Thursday, September 1, 2016


The death of the lay-professional partnership began so many years ago -- first in our communities and, then, in almost a trickle-up, at CJF where in its last years, there was no question where decisions were being made. 

I was so wrong when in real time I thought that the federations' desire/demand for merger was to gain control of the United Jewish Appeal Budget. 20/20 hindsight has educated me to the real reason, budget control was important, but the desire/demand of mainly the Large Cities and, there, of the Large City Executives, was put an end to an organization where lay leadership still led policy decisions in partnership with a professional staff that then executed them. Nevermore would there be an organization that could drive an Operation Exodus or anything like it; nevermore would there be an organization that felt the moral obligation to advocate for greater allocations to overseas needs; and nevermore would lay leaders seeking a balance in the lay-professional partnership assume leadership positions in what would be JFNA. Well, these professional leaders, the best and brightest of our generations, succeeded in most of these goals -- perhaps, beyond their dreams.

When I write "most of these goals," it is because there have been failures along the way to the hegemony of the professional -- and those failures have been mammoth. Two stand out:

  1. The Global Planning Table -- driven by the passion and determination of Kathy Manning, this was a monumental multi-million dollar fiasco -- a wholly predictable nightmare of a JFNA FUBAR. For years system professionals will demand "leave it to the professionals" and, if necessary, point to the GPT and observe that "this is what happens when lay leaders with no knowledge of what is happening in our communities push a personal agenda." But, the GPT would not have happened absent...
  2. Jerry Silverman -- clearly hired because, unlike the LCE who immediately preceded him as CEO -- Hoffman and Rieger, without commenting on their competency -- Jerry would be wholly subservient to those who hired him and compensated him to such an egregious extent. 
But, there were other failures -- costly ones -- as well -- think the "ONAD process," think the "Trust," think "TribeFest," think "#ISH" -- all of them failures driven by professionals

I once complimented one of the best professional leaders: "You have an incredible gift; you are able to convince the lay leadership that they/we are actually participating in the decisions." I meant this as both a compliment and a lamentation on the passage from what was first the dominance of the lay leader, to a balance in the lay-professional partnership, to the gross imbalance of today.

Last year a wonderful lay leader stated:
" be effective Federations must be run by professionals. Lay leaders have a role to set the mission, make sure the organization has the right CEO and that CEO is supported and has the resources to do his or her job. Federations can no longer be looked upon as just fundraising organizations and lay leaders can no longer get involved in making day to day decisions."
I assumed that this consummate leader, who would begin his Board Chair service at JFNA weeks later, fully understood the difference between "the right CEO" and the wrong one; and that having "set the mission," lay leadership would have a continuing responsibility to assure that that mission was being implemented with excellence and, if not, to take all necessary steps to make certain that the mission was achieved. As other organizations have learned to their sorrow and to their community's their organization's ultimate detriment, handing over the organization to the "wrong CEO" can be, and in JFNA's case is, an unmitigated disaster.

But let's not ignore Board Member obligations. As one group of non-profit experts set forth:
  1. Determine mission and purpose. It is the board's responsibility to create and review a statement of mission and purpose that articulates the organization's goals, means, and primary constituents served.
  2. Select the chief executive. Boards must reach consensus on the chief executive's responsibilities and undertake a careful search to find the most qualified individual for the position.
  3. Support and evaluate the chief executive. The board should ensure that the chief executive has the moral and professional support he or she needs to further the goals of the organization.
  4. Ensure effective planning. Boards must actively participate in an overall planning process and assist in implementing and monitoring the plan's goals.
  5. Monitor and strengthen programs and services. The board's responsibility is to determine which programs are consistent with the organization's mission and monitor their effectiveness.
  6. Ensure adequate financial resources. One of the board's foremost responsibilities is to secure adequate resources for the organization to fulfill its mission.
  7. Protect assets and provide proper financial oversight. The board must assist in developing the annual budget and ensuring that proper financial controls are in place.
  8. Build a competent board. All boards have a responsibility to articulate prerequisites for candidates, orient new members, and periodically and comprehensively evaluate their own performance.
  9. Ensure legal and ethical integrity. The board is ultimately responsible for adherence to legal standards and ethical norms.
  10. Enhance the organization's public standing. The board should clearly articulate the organization's mission, accomplishments, and goals to the public and garner support from the community.*
No, the non-profit experts don't suggest that lay leaders merely hire the best CEO and back-off. Far from it.

