Saturday, October 22, 2016


Some of you were critical when I questioned whether a new Federation hire, whom I didn't name, for a once vibrant federation that was facing a critical need for a new and vital CEO, might not be made of the stuff needed. That federation hired a person who had claimed success in a smaller community. I wrote: "'Applying principles and best practices from the corporate sector' he boasted of achievements that many did not see other than the reconstruction of the 'gaga pit' at the local JCC," 

Criticism aside, we wished the guy and the community well. That was in August of last year.  Less than one year later, he was gone. No more gaga pits* to conquer, I guess. Here's what Federation leadership wrote to the constituency:

"The _______________ Jewish Federation has been the preeminent institution for our community’s Jewish philanthropy since 1920. We take very seriously our critical role in supporting the care of our community members, enhancing Jewish community education and connection, and assisting our Jewish brethren in Israel and beyond. Our legacy is rich and we have much to be proud of.
We are writing today to share with you that _______________ will be leaving the ______________Jewish Federation this week. We thank _______ for his contributions to the ___________ Jewish Federation over the past year, and wish him well with his future endeavors."
Dismissive and, perhaps, unnecessarily terse. This was not alone a community's hiring error; it was as well a grievous error on the part of JFNA's CEO search practice and its selected "vendor," the Mandel Center for Excellence ( you can judge whether that title has become an oxymoron like "Airplane food"). For all the years of this Blog, I have suggested quite directly that JFNA get the hell out of the Search business. When it finally did so, sadly it wasn't because of failures like this one, but for financial reasons, JFNA no longer wanted to subvent the federation CEO Search business, period -- what JFNA termed its role in "Talent Acquisition" would be no more.

And, almost simultaneously with the Federation unnamed above, one in the Northwest announced that its CEO, who made it through thee years, would be returning to his home State. When that leader was hired directly out of a lengthy term leading a University Hillel, I predicted on these pages that, with no evident federation background, he wasn't quite ready for the challenges he would be facing in a community struggling to find its footing after years of failed campaigns. 

Those who were quick to criticize me in these two instances (and others) wholly failed to comprehend that I was expressing my concern, one that has only grown, that women and men were being hired without regard for the fact that, absent substantive experience, mentoring and a place to turn for guidance and counsel in the most complex of communal organizational environments, they were being set up to fail -- Camp directors, Hillel directors, United Way CEOs, etc., were being asked to essentially find their own ways -- they were put out on a slab of melting ice and told "don't worry" and then left to sink or swim. 

What are the repercussions to JFNA? Oh, I'm sure it goes like this: "Hey, that's not JFNA, that's Mandel." If they recommended to you someone that failed to meet your expectations, "that's not JFNA's fault, you chose him." So, don't expect any compensation, any Dues relief. And, by the way, Mandel will be available for your next Search. But, setting aside the growing number of failed searches, it is JFNA that has failed these new hires; it is JFNA that has nothing to offer them in terms of support or knowledge that would assist them. Guess JFNA would tell them: "Hey, just ask FedCentral." And, then, JFNA walks away; "our job is done."

And there are really those telling federations exactly those things. And there are those in leadership who believe everything at 25 Broadway is just fine...fine, indeed.


* For those who don't recall: 
"Ga-ga" is a variant of dodgeball that is played with one ball. The game combines dodging, ... The ga-ga pit generally consists of flat walls atop a smooth dirt, turf, or sand surface.


Anonymous said...

Richard, let me emphasize one major failing of the Mandel Center -- once it placed new CEOs it never provided long-term onboarding nor support. I know our CEO who was hired several years ago has told me he never received even one phone call after starting his position. But, he did get a copy of Mort Mandel's book in the mail. If we want our execs and communities to succeed then we need serious mentoring, leadership development, skill enhancement and support for these professionals.

Anonymous said...

Some one should undertake a comprehensive look at the entire JFNA-Mandel relationship. One should recall that Steve Hoffman, while JFNA CEO to today, has served as a Board member of the Mandel Foundation; and while JFNA's CEO essentially imposed his "will" upon that great organization to force an open-ended "consulting" relationship between the two for at least $500,000 per year. Someone then had the chachma to suggest that a large portion of those funds be used to start and implement a CEO Search function. Mandel might be good for something; but it wasn't;t then and never became an effective, honest search firm -- but it did allow JFNA to fund part of Mandel's work -- take a look at the work that Foundation continues to perform on a consulting basis for JFNA -- all work that JFNA should be doing for itself if there were any competency there to do anything well.

This is part of Hoffman's legacy.

Anonymous said...

I do believe in the past JFNA and it's predecessor organizations did a positiv job of identifying and placing talent at all levels of federations. The old adage "you have to move to move up." People were being recruited and wooed to other communities. FEREPS were a "big deal."

All of that changed when you have people in charge (Jerry and Deborah Smith -- that is her name?) who have, as you point out, no Federation history or understanding. The most successful federations have "insiders and lifers" (some albeit too comfortable and too long in their roles)running the operation -- while those suffering (you mentioned two above) bring people with mainly outside experience.

I believe that the Mandel Center professionals and communities got blinded by the idea that we need outsiders to "fix" our issues. And the Mandel Center even encouraged it.

I know of 2 cases where solid pros went through search processes and lost out to "outsiders." In each case the Mandel Center people told these individuals (highly successful in their long-term Federation work) that maybe they should leave the field for a few years and come back with outside experience. That says it all.

Finally, people always question who the customer was for the Mandel Center -- the community Federation looking to hire a person or the individuals searching for opportunities. They wanted to do both -- but you cannot. And thus the Mandel Center was just happy to fill the position no matter what happened to that person placed (yep, check that one off the list) and at the same time always told people we are here to advance your career. Too many good pros are now gone.