Monday, March 28, 2016


A few weeks ago an Anonymous Commentator alerted us to a new JFNA publication:
"Richard, I'm sure by now you've received the 2016 Board of Trustees Reference Guide, but in case you haven't, there are a few 'interesting' things about the content:
1. Under the first Tab, 'JFNA Resources', the first page refers to the 'Development Department', etc. My recollection is that it has been called 'Philanthropic Resources' for the last number of years. Could it be that the section was just 'copied and pasted' from a previous Resource Book?
2. Under the Tab 'JFNA Committees', there is an Endowment Committee and a Planned Giving and Endowment Committee; however there is no 'Campaign Committee'....what a shame!
3. Probably the most 'interesting' Tab, the 'Lingo Guide', is an alphabetical list of the acronyms that have been used in the system throughout the years......but 'UJA' isn't there.......someone had to make a decision to leave it out.
4. Tab 'JFNA Key Contacts/Professional Leadership Team', related to my Point #2 above, there is no Professional on the list for Philanthropic Resources/Development/Fundraising.....
Here we have a $30 Million organization without any professional leadership in fundraising.
Sort of speaks for itself."
I had not then received the 2016 Board of Trustees Reference Guide. Having now read it in full I must admit that the JFNA professional staff is really good at one thing -- writing fiction. (Or gibberish -- more on that in a few days.) Of course, I knew this to be the case long before this Guide was published; now that reality has been confirmed. But, inasmuch as there is just nothing going on at 25 Broadway, there is plenty of both time and need for creative writing (including a whole bunch of resumes).

Everything that the Commentator above has written is spades. The Guide is nothing if it is not the most recent evidence of the reality that is JFNA empty vessel, devoid of purpose, devoid of priorities...and totally removed from its intended purposes. Other than on these pages, where is the hue and cry? Why is there none? Are the leaders of our system today so removed from our values that they continue, year after year, to permit $30 million in waste...compounded? 

Or are they just too busy? Or are those who are in leadership of JFNA so distracted by personal ambition that they are just willing to look the other way, willing to set aside their fiduciary responsibilities to our donors, our communities and our values? Or do they truly believe in the face of all of the facts that all is well?

It's time, past time, to take a stand, isn't it?


Friday, March 25, 2016


I was so gratified to read that in cooperation with the United States Department of State, the Jewish Agency secretly had flown 19 Yemeni Jews to new lives in Israel. Please read about it:  Israel, of course, welcomed then, embraced them...and then I thought back to a sad chapter among the many sad chapters of back to the earliest days of this Blog.

Join me, please in a reminiscence. It was back almost seven years ago, in May 2009, that JFNA disclosed that it had engaged in its own clandestine operation in Yemen to bring 25 families not to Israel but to Monsey, New York, ostensibly because their lives were at risk -- they weren't. This JFNA was not part of any family reunification plan; it was strictly because JFNA was approached by HIAS, members of the virulently anti-Israel Samar community and the U.S. State Department. This relocation was aided in part by the leader of the New York local agency, the New York Legal Assistance Group, which was to monitor the relocation to assure the successful integration of these 25 families into life in America -- or at least what passes for American life as Jews in Monsey. That leader resigned his post over one year ago in the face of "financial irregularities." The total effort would cost our communities $800,000 because by the time the financial need was established JFNA had already begun the deconstruction of its own FRD effort. So how much of a fund raising deficit resulted? Who monitored the integration of these families? We'll never know...except we do know that for JFNA, as always, "not our problem."

Could those 25 families have made aliya as have all Yemeni Jews before and since? Of course. In fact the then Yemen government (there was a Yemen government then) issues passports to all Yemeni Jews allowing them to leave for whatever destination they desired. Would the costs have been less, far less? Of course. Was JAFI consulted by JFNA before the ridiculous clandestine effort of almost a decade ago? Of course not, and neither were the Joint (about conditions on the ground in Yemen) nor the Government of Israel. This was a fiasco. And has JFNA monitored the integration of these 25 families into American Jewish life? Of course not. We can only pray that they are experiencing all the good that America can offer just as they would have, had they made aliya as had their predecessors and their successors -- right through this week. And let us pray for the remaining 50 Yemeni Jews who, having chosen to remain in that country, one of whom has now been arrested on clearly trumped up charges for having "smuggled" the community's 600 year old Torah to Israel with the Rabbi and olim,7340,L-4783069,00.html

This was just another sorry chapter in a JFNA history so filled with them. For JAFI the last aliya from Yemen was told to the Large City Federation CEOs before the JAFI Members were told (or found out in the Times of Israel) reinforcing JAFI leaders' contempt for its own lay leadership.

Now the Jewish Agency has announced that the totality of the surviving remnant of Yemen's Jews are in Israel -- but for 50 who chose to remain in Sana, Yemen's capital, under the protection of tribal chieftains. The rescue of Yemen's Jews is but one reason why we have a  Jewish Agency; that rescue is one of its historic core purposes, sometimes forgotten. The Yemenite Jewish population will celebrate Pesach this week in Israel -- 25 families from that community may be found someday in Monsey, New York, as well.