An incredibly high percentage of our communal organizational CEOs will retire or be discharged within the next two to five years -- it's already happening. If organizational leadership fails to use this time to understand the role of lay leadership in balance with and respect of organizational professionals, then the disaster that is JFNA today will (as it has already begun) further infect our communities. Because if all our leadership says is "to be effective Federations must be run by professionals," without adding "...who understand and respect the lay-professional partnership," the communities may be wholly delegating their fiduciary responsibilities to too many who will not understand how to move the community forward in positive ways.

The accretion of communal power to the professional cadre would not have taken place/be taking place were it not for the weakness in or unwillingness of lay leadership to accept their fiduciary responsibilities and exercise them. 

But that's where we are.


Richard T. Ingram, Ten Basic Responsibilities of Nonprofit Boards, Second Edition (BoardSource 2009).


Anonymous said...

Richard, is there any evidence, even anecdotal, that the same thing is happening in the federations themselves? With the large number of execs in recent years coming from outside the federation system one would expect that the lay - professional relationship in those federations has also changed substantially.

Anonymous said...

You certainly hit the nail on the head with this entry!
If only we lay leaders would care enough to fight to reverse this disasterous trend which amounts to no more than a power play by the "pros" to enable them to do whatever they want.
It is simply a hostile takeover and it will indeed destroy us if allowed to continue this way.

paul jeser said...

What you describe is true and sad. AND, at the same time the professional field (once called Jewish Communal Service) has also, for the most part, died. Even more sad.

RWEX said...

Paul, this has not merely been "death," its been suicide.

Anonymous said...

I'd call it assisted murder.

Bob Hyfler said...

First we professionalized fundraising but I didn't care cause I was tired of taking cards
Then we professionalized planning and that was ok because I was tired of going to meetings and thought it was BS anyway
Then they professionalized management and it absolved me of liability
And best of all no matter what hits the fan I can always blame the pro's
Gimme a break!

Anonymous said...

This Hyfler guy always nails it!

paul jeser said...

Bob Hyfler's response is pure GENIUS!

Anonymous said...

Richard, there seems to be a lack of understanding on the part of many, many federation CEOs, who believe that they and their communities benefit somehow from the weakest possible lay leadership. In fact the CEOs and more important the communities will only benefit from a partnership of equals, one where both the senior volunteer officer and the senior pro bring their common strengths to the challenges the community faces. Where the Board Chair believes that the position is nothing more than a photo op delegating, as Sandler suggests, all power to an inept CEO, the organization itself suffers badly.

Anonymous said...

This is the key issue and changing the trendline is in the hands of lay leadership alone. If they don't reclaim their rights and obligations to run the show there will be nothing left to run. The professionals used to understand the importance of lay leadership but today's new breed like being at the top of the power tower and enjoy their freedom to do what they want without any real accountability. Who is going to stand up and take charge before it is too late?

Anonymous said...

"today's new breed" ...? "the large number of execs in recent years coming from outside the federation system."
What nonsense. Look at nearly the new CEOs hired in the large cities in the last three years. Nearly all of them have come through the system in some way or another.

RWEX said...

In response to 1:30 -- I guess if you exclude hires in San Francisco, Atlanta, Philadelphia, St. Louis and, even, it could be argued in New York City, Montreal each of which hired as its CEO in the past three years one who had not served as a federation professional in their careers...yes, if you exclude all of those, you would be right. In fact, and I may be wrong here, only Toronto, of all the Large Cities, hired its new CEO from within the federation system.

Anonymous said...

You are wrong.

New York, San Francisco came as layleaders from within their own federations. But yes, not technically in your definition as professional hires.

Palm Beach was a pro from Baltimore federation.
Metrowest was a pro from the Joint and before that the LA federation.
Toronto was a pro at that federation.
Northern NJ was a pro at other federations.

RWEX said...

I stand uncorrected. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

How does that stand you uncorrected? Anon at 2:09 just gave you four examples of professionals hired in the last few years from within the federation system, no?

RWEX said...

This will be the last on this diversion: the assertion by 1:09 was "nearly all of them" and that was incorrect...and remains that way.

Now, you remember that this remains my Blog -- so let's move on focusing on the Post and not on each other's Comments.

Anonymous said...

To one of the previous annons. If a lay leader speaks up, they are just not invited back. The pro controls the invitations. They troublemaker is declared a bad apple and is gone. Only the get along rise through the ranks. Boards are restructured to be easier to manage which means smaller "as more effective", a euphemism to get rid of past sucessful leaders who drag the pro down.

And then the pros say the lay leaders won't do the work anymore, gifts go down, less donors. Death by a thousand cuts. Everything is wonderful.

Would someone please comment on how much we are sending our overseas partners vs what we are spending at JFNA.

We were never perfect, we did great things, but now we are dying. And it is assisted suicide.