The analysis is, unfortunately, spot on. The reality presented evolved over time, beginning with the first check for a designated gift, to the encouragement of designated giving by the leaders of the Council of Jewish Federations in its last years, right down to today. All of us should recall the JFNA-endorsed, totally failed "Signature Initiatives" which formally announced the continental entity's "walk away" from collective action to the easy path of "coalitions of the willing" which to JFNA proved to be "no coalitions of the unwilling." Rather than dwell on that history, let's think about how our communities might reassert their relevance, if that is even possible.
"The unraveling of trust of federations is way down the food chain of the causes of our system's ailments. Several large federations got tired of defending or were unable to successfully articulate the business proposition and communal values underpinning community campaigns. When their donors designated their gifts the federation itself could no longer defend its own (dwindling) undesignated allocation to traditional partners. That gave them less voice with those partners and things spiraled into a mutual irrelevance. And now because of designated donor and (smaller) Federation grants, federations have become irrelevant. Irrelevance is the presenting ailment. To be sure, lack of trust of its ability to deliver on things large and small has grown which in turn of course exacerbates the irelevance problem.
1) Stop believing in your unique product and articulating its philanthropic values and business value added.
2) Become irrelevant to donor and agencies alike. (By the way, if Donor A loves the JCC or Hillel, why does donor or agency need federation?)
3) Community recognizes Federation can't do big, important things well...Irrelevance and trust are married."
It would be nice, of course, if we had a living, breathing continental organization with a professional leadership that even understood the problem...but we don't...and it looks as if we never will. JFNA has become nothing more than a very expensive trade organization...and that appears to be enough to its leaders. JFNA can claim it's relevant -- invites to the White House, quarterly meetings with the Israeli Prime Minister, appointments to the Jewish Agency Board would probably be the validation points -- but it is JFNA's work that has become irrelevant; except as a trade association.
My correspondent above continued with a dystopian view:
Dystopian and, of course, total reality,"JFNA, like JCPA, whatever their internal dysfunctions – and every group has their share – is beset first and foremost by being an umbrella body composed of weak shareholders. And rather than reinvesting, they want to sell their shares. They are reluctant investors, not partners. They don’t value the products offered and they have less and less discretionary money to invest overall….so JFNA is a really unwelcomed tax. Moreover, the shareholders (Federations) want dividends paid in diametrically opposed ways. They – the national -- are forced in every case into a zero sum equation. What satisfies Chicago pisses off San Francisco (and what pleases New York) is ignored by Boston, and vice versa.It is very hard for a national to parachute in and alter the now-established traditions (designated giving, abandoning the national and international collective) in local communities. In this paradigm I can only imagine that rather than being viewed as mischpacha, a JFNA appeal is heard no differently than one would be coming from JNF, AJC, Hebrew U, The Israel Project.I’ve spent lots of time diagnosing what ails our systems. I’ve spent an equal time thinking of prescriptions…..to no avail.Bottom line is JFNA (even a much better JFNA) embodies to too many communities what Harley Davidson does to me: they may well have the best marketing, the best bikes, the best prices…it just doesn’t matter. I’m not buying. It’s irrelevant. My life is just fine without out and I don’t seek what you tell me is missing from my life."
So, absent a proactive, relevant continental organization, it remains up to the federations themselves to examine how their own relevance might be restored.
And, how might that happen? Given that the Federations, you remember, the owners of JFNA, apparently see no hope of or have no interest in effecting the requisite changes at 25 Broadway; the only way to strike a new direction appears to be for the most responsible of communities to organize among themselves. The focus should be on a continental meeting driven by those communities which have yet to become irrelevant -- let me suggest that, among others, those would be Miami, Chicago, New York, Houston, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Los Angeles, Nashville, Rochester, Los Angeles and others. All federation chief volunteer and chief professional officers would be invitees. The program for that conclave -- let's call it "Oak Brook II" (reflecting back to the continental meeting that framed what JFNA was supposed to become) -- would be developed by a federation-led Steering Committee around the topic "Reasserting Relevance" or something similar. And, then, let the chips fall where they may.
These are times that cry out for a Jerry Bubis, z'l, or Rabbi Herb Friedman, z'l, for a Michael Steinhart or a Charles Bronfman. Instead...and this is not to say that JFNA's Board Chair could not lead this, but he first has to realize that all is not well...we can only hope that a Goldstein, a Nasatir, a Hoffman, a Sanderson might stand up and shout: "ENOUGH" -- but we have been hoping for that forever it seems.
I am certainly not Diogenes on some eternal quest for an honest person -- that's not me. I am just a commentator looking for a few good men and women with the courage to admit what we have just isn't working paired with the courage to go public in a demand for change.
What do you think?