new" Netanyahu Government coalition abandoned the prior commitment of the "old" Netanyahu Government coalition to "ease" conversions. The Jewish Agency was vocal in its displeasure and appears to be planning an awkward non-governmental response that the ultra-Orthodox Religious Affairs Ministry will never recognize. All of this while JFNA was doing absolutely nothing. Perhaps and as usual our organization was "surprised." And, even so, JFNA's failed/failing Global Planning Table pursues private non-federation funding for its Civil Society Initiative. Would you...or you...entrust JFNA through its GPT with any Initiative? COME ON. BTW, the action of the GOI Cabinet on this issue did merit a link to a NYT July 5 article on the subject -- the attitude expressed "this is not our problem" is so, so wrong.

5. Shiny Objects. Under its current, what passes for, professional "leadership" JFNA has an evident institutional attention deficit disorder. This may account, in part, for its ridiculous record of never successfully completing...anything. (N.B. when I write this be aware that I exclude from this Commentary the exemplary work in Washington led by William Daroff resulting in millions for our system. If only the rest of JFNA could follow that example. [And I exclude from the commendation for JFNA-Washington, its work on the Alliance and Emergency Relief where even that Office is more in the mode of JFNA generally].) It's not just where JFNA has chosen a path -- an ish, a TribeFest, a Global Planning Table, a "Signature Initiative," a Mailbox or 10, among so many -- it's that as soon as a Nepal arises, JFNA is distracted by this shiny object, from "Completing the Journey" or from assisting the Jews of the Ukraine, as but examples. Hence, the "ask" after "ask" with no prioritization -- and the failure after failure. These are what create the circus atmosphere in which JFNA fails time and time again. And this will not stop until there is some leadership -- where is that going to come from? Look around.

6. That "Reply All" Button. One has to continually marvel (if that's the word) at those who fail to understand that most of us, recipients of a group email announcing a conference call, don't care whether you will participate. At least I don't. 



Anonymous said...

I think Pallotta's message is a bit more sophisticated than that. A minor point, but he is worth listening to.

Bob Hyfler said...

Never in recent history has there been a constellation of meaty and relevant issues begging for public discussion in the Federation world and a Federation forum:

The privatization of major gifts philanthropy;
Is Federation alienated from the grass roots?;
Is "Israeliness" threatening to Diaspora Jewry?;
The continuity agenda 25 years later;
The future of Federation and community in an age of political and religious disunity

Serious issues, Jewish issues, issues worthy of the thoughtful attention of all.

Anonymous said...

Richard, this just isn't true or accurate.

The Buffalo CEO position posting has no mention of rush hour, traffic or anything similar.

The Broward CEO position posting has one mention of weather, true, as part of a (generic) description of the community and area. But a fair reading of the position would not, in all fairness, emphasize the weather as what Mandel Center is pitching.

I'm all for your blog and what you're doing, but I think accuracy must prevail.



RWEX said...

Dear Anon,

Thanks for reading the Blog. I admit to many...too many...senior moments, but the Buffalo traffic thing wasn't among them:

" Home to significant multi-million dollar companies, life in Buffalo is overflowing with cultural opportunities, world-class schools and universities, national sports teams and an incredibly affordable cost of living. And here in Buffalo, traffic simply doesn’t exist."

Anonymous said...

Richard thanks for correcting the anonymous who challenged the traffic question. I originally saw the same comment when the position was first listed and remembered how ridiculous that was. So I just double checked the website link you provided and the page has been taken down. My guess is that once the position was filled it was no longer relevant, but yes, you are correct according to my recollection.

Anonymous said...

C'mon, gents. the challenge of recruitment isn't about job announcements that mention weather or traffic (although I will suggest that any candidate who's unaware of Florida's climate should be disqualified).

Why aren't the best and brightest coming to work in federations? What role should a national trade association (that's you, JFNA) play in recruitment, on boarding and professional development?

Anonymous said...

JFNA?? Recruitment? Professional development? That's easy -- we don't dirty our hands with that stuff. We let Mandel do it and we pay dearly for it all. Maybe Mandel is the "trade association" at the end of the day.

Anonymous said...

The best and the brightest aren't coming because our leaders and donors won't allow us to pay good entry-level or mid-level salaries. Nor will they let us spend real funds on training and education and motivation. All the stuff that Dan Pallotta points out -- that a for-profit would jump to pay for, and no one would question their motives for success.

Anonymous said...


So you think that Pallotta's message is dangerous. That's a legitimate point of view. What's your alternative?

Anonymous said...

What an insult to all the great professionals out there, who toil tirelessly on behalf of the Jewish community, to say they aren't the best and brightest. Enough.

Anonymous said...

Toiling tirelessly doesn't make you the best. Or the brightest. It just means you're toiling tirelessly. If we pay poor salaries we won't attract the ones we really need.

Anonymous said...

I didn't say the system didn't have the best and brightest. I said the best and brightest aren't coming. Perhaps there was a time when top notch Jews came to work for federations. Today, it's not the case -- and in many communities it's not just that top notch professional aren't interested, in many community with smaller Jewish populations, it's very difficult to find a pool of candidates for a federation job. It is common knowledge that federations are lousy places to work. Professional development? No. Salary to afford Israel trip, Jewish day school or even camp for multiple kids? Yeah, right. Mutual respect with lay leaders and volunteers with shared understanding of roles? No way.
Are federation pros dedicated to mission? Yes. They'd give anything for sustained inspiration -- the confidence that goals are attainable and that when accomplished actually demonstrate progress. It's not the pros. It's their professional and lay leadership that is failing.

Anonymous said...

I don't know where your federation is. But I look at some of the new breed of professionals coming up the ranks and I am, frankly, inspired. I meet many of these young professionals who could be earning terrific Wall Street or hedge fund salaries and yet here they are trying to help our community. We should be proud.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Anon of August 13th. There are good and talented people out there in the federation system, along with a handful at 25 Broadway. Regarding JFNA, the leadership certainly doesn't mind paying Jerry Silverman the Big Bucks. And I guess they are satisfied with his performance. Sort of begs the question: Why aren't the best and brightest flocking to work at JFNA, to be lead by a CEO with vision and passion?

Anonymous said...

I agree with the poster at 7:12. Like many of my colleagues, I have on occasion worn rose-colored glasses when discussing the past glories of our federation movement. But it's true. There is real talent coming up in the ranks and we shouldn't be afraid to say so. Those of us who are already in senior positions should be raising the bar for mentorships, better salaries and better working conditions. Now there's a task for a national system.