Kal hakavod.


Tuesday, March 22, 2016


A few weeks ago, I was throwing out reams of correspondence from years past when I came upon what was announced in November 2008 as the "UJC Operational Strategy." it was then the second or, maybe, the third "Strategic Plan" of the then fledgling, struggling organization.* I read it with interest and then I looked over some email exchanges with those who passed for lay and professional leadership at the time.

The "Organizational Strategy" spoke to the dedication of the continental organization to federation "capacity-building" and its commitment to the creation of "more dollars and more donors." Of course, at the time, UJC had just forced out the professional leadership of campaign/financial resource development and instead had placed professional leadership of the then UJC Center for Jewish Philanthropy and the then innovative "collaborative Fund-Raiing Model" in the hands of the Consulting Services Department professionals. When I privately opined to the authors  (who were most unhappy that someone had sent it to me against their instructions) that this "Strategy" was doomed to failure because of a lack of professional understanding let alone leadership, I was attacked with a virulence that I came to understand was that iteration of "leadership's," lay and professional's, way of dealing with any and all criticism. Shortly thereafter, the Chair of the Center for Jewish Philanthropy and the National Campaign Chair, two esteemed lay leaders, had both resigned. 

That "Operational Strategy" failed...totally. And since that failure 8 years ago, JFNA has had no continental FRD professional leadership even as it has changed the "function," the "Brand," if you will, from financial resource development to "...the Philanthropic Resources Department." A meaningless brand for what has become a meaningless effort, lip service but no real service.

Oh, sure, I remember that Paul Kane joined the staff from the New York UJA-Federation of New York's FRD Department. But Paul didn't believe he had been hired to lead FRD but to be the cheerleading Sancho Panza to Smilin' Jerry. He blocked and tackled well, even organized the first "Million Dollar Roundtable," and was way, way compensated but performed no evident service to the communities' FRD efforts. When an incredible communal fund raiser with a spectacular record of achievement was interviewed for an open JFNA FRD leadership role just a few years ago, she was ultimately Kane, not Jerry...that she could not be hired "for budgetary reasons." This year, I have been told by those inside 25 Broadway, another candidate was fully vetted for the position to lead a JFNA FRD effort only to have the offer founder once again "for budgetary reasons." While I don't know who would take the job (have you seen a Job Description? If so, please send it to me) given the bureaucratic and substantive obstacles to success, to claim "budgetary obstacles" when the CEO is paid twice what anyone would subjectively state was appropriate and subjectively is about a 700% overpayment; when a consultant is paid close to $400,000 for a part-time job for which no one knows what she does, is blasphemy.

Sure, Vicki Agron was hired last year as another consultant responsible for creating a "plan" for a new FRD Department. Given Vicki's commitment and her sense of responsibility in everything she does, she no doubt completed her task in time for the 2015 GA. Have you seen the Agron "plan?" Has Sandler? Now she appears to be staffing Missions, speaking at JFNA Professional Institutes on Campaign -- perhaps, she is or will be a one person FRD Department or, at the least, the living example of the lip service to FRD to which Smilin' Jerry appears totally committed...and that's the limit of Jerry's commitment. After all, unlike other more theoretical areas of JFNA's "work," the results of any FRD effort are readily and easily measured.

And who would want that?


* That is as compared with the failing organization that is JFNA today.

Sunday, March 20, 2016


Yes, having been blessed with the power of prophesy, Cassandra was cruelly cursed in that no one would believe her. And, here am I.

About one year ago I told the then heavily-recruited lay leader being pursued, after others turned the position down, as National Campaign Chair. to take the imprecations of the Board Chair and Smilin' Jerry with a major grain of salt. They were promising this terrific lay leader the earth, the moon and the stars if he would only accept the position. Yet, it seemed evident that the offers being made were wholly illusory, made by those who had proved already to be incapable of carrying them out. 

Then, things got worse. The candidate accepted the promises as worth their weight in gold, impressed by the sincerity (false) with which they were made. Harold Gernsbacher accepted the position -- and, shortly thereafter, the rebranded Philanthropic Resources thing was made devoid of its senior professional in New York -- meaning that other than Missions professionals, there were none -- and a Business Plan for Financial Resource Development, written by the National Campaign Chair himself, appeared to be incorporated into the 2015-2016 JFNA Budget in haec verba. Yes, a "Plan" without a staff to implement it but with modest measurable as goals was on paper for all to see. We'll get back to those later.

Further, it turns out that there had been no real Campaign Cabinet for years...and there still is none. It wasn't so long ago that the Cabinet was effectively visiting federations, assisting in Annual and Special Campaigns, actually fund raising. My most recent memory of the Cabinet's "agenda" a few years ago was of too frequent focus on criteria for the Sapir Awards. And, then, there was campaigns.

