Sunday, December 25, 2016


A Commentator recently wrote:

"So if JFNA has abandoned the collective and is not really advocating for our partner organizations in Israel anymore (maybe even advocating against them?), maybe the time has come to create an organization or an alliance of organizations that will do the job.
If I am not mistaken, the merger was supposed to further the goals and functions of all three of the organizations that entered into it. If that is not happening then it seems to me that those whose mission is not being addressed should be finding other vehicles to achieve their goals.
Are we really expecting things to get better without drastic measures, by avoiding conflict and "unpleasantness" etc?
"What were we thinking?" is now being replaced by "What are we thinking?"
From everything I read here and from everything I see happening, it seems to be that the time has come to say "enough!" and to act on our principles and beliefs.
This is not what we signed up for - at least not what we intended to sign up for!" 
Back in the day, during the first years of CEO Rieger, while Joe Kanfer Chaired JFNA, and while I served on the Jewish Agency Board, I approached leaders of both JDC and JAFI about nothing more than combining forces in an Overseas Advocacy effort independent of JFNA -- a JFNA which even at that time was doing nothing for its partners other than acting as a collection agency, and doing a damn poor job even at that. JAFI leaders were enthusiastic and the Joint leadership, while interested, ultimately decided, after some excellent discussions, that it had no interest in moving forward together. I had hoped that the common interest in advocacy might lead to more, as suggested by the Anonymous Commentator above, but that was not to be then and, probably not, now. 

This Post will try to focus on the parlous state of JFNA which has become the all talk, do-nothing $53 million/year organization with which its highest level leaders -- lay and professional -- seem perfectly happy. And, as long as the federations (and, in particular, the largest including, yes, my own) continue to "feed the beast," we can expect nothing to continue to be the annual result.

I was reminded of this sorry state by Jerry Silverman's speech at the close of the GA to a more or less half-empty ballroom. Jerry recited a series of achievements -- all of which were those of others: the federations themselves, JAFI, JDC, WorldORT -- and none of which were those of JFNA at all. And the shambolic operation at 25 Broadway exemplifies just another failure among many. Strangely, the singular (at JFNA) achievements of JFNA-Washington earned nothing more than a throwaway line in Silverman's speech.

Let's examine a few of JFNA's failed/failing/flailing efforts:

  • Consulting Services -- there are none. A Search is on-going for a Vice-President (without significant staff) who will report to the Senior Vice-President Marketing and Communications!! In lieu of an effort to consult with the federations, JFNA has concocted FedCentral. That's the mechanism where JFNA steps out of the picture and federation professionals ask questions (my most recent favorites: Do the Board Minutes have to be approved by the Board?; or What needs to be done when a Board Member passes away?*) and hope that other federation professionals answer them -- and answer them correctly. As I recall there was once a community consulting effort of such strength that Silverman's predecessor reorganized functions and placed FRD under the consulting banner; and today, under Silverman (who in his eighth year of service still hasn't a clue) Consulting Services doesn't exist. Conceived as "A Wikipedia of shared Federation knowledge" this has given Wikipedia a very bad name. It is in fact operating proof that JFNA itself has no such "knowledge."
  • FRD --  Under Vicki Agron as a part-time non-exclusive "Senior Consultant," FRD has shown signs of life. The FRD Cabinet has been revived; what the Cabinet is doing is, so far, hidden from view. Agron first hired two excellent albeit part-time non-exclusive consultants and determined which communities they would assist (shhhh, it's a secret -- as were the names of the Consultants) and, then she searched out and saw to it that Brian Abrahams would join the JFNA professional staff as Senior Vice-President FRD. Brian offices in Chicago (?) and reports to...well, unclear, it may be to Vicki Agron as she continues in the role of Senior Part-Time Consultant. How will this all work? Your guess is as good as anyone's. Brian has to fill a number of senior FRD positions -- Planned Giving (the previous department leader was hired by Agron and let go after less than 9 months), Major Gifts, you name it. (BTW, as we have written, only at JFNA could the "Senior Consultant" have an Executive Assistant who in turn has an Executive Assistant.)
  • Israel & Overseas. This bloated entity, operating more or less on its own from 6,000 miles away from JFNA HQ, continues to produce prodigious expense with minimal return on investment. Though the office monitors the Knesset, actions there that impact here -- such as the Shas bill that "...would make it illegal to hold pluralistic prayer services at the Western Wall plaza" -- seem to come as a constant surprise. Recommendations to return Israel & Overseas to 25 Broadway continue to be ignored, not even discussed. We have been advised by well-placed sources in both JAFI and JDC that relations between those two partners and JFNA have never been worse. But, of course, this year the Office did persuade The Jerusalem Post that Jerry Silverman was among the Top 50 Jewish Leaders worldwide -- a true miracle.
  • Consultants. Everyone who reads this Blog with any regularity knows of my disdain for "building" an organization on the backs of consultants. One of you advised me that Richard Sandler had "ended the practice" of loading up on consultants at JFNA -- if so, he missed a few...actually a lot of them JFNA FRD has more consultants in the Department than full-time FRD pros; JFNA HRD still has the extremely well-paid mystery person, Deborah K. Smith, doing what nobody knows, on the payroll; and JFNA is the conduit between a major philanthropist and the SS+K consulting firm on an undisclosed $1 million-plus consulting deal. One way to rid the organization of these consultants -- require disclosure of (a) whom they are, (2) what they are paid, and (3) what they do. Think that is going to happen? Me either. 
So, where do your Dues go? I mean, if there's no Consulting Services, an FRD operation that is but a shadow of once was, a meaningless over-staffed and unmanaged Israel-Overseas operation and a major Consultant force doing what and for whom we are not allowed to know, how is $53 million plus spent for the benefit of the federations?

