Friday, June 24, 2016


In response to my lament over the collapse of collective responsibility as embodied in the futility of the National agencies-Federation Alliance, an Anonymous Commentator (I actually believe that I can intuit whom it was) wrote:
"Imagine for a moment that "collective responsibility" created entitlement and fostered a lack of transparency and accountability.
Now imagine that smart, thoughtful Federations from NY to LA are defining a new "collective responsibilty" based on strategy, donor engagement, priority setting, measurable outcomes and partnerships."
I have a vivid imagination in particular as I can actually imagine a continental organization of excellence, and while I am a dreamer, I dream with a sense of realism. And I fear that our correspondent may not fully understand what "collective responsibility" truly means.

Let me explain...

At the outset all of us would agree that there have been beneficiaries of our collective effort which have demonstrated a sense of "entitlement...a lack of transparency and accountability." And I would suggest that no organization better evidences all of those than does JFNA where our Dues are an expression of collective effort. And I have no doubt that if our "donors"/the federations -- to JFNA, JAFI, JDC, the Alliance or other -- demanded transformational change, transparency and accountability, change would occur. Instead, too many of us just take our marbles and move on to the next shiny object.

And let's fully understand that "collective action" is not that of any individual federation or any two or three -- it is the cumulative action of the many, if not all. So, for example, if Federation A determines that it shall drastically cut its allocation to, e.g., JAFI, to reallocate its global resources to, let's say, the Israel Trauma Coalition, that's an action that's neither "smart" nor "thoughtful" let alone impactful as would be the collective actions of multiple communities working together toward a collective goal. In far too many circumstances that I have observed over the years, individual federations have camouflaged themselves in the blanket of "collective action" to rationalize what was/is nothing more than a grant of limited impact. ..often very limited. For example, in the midst of Operation Promise of blessed memory, one Large City held back $150,000 in funds raised for the collective action in response to a War on Israel and, instead, allocated 30 tiny grants to small and large Israel-based charities. When I asked that community's Israel Representative why the funds were allocated for the collective purpose for which they were raised, he responded that the community liked to "expand its influence in Israel." I suggested that $5,000 per grant would have no impact on the beneficiaries -- the Rep just shrugged.

Back to the quote above from my Anonymous friend: I, and all of you, want what the writer believes he and his community are getting --  "donor engagement, priority setting, measurable outcomes and partnerships." The writer clearly believes that neither he nor his community (nor anyone for that matter) are getting those vital elements of any allocation from the historic beneficiaries -- and I am betting that those include JAFI and JDC.

As the discussion ensued, one Commentator offered the perfect riposte:
"Federations are supposed to be the central fundraising arm for the community and for overseas partners who are not represented at the table. There are lots of advantages to this structure, not the least of which is that every organization can concentrate on its mission while federation concentrates on providing the resources, every donor can give one gift that covers lots of beneficiaries thus not being put in apposition of competing forces asking for donations, beneficiary agencies avoiding having to develop their own fundraising budgets, staff and so forth. JFNA (or some national organization) needs to be the model for federations promoting all beneficiaries. Instead this is what we get - a national organization that chews up and spits out $30 mil annually, fails to advocate and represent the international organizations, and forces the national organizations that we created to service the local agencies to become independent fundraisers. (BTW - what will now happen as federations raise less money and they give less money to their own beneficiaries as well - the national organizations of these local beneficiaries will now need to compete directly with the local agency they represent for the same dollars from the same donors. And if you pull your head out of the sand you will see that in very few cases will the donor select the national agency over funding the local agency they are supposed to be servicing."
So, for those of you who would rather see your community pursue its own new sort of shiny objects than attempt the reformation of the beneficiaries of our collective efforts for a greater good, and sacrifice the potential of macro benefits from collective action for the short term micro benefits of "a little here, a little there" -- wishing you all the best.



Anonymous said...

The ITC (Israel Trauma Coalition) is a great example of falling in love with a really nice charity (actually a group of them) and then preferring it over major strategic partners like JDC and JAFI.
Are JDC and JAFI perfect? Of course not. But they have a lot more to offer as strategic overseas partners than any combination of micro-funding of various wonderful NGOs in Israel ever could. They do good work but can never be major strategic partners, both in terms of scale, experience, professional staff quality, mission, global reach, active lay participation and oversight and more.
We continue to destroy so much that was good and that we could cause to become even better, preferring new toys that we can have a fling with until our attention moves on to even better - or so it seems - newer toys.
Are there no adults in charge or who are willing to take charge of this mess?
Shouldn't it be JFNA's role to insure collective action and at least attempt to prevent the atomization of our collective community system? Shouldn't we be standing up and demanding that that we regroup and fight to prevent this "collapse of the collective"?
Instead we just take note, say that nothing can be done because "the times are changing" and play along so as not to make any waves and not to be responsible for creating any unpleasantness. So we can take pride in the fact that there are is no dissent, no questions asked, no conflict and no unpleasantness. A perfect world - so pleasant!