And, with the "Plan" now incorporated into the Budget, JFNA retained a great consultant, Vicki Agron, esteemed by many for her decade-long leadership in the UJA, and her commitment to the "cause," the then JFNA FRD effort before being constructively terminated from that role by Smilin' Jerry's predecessor. And, Vicki did what she does so well-- she drafted an FRD Plan. It was completed and submitted, we believe, before the 2015 General Assembly. Agron knows what was in her plan, presumably so do Jerry and Harold and, maybe, Richard Sandler -- but no one else seems to have seen it. And, of course, the implementation of any plan -- the Campaign Chair's, Vicki's or any other -- requires a staff...and there remains none.  And there remains no Campaign Cabinet to vet any Plan. (I know all of this borders on the ridiculous, but this is JFNA after all.)

Agron, whether within her contract or outside of it, attempted to recruit a top level fund raiser. She actually almost succeeded as we understand it but the Smilin' one made a hire impossible with an unacceptably low offer from which he would not negotiate an appropriate compensation package as is his prerogative.

So here we sit, approaching a new Budget cycle, without staff. and with a secret plan.

Sounds like JFNA 2016.


Saturday, March 19, 2016


1. Now: Apparently JFNA, with few accomplishments to show for itself, believes that it must publicize time and again its LGBTQ Mission everywhere that it can. Website, that FEDWorld thing, and most recently in a recruiting pitch from the JFNA Chair. The outreach to the LGBTQ community is great; we are late getting on board, as it always is it seems, but it's better late than never. But is it necessary, in a self-congratulatory constant, to bang the drum loudly as to how great we are to do this? Then: Shortly after he release of the 1990 National Jewish Population Study, when I was UJA National Campaign Chair, we initiated the first of many Missions for Inter-married couples, shortly after those we merely and quietly integrated the inter-married population into our expansive Missions program. We just did the Missions, we didn't congratulate ourselves for doing so. Our mistake.

2. Now: I have to admit that when JFNA staffers told me about this the images in my mind sent me into, first, hysterics; and, then, fear. What they told me was that in a quest for fitness that had theretofore eluded him, Smilin" Jerry threw out the desk from his office and replaced it with a standing easel and a treadmill. Perhaps, however, he has yet to use least, not much in the way of evidence. Don't know who paid for the (a) treadmill and (b) the reinforcement of the floor under the treadmill. Perhaps Jerry has been replaced by a hamster...or a large gerbil. Then: Both Stanley Horowitz and his predecessors as UJA CEO and Marty Kraar and his CEO predecessors at CJF,  "old school" professionals, got along with a small office, a desk and a small conference table with side chairs. None had a treadmill; but I am confident that if they had had one, they would have used it. OK: who paid for CEO Silverman's treadmill?

3. Now. We call it FEDovation. It's something that arises every November for the last two years. JFNA talks about the circulation of innovative programs initiated by the federations  (certainly not by JFNA...certainly not)...and, then, does nothing. In certain instances federations themselves, within their City-size groupings discuss innovations among themselves. JFNA has moved on to what it now calls FEDCentral -- another brand (of course, it's always about a brand isn't it?), another shiny object -- where apparently federations will be able to access the FEDovations. You see, as it has become clear, JFNA had to wait two f'ing years until it had a "brand something" to deliver...Then...the best practices that the UJA and the CJF delivered year-in and year-out for more than a decade before the merger might..."might" being the operative word....suddenly emerge. (You see, best practices are nothing less than FEDovations without the confusion of the FED brand...and, as they have existed for decades, the phrase "best practices" may never be used.)

So, there you have it. It doesn't really have to be a choice between Then and Now, does it? It is a choice between an effective continental organization and what we have today. And we already know how that turns out, don't we?


Wednesday, March 16, 2016


      "Nonfeasance is the failure to act where action is required—willfully or in neglect."

So, you tell me -- are JFNA's leaders guilty of nonfeasance? And, if so, is it somehow excused by some argument -- like a lack of competency? Or, "it's not our fault."

And I am not just writing today about the fact that JFNA has no priorities, has failed to develop a single new program of value for at least the last 5+ years (correct me if I am wrong...please), and seems excellent at only two things: (1) rebranding -- itself or old wine in new bottles (e.g., "best practices" into FEDovations); and (2) self-promotion. No, I am also speaking to the need to recreate the organization under new professional leadership -- the nonfeasance of JFNA lay leadership.

Let me put this in context. We received the following from Richard Sandler a month ago:

"Dear Colleagues:

JFNA is pleased to announce that one of our successful collaborative initiatives, the Social Venture Fund for Jewish-Arab Equality and Shared Society (SVF), has found a new home. Beginning July 1, 2016, the SVF will be facilitated by our friends at the Jewish Funders Network.