Why don't you start asking.


* Hint: first, you bury him...(drum roll please). And here is the answer actually published on FedCentral: "When this has happened in the past with our boards/committees, we've kept their name where it is for the remainder of their term, added an asterisk, and at the bottom of the column added a note "of blessed memory" in italics. z"l would also work."


Anonymous said...

This post hits the nail on the head, clearly showing the lack of management and oversight and the lack of a measurable strategic plan.

* Consulting Services - should not about self promotion and marketing the JFNA brand to federations - could probably be best accomplisheid today by an online message board forum, something that would not require high level dedicated professional staff.
* FRD - this should be the centerpiece and the main activity by which the organization is judged - fundraising for our partners in Israel to enable them to do the work for us in Israel and wherever needed around the world.
* Israel and Overseas - instead of trying to do the work itself, our organization should be advocating and marketing the work of our partners to assist in campaign and dedicated fundraising efforts - to do that it should be located in the New York office and should be working closely with our federations working in the communities, not in the Knesset and not trying to become our own operating agency ("global operations") in a futile attempt to "staff up", duplicate and often compete with the core competancies of our existing partner agencies.
* Consultants - we should have dedicated professional staff for our core mission and use consultants sparingly where they can have added value, not as replacements for dedicated mission-oriented staff positions.

It takes financial resources to accomplish anything but it takes a strategy and a coherent, measurable and managed plan of action to insure that the available financial resources (mostly federation dues) are not simply wasted because there is none!

Anonymous said...

All possible efforts should be made (again) to get JDC and JAFI to undetstand that they are both in the same boat and need to work together in order to defeat the misguided attempts to marginalize amd eventually replace them. Together they can be strong enough to reclaim their historical status.
This should be the call of the lay leadership of both organizations and should be forced upon their professionals if they cannot see it themselves.
It will be much more difficult if they do not find a way to create a united front but it should be clear to them one way or another that they need to begin to operate independently of what is left of what is supposed to be their "partner" for advocacy and FRD.

Anonymous said...

It's pretty clear that other than Washington nothing is working as it should at JFNA and the Grants work of JFNA-Washington is now going to be threatened by the policies espoused by those Trump has named to key positions. NOTHING is the word of the day for what JFNA isn't doing at 25 Broadway and in Jerusalem. Further, Richard, your continuing hope that Richard Sandler will actually do something about the mess he inherited and has now perpetuated, well, that hope is sorely misplaced. Richard really doesn't wish to be bothered with the facts (and, believe me, I and others have told him the facts, just as you have written them); it's all the easier to ignore with a smile.

Those who have written you, and, as I am sure you are aware, unless Chicago's lay leaders see and speak the truth and demand that Nasatir step up, there will be no changes. And JFNA has placed Chicago lay leaders in important roles with the expectation, fully realized so far, that they will support the status quo so long as they hold their positions as an Officer, as Chair of Israel-Overseas, as Chair and Past Chair of the Israel Action Network. Same with New York.

So dream on; keep up the fight for us. Just don't expect anything to change. They like their mediocrity.