Friday, July 15, 2016


It's so rare these days to hear really great news from JFNA that I read Richard Sandler's announcement on July 13 of a new hire...a great hire...with incredulity:
"Dear Trustees,

Brian Abrahams, a former director of National Young Leadership Cabinet (YLC) for the United Jewish Appeal (UJA) is returning to JFNA as its new senior vice president of financial resource development.

His return follows a successful 12-year stint as director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC)’s Midwest region, where, under his leadership, annual fundraising significantly increased.

Brian likes to say he “grew up” in Federation, having served in both lay and professional roles since his college days as a volunteer fundraiser for UJA. Two years after he graduated, he got a job in UJA’s Washington office. On his first day, he was assigned to work with the group that ultimately brought 250,000 people to the National Mall for the 1987 march and rally for Soviet Jewry.

Less than four years later, he joined Federation leadership to witness the historic Operation Solomon, which brought 14,500 Ethiopian Jews to Israel—what Brian calls “a powerful example of what the collective can achieve.”

From there, Brian moved to Chicago and became UJA’s Midwest regional director. Later, as YLC director, Brian remembers chartering a plane of Soviet Jews from Moscow to Warsaw so that young leaders on a mission to Poland could accompany them on the final leg of their aliyah to Israel. He also recruited and trained emerging leaders from around the country, including some who have gone on to hold top national leadership positions.

As a volunteer leader for the JUF/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, Brian started its high-tech committee and was on the volunteer organization committee when Chicago hosted the General Assembly. He also served on the board of Jewish Child and Family Services, a local Federation agency.

I know you join me in welcoming Brian back.


Richard V. Sandler
Chair, Board of Trustees"
Brian is a treasure. He brings a skill-set and leadership skills to JFNA that have been sorely lacking since...well, forever. I have to congratulate Vicki Agron, JFNA's Senior FRD Consultant for this coup -- she has recruited a real winner. And, in so doing, and in the rumored recruitment of two Senior FRD Community Consultants yet to be announced, both with great federation experience, she has completed (??) her consulting task with brilliance. This is the first terrific hire at JFNA since Silverman brought back Mindy Hepner. Some day we'll learn what Brian was promised: and whether JFNA delivered.

There is one certainty -- by dint of timing, if not more, Brian comes into a position where he inherits a staff and consultants not of his choosing. This is like a situation Brian will remember -- when the NFL Chicago Bears hired Mike Ditka as their head in 1983, he was told by ownership that Buddy Ryan would remain as his Defensive coordinator; while they came to blows from time-to-time together they led the Bears to a Super Bowl in 1985. How Brian deals with this reality will be his first test of many. The next challenge may come in how Brian responds to a small group of lay and professional leaders who believe that "all fund raising is local" (more on that in an upcoming Post); who would relegate continental FRD to the margins. (Hopefully, Brian had just that conversation with Silverman and Sandler before he assumed the position.)

Now, it's fair to question why the announcement of a new Sr. V-P didn't come from the JFNA CEO inasmuch as staff hiring and firing is a professional function not a lay one but everything is so confused within JFNA that maybe no one knows the difference. Jerry did hire Brian, didn't he? Brian does report to Jerry, doesn't he? (And, Jerry would especially love the fact, not appearing in Richard Sandler's write-up, that Brian had left Jewish organizational life just this past February to join AvantCredit ,  a mass market lending start-up, as  VP of Communications and Government Relations -- meaning he comes to JFNA from private industry -- sort of like Jerry came via Dockers.)

So, congratulations to everyone and anyone involved in this hire, especially Vicki Agron. And to Brian Abrahams, every success.



Anonymous said...

Not only does Brian inherit a staff and consultants not of his choosing, he inherits a boss (presumably Silvermen) who even after 7 years in the job has no clue what he's doing.

And hopefully someone warned Brian to always remember, Smiling Jerry has no hesitation in reading through his email account.

Anonymous said...

Hold on Kool-Aid drinkers. I have learned that Brian will be leading JFNA FRD from Chicago meaning he will either be commuting to New York weekly. Is this a good idea -- didn't work well when Brian Lurie was UJA CEO, did it? Or is Brian really just another consultant with a title suggesting employment? Leave it to Smiling Jerry to screw up even this important hire.

Anonymous said...

Chicago isn't as far away as Israel, but look at how Becki has taken control since she is removed from daily scrutiny of JS. This may actually be a good thing.

Anonymous said...

I&O is completely out if control! More important, accomplishing what????
Is that what we want/need for JFNA FRD?

Anon at 9:27 is drinking pitchers of Kool Aid if he/she thinks otherwise.

Anonymous said...

Anon 10:22 completely missed the point. The comment about distance to NY is in reference to the first Anon which was focusing on Silverman reading emails and so forth. Becki has been able to work out of control of JS, albeit, not in line with what most of us would want, and been able to do her own thing (yes, poorly.) Giving Brian the credit he deserves and his skills, being in Chicago may actually allow him to avoid the daily scrutiny of Silverman in which case maybe he has a chance to survive and put his skills to use and to actually accomplish something for FRD.

Anonymous said...

Clearly, Anon at 10:27 has no idea what you speak of. The last thing JFNA needs is another NY based FRD professional. The fact is Brian is terrific and comes from the singularly best fundraising training ground that exists today in the Jewish/fundraising space. His worth to JFNA is to be on the road helping the medium and intermediate size feds restructure and get back to what made the system great. Donor cultivation, solicitation and donor retention. Someone in NY or Chicago for that matter, sitting at a desk, won't be effective. Brian has the energy and know how to immediately impact the system and his focus on fundraising will make national JFNA's FRD materials more relevant to those that use them. Congrats to JFNA on this great hire.

Anonymous said...

I can't speak to Brian's prowess, except to say that to survive Aipac for that many years is likely a statement of his successes there. Which begs the question about the circumstances of his departure. In many communities there is also tension between Aipac folks and federation folks. I wonder how relations were between Brian and his federation counterparts.

All that said, while I understand the excitement over the hiring of an apparent star, the fact is the all the stardom in the world can't overcome the lack of a coherent mission that unifies the communities. Federations are facing fundraising difficulties not because Jfna lacks FRD professionals but because their mission is at best uncertain and at worst obsolete in the marketplace, with no discernible, compelling outcomes attributable to "the collective" that excites and compels the marketplace.

Anonymous said...

Indeed, hiring great people is an important part of success.
Unfortunately, it is not enough.
The organization they come to work for needs to have clear goals and mission definition with great leadership and a well aligned team effort.
In other words, great hire but not enough to create great results.
Not enough. Too littlee, too late.

Anonymous said...

We have seen what a bad and wasteful result an unsupervised senior executive can lead to and continues to produce in Israel. Even if the new senior FRD guy is a good choice, the result will be no different in Chicago or wherever it is placed.
Good organizational results require good organizational coordination, supervision, oversight and strong leadership. As long as those elements are lacking at the top there can be no success.