The eight-year-old effort attracted support from multiple Federations, foundations and individual philanthropists. The SVF produced $7 million of collective investment from 35 different funders to address unmet needs of Israel’s 1.6 million Arab citizens, helping them integrate more fully into Israeli society and strengthening Jewish-Arab relations. With a particular focus on education and economic development, the SVF has:

·         Helped more than 6,000 Israeli Arab high school students and graduates gain access to quality higher educational opportunities that allow them to participate more fully in the spectrum of Israeli life;

·         Facilitated the integration of thousands of Israeli Arab university graduates and professionals into private and public sector jobs commensurate with their skills and education, and unemployed Arab women into their first jobs;

·         Provided 600 Israeli public schools teachers and principals with the knowledge and skills to lead shared life education and joint learning experiences benefiting thousands of elementary, middle and high school students;

·         Supported dozens of local organizations reaching tens of thousands of Israeli citizens with trainings and peer experiences that develop leadership skills and promote mutual understanding; and

·         Leveraged millions of government and foundation dollars to scale up successful pilot initiatives and helped catalyze significant structural and institutional change.

From poverty and unemployment to poor health and education, many Israeli Arabs face enormous challenges. Supporting this growing population continues to be of strategic importance to Israel’s economic health and security and ability to thrive. We are proud of what we have accomplished and we are thrilled to know that this important work will progress unabated."
A great program engaging some terrific lay leaders over its eight years from creation to...handing the program over to the Jewish Funders Network?  WTF?? Is JFNA's Consulting Services Department doing so much that it just couldn't continue doing anything other than negotiate the terms of this turnover? OK, Consulting Services lost its professional leader in mid-2015 and, as in so many other areas, has not replaced her, so the question: is JFNA so busy with so much on its plate that all it can do is congratulate itself on walking away...?

But, fear not. The Board Chair closed his February 19 letter with:
"Federations will continue to address the unmet needs of all Israeli citizens. Funded by our 2014 Stop the Sirens campaign during Operation Protective Edge, our partners JDC, The Jewish Agency for Israel and the Israel Trauma Coalition have launched innovative programs to help build personal and collective resilience in communities throughout the South. Partnerships like these will help strengthen the future of Israel and its core values of democracy and equality."
JFNA will just have no more to do with them. So, congratulations are due JFNA!! Right?

Got it. See definition above.


Tuesday, March 15, 2016


He is, as he has been described, and as he behaves, as he has proved and as he bloviates, as a "pathological liar." And so he is. His messages are filled with hate -- for those who are "different," poor, needy -- those he describes as "losers" and worse. He has offended our allies and articulated no support for Israel. His "policies," such as they are, seem to be found in internet rumor and urban myth. Every true "conservative," every knowledgeable Jewish conservative, who has reviewed his ever-changing positions on matters of substance, has found him indifferent, even opposed to "conservative principles." Yet, he is by every measure, about to represent the Republican Party as its candidate for President. He is Donald Trump.

I have watched so many old newsreels of the United States in the '30s. One set of images that has haunted me is of massive Nazi rallies in our the United States...where Jewish protesters were dragged out by those in brownshirts, beaten, and our ancestors were silent. Now, I watch as non-violent protesters at Trump "rallies" are pushed out, dragged out, struck, and demeaned by the crowd, led by a candidate who demeans anyone who opposes him in any way. 1930s Nazi thugs, 2016 Trump thuggery. 

I have received e-mails from Jewish friends that have asserted (or suggested) that these protesters deserve whatever ("whatever") they get because they are the progeny of Saul Alinsky and Tom Ayers. These are self-characterized Jewish Republicans whose "anyone but Obama" mantra is now playing out as "anyone but Hillary" -- apparently even Trump. Really? Trump? Because we hate Hillary and her policies so much that we would support this guy. These are the same ones who alerted us to the probability that President Obama would be no friend of Israel. They forget that Obama at best attested in his campaign in 2008 that he would be a friend of Israel; Trump has made no pretense that he would the office with a goal in the Middle East of something he calls "balance" between Israel and the Palestinians. He refers to the American Jewish polity as "you Jews" and he rejects in style and rhetoric (because there is no substance) Jewish values as embodied in tikkun olam

It's time, past time, for us as a Jewish polity to join hands with women, with Latins, with African Americans, and, with Muslims, with any and all Americans who share the things we value in our democracy in opposition to this Trump candidacy grounded in hatred for the "other' and the explicit rejection of our values.

If not now, when?


P.S. As I posted I received a broadside that announced the Reform Movement's condemnation of Trump's "hate speech."

