Saturday, May 28, 2016


I have heard that question so often since I began this Blog, usually prefaced by: "Hey, Big Shot..." or, maybe, "Hey, a-h..e..."And, don't think I haven't thought about the answer every so often as I watch JFNA slide from mediocrity to calamity to its current sclerotic state. So, let me give it a try...

1. Mission. Clearly and unequivocally, JFNA needs to restate its Mission. How would this be?
The mission of the Jewish Federations of North America is to mobilize human and financial resources to care for those in need, strengthen Jewish life and advance the unity, values and shared purpose of the Jewish people in North America, in Israel and around the world.*
Then. I would sit with the entire JFNA staff and ask them to tell me what they have been doing and what they could do to accomplish the Mission.

2. Rebuild, Recreate and Reexamine. This isn't the first time I have given thought to this.

"We need to reinvent ourselves; we must be, and in many places become, relevant. In so many places, re-engineering is so vital right now. We can't do that until the lay and professional leadership of The Jewish Federations of North America understand the questions that need to be asked. And, with that understanding, the courage to confront the debate that needs to follow. The Jewish Federations of North America's leaders should consider immediately creating a lay-professional Task Force at the highest levels to review and recommend on the organizational mission, reach, direction and roles. In the interim...."

In a Comment to one Post an "Anonymous" (vu den?) correspondent posed a challenge:

"Can you give specific behavioral substance to your four principles:

"a moral center, a grounding in the reality of the federation experience and a dedication to the timeless principles upon which our federation system has been constructed and a commitment to real transparency."

Intentions aside...what two or three specific actions should they take on each of the four? At this point in our movement's history and in the conversation you have so earnestly undertaken a list of action items would be helpful."

In a conversation with Jerry Silverman before he assumed his position as President and CEO, I respectfully suggested that he and his Board Chair (now Chairs) rebuild JFNA starting with the successes the organization has had in its first decade. He chose to ignore me almost in toto ... but, let me lay it out for you as I envision and envisioned it (on these pages)

Finding a greater success than the singular success in the lobbying/grantsmanship error at JFNA-Washington would be the equivalent of discovering a new avian species. Such a success just doesn't exist. Pushing the successes of JFNA-Washington to the front of the queue would be a great first step. Not just part of a litany of supposed "successes" as the predecessor leadership had constantly conjured, but bragging on William Daroff's and his staff and lay leaders' successes as examples of what The Jewish Federations of North America can do for its owners. 

Simultaneously, "confess error" -- the reversion of JFNA-Israel from New York to Jerusalem has proved to be a failure. It has yielded no positive results and has demonstrated what one arm of the system operating out of control and out of sync at great expense can cost The Jewish Federations of North America. Discontinue the millions in expense and with that termination reassuring JAFI and JDC and World ORT of the system's trust in them and, thereby, restating the historic federation-JAFI/JDC partnerships. 

Then, invest the money saved in downsizing and relocating UJC-Israel with a reinvigorated Overseas Missions Program -- subsidizing Young Leadership Cabinet, Prime Minister's and King David Society Missions within a reshaped Development Department under The Jewish Federations of North America umbrella and a new professional leader. To those who will argue that Missions are doing just fine, consider how many today are outside the auspices of JFNA because Federations believe they can just do them better, plain and simple.

Whatever happened to the multi-million dollar Marketing and Branding Initiative; use those savings to revive the national role in the Annual Campaign and in designated and endowment giving initiatives, hiring up men and women with the background and reputation that will enhance the national organization's prestige and esteem within the local federations. In so doing, end the separation of Development, Planned Giving and Endowment and the "Philanthropic Services" merging them under the leadership of the Office of "National Chairman for Campaign and Development." The fact that JFNA has not had a Senior VP Campaign and Development for years now under Smilin' Jerry is the best/worst evidence that he is not now nor has he been up to the job. (NB, many had recommended a singularly successful chief development officer from inside the system to Jerry and his then Sancho Panza over two years ago. They rejected him/her "because of budget issues" -- what "budget issues" today now that Paul is presumably gone?)

Begin to take and articulate the federation position on matters of public policy here and in Israel. The Jewish Federations of North America can't remain silent on these issues as if they are the sole purview of the JCPA and the Conference of Presidents. As the Board Chair, Richard Sandler's must become the voice we hear on matters impacting up the federations and our donors. 

And, thereby, The Jewish Federations of North America must become the moral voice of federation collective responsibility. JFNA should publicly acknowledge this role and appoint a Blue Ribbon Committee on Collective Responsibility to recommend the means and methods of implementation...and, more critically, to implement. It is not enough to convene JAFI and JDC periodically (although those meetings are superb hasbara and are a basic "good" in and of themselves) and merely report how cash and allocations are being drastically cut -- it is quite another thing to actually attempt to do something about it. Moral responsibility has to trump passivity in this area once and for all. If the federations' national organization, the organization that now bears their name and brand, fails to stand for collective responsibility, my friends, it stands for nothing.

A decade  ago as an outgrowth of a major FRD Study, the national organization embarked on an Emerging Communities effort partnering with two high potential growth federations in the West. This was to be a starting point. After two years of engagement, UJC's "leaders" terminated the effort with no discussion within UJC governance bodies (and none even with the communities directly impacted). The Emerging Communities partnership should be reborn and expanded in a demonstration of the national organization's commitment to partnership with high growth high potential federations around the continent where The Jewish Federation's of North America's impact can be significant.

And, JFNA must reinstate where necessary and invigorate where still in existence its critical and successful work through I-LEAD, the National Bond Program, Federation Peer Yardstick, CPE, Emerging Leaders, Presidents and Executive training and the circulation of best practices (oops, FEDovations).

All of these need to be and can be done in an atmosphere of transparency and accountability. An atmosphere where the issues confronting our system are freely and openly debated and where those who serve -- be it on Work Groups, Task Forces, Councils, Executive Committee and Board -- feel and believe that they are part of the process, not excluded from it and no longer ignored. Transparency also mandates that leadership be open and honest not only with ownership and constituencies but with the media.

The seminal question: is JFNA merely going to perform functions or is it going to serve a purpose? To continue down the current path, to merely tweak rather than re-engineer, will be like changing the in-flight food on the Hindenburg -- it would be doomed to failure. To those who suggest that The Jewish Federations of North America continue its slide toward being nothing more than "a really great trade association," think of all the great work that must be done and wouldn't be.

Each of you may have your own construct for a rebuilt JFNA that will be far better than these. Offer them...soon.

This would just be a start that must be accompanied by a new CEO. NOW.


** It will not surprise most of you, my friends and readers, that this Post was adapted from one published on November 7, 2009.


Anonymous said...

So it seems that you were on target then and still are now.
> restore collective responsibility
> restore campaign and FRD (remember UJA?)
> close down so-called global operations (empire building)in Israel
> re-empowerJDC and JAFI to actually perform global operations on our behalf
> use marketing to promote our mission (see above), not our organization
You are on target but evidently are going to need lots of ammunition to hit that target.
Our Board has the power and the ammunition. What we need now is only for them to care enough to use it to force the required drastic change.
And it needs to be NOW because later will be too late!

Anonymous said...

Dear Richard,

Of course these things need to be done but who will lead the Israelites through the wilderness? You? Sure, that would be great, isn't going to happen, but it would be great if it did. Instead our continental organization will continue to sink in the swamp in which it has walled for at least as long as Silverman has been at the tiller, if not longer.