Anonymous said...

Richard, I agree with your assessment, but I would just add that this is a 'generational' issue, meaning everything that comes with what is the landscape in 2016 versus what had developed from 1948 to around 2000.
Prior to the shift of leadership in our local communities away from the Traditionals and Boomers, the unrestricted UJA gift satisfied 99.9% of the donors in Federations. The system, meaning UJA, along with JAFI, JDC, and World ORT (our current global partners), produced knowledgeable volunteer leaders who rightfully, drank the cool-aid, came back to their communities, and educated their local leadership on all-things 'Collective'. And those two generations were 'all-in'.
The landscape has changed, and the system (UJA/UJC/JFNA/JAFI/JDC/World ORT) didn't see the impact of that change coming in time; and, depending on your age and years of volunteer (and professional) service, we are now paying the price.

Anonymous said...


The collapse of the collective goes far beyond JFNA. Look at all of the Jewish philanthropists who have build their foundation mini-empires as a way of bypassing the collective (since each of these philanthropists, in its narcissistic wisdom, believes that it is smarter than anyone else and does not need a middleman). Look at the United States, with the Tea Party and much of the Republican Party quite happy to tear down the national collective (indeed, seeing this development as a positive). And now with Brexit, we will probably see a whole host of other European countries voting on whether or not to make Shabbat for themselves.

We reap what we sow.

Bob Hyfler said...

"When it comes to the past, everyone writes fiction". Stephen King

■ Boomers did not assume Federation leadership till late in the 90's and it was the absence of boomer buy-in that has led to the decline in Federation market share.

■Our historic partners, particularly JAFI, contributed to our current malaise through mission creep and an inadvisable consultant driven redefinition of role.

■ The merger was a mixed bag and an unhappy marraige from the start - holdovers from the ancient regimes were in nostalgic denial and many not in denial were cynical at best.

■Going back to the mid-90s LCE's were discussing and sharing papers on the breakdown of the JAFI and JDC franchises. Those who were defenders of the franchise were not always the most enthusiastic.

■On a local level the move away from supporting agencies to individual entitlements, from a balanced mix of purposes and priorities to a skewed focus on youth Jewish identity, resulted in a mix response from the tradional donor base of Federations.

Our Federation movement is not terminal. However a bit of historical realism would be nice.

RWEX said...

A professional leader for whom I have the greatest respect has written me:

"I wonder if Operation Exodus would have ever happened if we were only guided by donor engagement, priority setting and measurable outcomes....."

Anonymous said...

Or Operation Moses, or Operation Solomon, or IEC following the intifada, or ......?

Anonymous said...

So what is important is that the donor feel good about where funds are going and it really doesn't matter if we are meeting real needs as long as we are meeting what our donors perceive as real needs.
So marketing becomes more important than meeting needs and protecting Jewish Peoplehood. Design products for which there is donor demand rather than do what needs to be done.
The problem, of course, is that the donors usually don't have a clue what the real needs are in Israel or in Jewish communities other than their own.
That is why we need serious agencies (yes, agencies such as JDC and JAFI) to assist us in fulfilling our mission in Israel and as a people all over the world.
But when we insist that we know what is best for Israel and when each of us comes up with our own planning and priority setting, the result is what we now see unfolding - lots of lovely heart-warming projects which even sometimes help some of our people but are for the most part a waste of our time and resources and cannot produce the kind of impact that we so desperately need.
No collective strategy, no collective priority-setting and no unified and coordinated implementation planning are a wonderful recipe for lots of donors being involved in and feeling good about lots of unrelated and unconnected pet projects.
What ever happened to "We Are One"?

Anonymous said...

Donor attrition began in your time Richard.
Communities are changing.
Our challenges are changing.
No need to imagine.

RWEX said...

Recognizing the impacts of declining financial resource development and a declining donor bases as we approached the merger that created JFNA, a framing goal for the new entity was "more dollars and more donors." Without follow-up or leadership, however, the federation FRD and donor retention/development effort has reached crisis proportions -- a donor base at 300,000 --2/3rds less than at the time of merger and fund raising in stasis, declining while overall "Jewish" fund raising is increasing.

Maybe these issues will be solved on FedCentral. Imagine what success would mean.