Sunday, March 13, 2016


1. SoJFNA, thanks to the work of its singularly (as in "only") successful unit, JFNA-Washingto, announced last month that its "Center for Advancing Holocaust Survivor Care" had awarded $2.8 million to 23 organizations (that's about $122,000 per organization) to, one hopes, assist Holocaust Survivors, among our People most in need. The announcement included the following:
"Per Committee approval, JFNA's Fund for Holocaust Survivors (the National Pool) contributed about $850,000 toward the service grants and technical assistance including developing and implementing grant process, monitoring results, developing webinars, disseminating best practices, site visits and implementing the renewal process for future grants.  In addition, the federal grant requires about $1.6 million in matching funds, and the Fund for Holocaust Survivors is contributing toward that match, especially to help smaller communities.  We will continue to provide fundraising assistance to all communities in the cohort and beyond, so they can meet the match and sustain their Holocaust Survivor programs."
Look, this appears to be a real achievement for which JFNA is to be congratulated -- I just wish I could understand how the Survivors will benefit and how much fund raising success there has been because I am so confused by the above and, even worse, by the following:
"Congress has approved another $2.5 million for Year 2 for this program.  If combined with matching funds and another allocation from the National Pool, this would result in another $4.5 million in Holocaust survivor services next year.  We will continue to work with communities across the country to press Congress to appropriate funding for the full 5 year life of this program.

Nationally, we have raised at least $27.5 million in communities and for JFNA's National Pool, which has $2.3 million in pledges.  Even with the matching requirements over the next 2 years, we need to do extensive fundraising in the communities to meet our national goal of $45 million.  We will plan fundraising connected with JFNA events and a media campaign to better spread the word." (emphasis added)
Usually, I am pretty good at deciphering the JFNA-speak that unique lingua franca that emanates from the genius that is 25 Broadway; but I really need an interpreter here. Where  numbers tumble forth and somehow  $2.5 million yields $4.5 million? We have "raised" "$27.5 million in communities and for JFNA's National Pool, which has $2.3 million in pledges?" Huh? What? There's a "national goal of $45 million" -- OMG!! What?

Now, they're going to "spread the word?" Jeeeez. 

Could someone please make sense of this for me/for us? I think this is good, but damned if anyone could tell from this gibberish.

Just askin'....
2. Then there is this...for almost a year there has been no professional leader of financial resource development at JFNA. An excellent consultant was hired and drafted an FRD Plan for JFNA; she filed her Report sometime around last year's GA (we haven't seen it; may be a couple of important people have) but any implementation, of course, will be totally dependent upon hiring the right person for the "department's" leadership. We have already written that JFNA Jerry of all people has placed a compensation ceiling on the position. That's within his discretion as the CEO; provided, that that discretion is not unreasonably exercised. At one and the same time, as JFNA is on the cusp of hiring a new CPO for FRD why in heaven's name would JFNA Jerry preempt that person's ability to hire his/her own head of Planned Giving and Endowment by hiring a person for that position (the "best Interenet something-or-other in Rhode Island") preempting the ultimate FRD hire from hiring his/her own person in that role.

This is not management; it's mismanagement, isn't it?

Just askin'...


Wednesday, March 9, 2016


Dear Richard,

You have now been our Board Chair for four months -- just to be clear that translates into more than 10% of your Terms. And I would be unfair if I didn't note that since you stepped into this most important lay role you have presided over a small increase in core allocations (still down by over 50% since the merger); a Board discussion of the necessity of commitment to the collective, not merely an expression of support in concept but without follow up action in support; and, I am certain, knowing your reputation, a sincere and objective evaluation of the organization and its professional leader. The question remains, however, as to whether you believe that your Terms as Chair can be successful and the future of JFNA assured so long as the present CEO remains in place for the balance of his contract.

Let me be clear: your predecessor was truly unable to articulate a single successful JFNA  activity over the three years of his Terms, try as he did to do so. I think any fair evaluation of those three years leads one to the inescapable conclusion -- those three years resulted in a JFNA, already sclerotic, found to be comatose. Richard, you want, I want, all of us want, a JFNA that reflects our values every day in its actions; instead we have an organization that is self-adulatory, constantly patting itself on its back for things it has not done and never reflecting on what should have been accomplished. Instead under its CEOs JFNA has been going down the path of entropy -- collapsing in on itself.

There is a tendency, well-meaning, to excuse most of the issues related to JFNA's entropy to "distractions" and other rationalizations. I was reminded of this by a recent response from Viacom's chief executive to an analyst's description of the that company's "exceedingly poor performance' over the past several years." That chief executive attributed the decline (which he admitted to unlike...) to "a lot of noise" surrounding the company.

Here are observations about JFNA four years agoBring together JFNA's Board, federation leaders all, and have a real and public discussion about JFNA's purposes
  1. As a significant number of federations when surveyed had already articulated that their greatest "want" from JFNA was enhanced FRD assistance, reinvigorate the organization's FRD functions
  2. Instead of just talking about it, actually implement a robust set of national Missions led by charismatic leaders (not just the National Campaign Chair) who will reach out to recruit across the Continent
  3. Actually insist on an independent evaluation of JFNA's services -- from JFNA Global Services: Israel and Overseas to the GA -- and publish the results -- in some instances it will shut the mouths of critics and in others it will result in change
  4. Acknowledge that rebranding is over and dedicate that portion of JFNA's budget to FRD
  5. Stop the waste and chaos that is the Global Planning Table, an effort that is dragging JFNA down, and being to engage in real advocacy for the system' s historic partners
  6. Let's have real consulting services with and for the federations -- a Silverman fly-in doesn't count
By any objective measure, Richard, only the shutdown of the waste of the GPT has been accomplished -- and that only months ago, over the protestations of the CEO that the failure of the Global Planning Table would mean the end of JFNA -- this CEO has yet to be held accountable...for anything.

