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 ago: Bring together JFNA's Board, federation leaders all, and have a real and public discussion about JFNA's purposes
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.
- 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
- 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
- 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
- Acknowledge that rebranding is over and dedicate that portion of JFNA's budget to FRD
- 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
- Let's have real consulting services with and for the federations -- a Silverman fly-in doesn't count
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.