I congratulate you on exposing JFNA's work in areas of collective responsibility to the Board. Setting aside the strange use of language in Reports on Birthright Israel (e.g., Federation funding efforts were to be "best faith" -- huh?? did the author mean "best efforts" or "non-binding" or "good faith"?); The National Federation/Agency Alliance (a "voluntary coalition"); or the Israel Action Network -- yes, setting language aside*, one seminal conclusion is absolutely clear: in every instance, collective support of obligations undertaken by the federations under JFNA has failed every time. Not just some of the time -- every time. We have had a failure of leadership and a failure of commitment. Sure, Richard, it has been the federations which, at the end of the day, have failed but it is JFNA's failure to inspire, failure to lead, failure to execute each and every time. And, over the past 5+ years, whose leadership failure has that been? I think the answer is clear. 

One of the issues that has plagued JFNA to failure has been the constant "asks" for dollars without prioritization. This has not been a recent phenomenon but it has been a perpetual one. JFNA has lacked the ability or the desire to prioritize those "asks" (other than that Dues are the highest priority [and, in the event of conflict with other "asks," the only priority]), resulting in confusion and failure time after time.

Then, I know you have read the "Updates" on JFNA's "work" in FRD, in Global Operations and with the Mandel Center for Leadership Excellence. In FRD, still with no professional leadership, there is literally nothing but Missions; in Global Operations: Israel and Overseas, it's all smoke and mirrors with nothing to show for millions invested other than "here is what we will do (or not do) next;" and the Mandel Center, other than in its Search services (which I still believe could better be outsourced at far less cost to one of the many distinguished for-profit Search Firms), JFNA has delegated out the work it should be doing itself...but doesn't; and, often, work that JFNA and the predecessor organizations used to perform and perform well -- e.g., New Presidents and Executives Seminars, "Fundraising University," Professional Institutes. One really has to question, absent any and all evidence of positive results, what Federations are paying $30,000,000 for?  The answer appears to be...very, very little.

All of us know the difference between substance and embellishment -- all of us, apparently, other than some professionals at JFNA. Thus, I would ask, although you have probably done so already, compare the substance in the Update from JFNA-Washington with the fiction of most of the other Updates from, e.g, FRD, Consulting Services and Israel and Overseas. What was it that Gertrude Stein once wrote: "there's no there there?" And, apparently, there won't be.

I know you are on the West Coast but I thought a citation to a recent column in the New York Times by its brilliant sports columnist, Harvey Araton, might be apt in the context of JFNA. He looked at the once woeful New York Knicks, now a team perhaps on the rise after more than a decade of sclerotic play, and commended its leaders for engaging in "...a sturdy rebuild as opposed to a messy collapse." And, while you may still disagree, JFNA, which could and should be a place of excellence in all of its work, by any objective measure is in the midst of a "messy collapse."

Richard, I will accept, arguendo, that Jerry Silverman is a real nice guy. Is that enough to justify his retention when so much, much more is demanded? We all know the answer.

Thanks for listening,


* Anyone reading the Report on Birthright will marvel at the confusing sets of numbers JFNA uses to describe its failure. One can only conclude that JFNA's failure to organize these numbers into a comprehensible set has contributed to the shortfalls.


Monday, March 7, 2016


The following is a redacted "ad" solicitation exactly as it appeared:

"The Best Fundraiser in Rhode Island- By _(name redacted)____________

Dear Fund Raiser or Not-for-profit Executive,

Could ___________ actually be the Best Fundraiser in Rhode Island? 

"I suppose I could be the Best Charitable Fundraiser in RI, but there are many good people in the field here in the Ocean State. So why does take you to this page when you enter the search term "the best fundraiser in Rhode Island"?

Let's face it, if the largest interent search company in the world thinks that _____________is the Best Fundraiser in Rhode Island, then who am I, or even you, to dispute it? 

By now you are proably wondering why I keep suggesting that I might be the Best Charitable Fundraiser in Rhode Island. The truth is, it's fun, and it's instructive. and other search engines rely on two types of factors to determine ranking in search results.
  1. On page factors - such as how often a certain keyword or keyword phrase is found on a page, in the page title, and in the meta-tags built into the page
  2. Off page factors - the number of credible sites that recognize the validity of the information on a page by linking to that page or to the homepage of a website.
This article is a simple case study. It is a demonstration of very basic SEO (Search Engine Optimization) techniques that you as a Rhode Island Chairty can use to increase your web traffic by people searching for information related to what you do. What better constituency is there? What better source of new members and new donors?

You can use these techniques yourself, or you could hire the Best Fundraiser in Rhode Island, ___________________, who also just might be the Best Interent* Marketer in Rhode Island, as well, to do them for you.

When you think about how much money you spend on marketing your Rhode Island chairty, seekign out new me willing to make charitable contributions, you start to realize how much of your marketing dollar is wasted. One of the most famous advertising executives once stated that at least half of all advertising is a waste, adding that we just don't know which half.

And how much more than half your budget are you wasting letting your fundraisers craft your message? In my 8 years as a charitable fundraiser for one of the more successful charities in RI, I watched my colleagues draft direct mail piece after direct mail piece with only thier passion to guide them. No formal or informal marketing knowledge needed!

So, what if you could, for a small fee, hire ______________, the Best Fundraiser in Rhode Island and possibly the Best Interenet* Marketer in Rhode Island as well, and have him optimize your website so that anyone searching for information....."

Well, you get it, don't you? Best Charitable Fundraiser...Best Interent (sic, or Internet) Marketer...Best Fundraiser period. And, yes, Rhode Island is a small state."

Yep, and, now, he is...where else? Yep, you get it, don't you?


* But probably not the best speller.

Friday, March 4, 2016


                        In times of disruptive change your expected future is no longer valid.  
              Leaders need to think and act differently in order to chart a new course for the enterprise.

At the most recent JFNA Board Meetings, the JFNA CEO began to suggest that the upcoming Budget will confront his latest buzzwords -- disruptive change. All of us who have watched JFNA will understand my cynical (and, perhaps, unfair [but I doubt it]) belief that after 5+ years of creating the tragic environment within JFNA requiring the "need to think  and act differently in order to chart a new course for the enterprise," that Jerry Silverman believes that he is just the leader to do so. And, friends, this is nuts. This is, after all, the same Jerry for whom fealty to his virtual reality has rarely been encumbered by any reference to fact. 

What is there in this leadership's history that would lead anyone to believe that Silverman could possibly take us there after he has gotten us here? (Forgive the "play" upon another of Jerry's most favorite cliches.) This is the ultimate chutzpah. It is not so much tying the new calendar year to "disruptive change;" it is the belief that this team can "lead" us through the transformational change that is required; it is the lack of any acknowledgment by anyone that the same leader who wants to drive the process has delivered JFNA to this day. They say that an alcoholic cannot really start the process of deliverance from the disease until he/she admits to being one -- apparently, Jerry just doesn't get that he needs to admit his complicity in the dire straights that JFNA has reached under his leadership before he can pretend to lead a disruptive change effort....and, even then...

Boy, "disruptive change" must have sounded to Smilin' J like such a great platform on which to build the next five years but doesn't there need to be a plan...a plan which all of us might hear, debate, discuss and direct? Or is it, as have been all of the other cliches (including my favorite "let Jerry be Jerry") just another cliche -- all words signifying nothing, without the understanding or the intent to implement? Who are the "Leaders (who) need to think and act differently?" Certainly not Richard Sandler who has set a course for JFNA premised upon a return of community to the Jewish values upon which our federations have been constructed. Who needs "to think and act differently?" Hey, it's Jerry himself...and he is clearly incapable of doing so. We've seen nothing in 5+ years, my friends, to suggest that he knows anything at all about leadership, let alone change. Jerry knows it; Richard Sandler should know it. This is management by cliche...and nothing more.

In Los Angeles, Sandler and a new CEO, Jay Sanderson, led the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles through the difficult process of disruptive change. Many things changed, most for the better even as the outcomes forced many good people to the sidelines as new leaders, lay and professional, emerged; and older leaders chose to return to the communal leadership roster. The focus of the JFGLA on youth came clear as a result of this process -- as a result of the policy decisions under Sanders' and Sanderson's leadership and with the community's embrace. Where and how will that happen at JFNA which constantly talks about, gives lip service to "change" and then does...nothing...and seems to be incapable of no more.

In the words of one Commentator, reflecting on Silverman's performance at the January Board Meeting:
"He says all the right things (with a smile) yet when finished has said nothing and turned it back on to you. Moreover, he talks about "disruptive change" (in the next JFNA budget), yet when asked his priorities, you hear the same laundry list as when he started. So much talk...jotting down notes in his notebook...and so little happens -- again and again and again!"
"Again and again and again." Enough said. How long does the system tolerate this?


Tuesday, March 1, 2016


Yes, I have written about the failures of what is called The JFNA Federation-Agency Alliance more times than I (or you, no doubt) would like. There have been times when I have actually thought that the time had finally come when JFNA's leaders would perform the appropriate Kevorkian on the farce that they have enabled The Alliance to become and put it out of its misery. But, no...and it only gets worse. Let me count the ways...

The Alliance was created as a self-funding mechanism to support, financially and by advocacy, and enhance the support for those national agencies created by the system itself.  The Alliance leadership was mandated to increase funding for the national agencies whose work and budgets it vetted and to increase its own voluntary membership and financial support. Instead, the funding pool has been reduced, and while support for the original "partners" -- those national agencies for whom the Alliance was created -- has reduced and reduced again and again, rather than rally the federation system for greater support for the Alliance, its leadership has solicited additional agencies (for whom there will be little if any support, as well): adding, in the last two years, American Jewish World Service and BBYO. Watch out for NewOrg, the brand new national day school organization chaired by none other than Kathy Manning, to seek membership and a grant in 2016-2017. Come one, come all.

These are The Alliance's self-styled "Strategic Directions:"

"'The Alliance has developed a set of Strategic Directions to guide its work.   These Strategic Directions will help the Alliance determine its agenda and partners moving forward.  They will serve as major substantive criteria as the Alliance makes planning and allocation decisions.  The Strategic Directions currently include the following five topic areas:   

1. Build an American Jewish community that provides quality, accessible and timely support for human needs and a safety net for chronically and temporarily vulnerable community members and others.  

2. Support and encourage current and future generations to identify with Jewish life and learning and to contribute to society by drawing on Jewish values as a source of inspiration, motivation, purpose and meaning.  Foster an inclusive spirit of participation, engagement and volunteerism for all members of our community.  

3. Promote the concept of collective responsibility among Jews regardless of where they live and advocate in support of Jews and Jewish communities throughout the world.

4. Affirm the vital role of Israel in Jewish life in North America and take an active role on key challenges facing Israel. 

5. Strengthen institutions within the Alliance, Federations, and affiliated agencies as vehicles for serving the Jewish community."
 Friends, support for the National Agencies has been cut over and over by the "coalition of 28 Federations" since 2001 --from a high of $8,600,000 in 2002 to the low of $4,100,000 last year. Yet, in the face of The "Funding Pool" being at an historic low, at the apparent demand of JFNA (as opposed to Alliance) leadership, "[F]unding through the Alliance has also been used to establish a new Jewish Education and Engagement Unit at JFNA." Yes, in JFNA's perverse version of "fund-raising," it just grabbed $550,000 (13.4 % of the total Alliance funding pool) from the National Agencies for which the Alliance was created and transferred those funds to itself.  And, it is JFNA's "plan" to do so annually for three years. Yet, that "Unit's" purposes as defined by the Alliance have already been totally scrapped by JFNA and reassigned to other purposes never contemplated by or, apparently, discussed with The Alliance. Oh, there's also $100,000 that appears to have been set aside by Alliance leadership to support another, unidentified, unnamed "Initiative." (Guess they're waiting for word to come down from on high directing the Alliance as to where to allocate those funds which would help the totality of the underfunded national Agencies most of which are operating on fumes,

The Alliance lay and professional leadership may be unaware that one of the basic purposes of the creation of the Alliance was to fund these National Agencies to the maximum extent possible so as to ameliorate the need for those agencies to fund raise within the federations. Or, if unaware, these leaders just didn't care. And the reality is that, just as our local agencies have been compelled to do so the National Agencies are all out there, of necessity, raising dollars so that they may meet the needs on our behalf.

But, that's not all. The Alliance "staff" of one professional operating out of JFNA-Washington appears dedicated to a "vetting" process designed to detrimentally impact on those less-favored national agencies so as to benefit the more-favored. One of the original national agencies is listed under its former venerated name "The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS)" in Alliance materials. We all remember HIAS; in my own community, some of our greatest philanthropists have recognized the critical role that HIAS played in bringing them to America; my own grandparents, and, no doubt, many of yours, were beneficiaries of HIAS great service. But the HIAS then is not the HIAS of today. Most of us know that...clearly not JFNA, but apparently not the Alliance. 

No, this is the HIAS of today as described on its own web pages. Its CEO "...has led HIAS' transformation from an organization focused on Jewish immigrants to a global agency assisting refugees of all faiths and ethnicities." In fact, HIAS is no longer the "Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society" at all -- it has been rebranded as just plain "HIAS." Worse, if one reads the less vituperative facts in an otherwise slanted article -- Pro-Hamas Activist Heads Up J Street Allied HIAS Muslim Refugee Campaign -- a senior HIAS staffer, among other things, has publicly called for "'engagement' with Hamas." This is the now secular non-Jewish HIAS which received an allocation of more than six figures --  $192,600 of federations' donors' money -- from the Alliance last year. Was HIAS vetted as all other National Agencies? How does HIAS advance the system's Strategic Directions (above)? Are we now allocating significant funds to an organization whose bent seems clearly to have turned away from our cause?* You tell me.

Above, I characterized the Alliance as "the farce that knows no end." Serious Federation/JFNA leaders, lay and pro, created the Alliance only to see its purposes ignored, its funds converted to JFNA's own use, and funds now flowing to secular organizations without regard to agencies' purposes or role in the constellation of a Jewish organizational spectrum. There is no one managing our Continental organization; there's no one home.


* Some would argue that the AJWS has nothing to do with our cause either; I start from the premise that there is no reason for the Alliance to have added further agencies when it continuously underfunds its intended beneficiaries.