Tuesday, February 28, 2017


Over the last couple of years, the JFNA Board Chair and alleged CEO have been making statements and publishing dire warnings against JFNA and the federations making any public statements on anything. That is anything outside of what they call our "Mission" even as they are unable to define with any specificity what the "Mission" is. They have been wrong -- totally wrong. Most of what they had written and said was nothing more than what one brilliant editorialist in another context called "mindless twaddle." But Sandler/Silverman apparently had little else to do; and give it to them, they were consistent and persistent.

Then this happened...

Sandler, in Israel for the Jewish Agency Board of Governors meetings, agreed to an interview with Haaretz. And, therein, this paragon of "shhhhh" decided to take a position on a purely political issue. As one of you noted: "Hypocrisy alert! Sandler endorses Friedman nomination while claiming JFNA is apolitical" citing:http://www.haaretz.com/us-news/.premium-1.773985  Jewish Federation Head Voices Support for Friedman as U.S.Envoy. 

Now, as we have written on these pages more than once, Richard Sandler is a smart and caring man; he must have known that when one is an officer of a federation or JFNA, let alone the chief volunteer officer, one cannot, must not offer opinions on political matters while in office, associating those comments with one's office. After all, the Haaretz reporter didn't seek out Richard's comments on David Friedman's nomination because he is a lawyer from Los Angeles. And, equally clear, the questions asked had nothing...nothing...at all to do with JFNA or JFNA's "Mission," if there is such a thing.

So here was Sandler, the chief architect with that other guy, of JFNA's policy of "never comment" on anything of real or imagined controversy, commenting in his official capacity on a matter of controversy. Shameful, ridiculous, sad. Especially so inasmuch as Richard could have responded: "I can't comment on Mr. Friedman, but we should be focused on Israel's civil society (the next day, ultra-Orthodox attempted to intimidate Women of the Wall from praying at the Kotel), and on the desecration of Jewish cemeteries in the United States and the threats to Jewish institutions, and so on." Instead, Sandler chose to respond to a politicized question on a political matter. You'd think that Sandler hasn't even read what he himself has written or what he said in the Los Angeles Jewish Journal just weeks ago.*

And, then Sandler doubled down.

In a letter to his Colleagues just one day after the Haaretz article, Richard "explained:"
"I have received some questions about comments I made as part of a panel discussion yesterday at the Jewish Agency Board of Governors meeting.

During that discussion, I expressed my concern about divisions within our community,  and noted that we need to listen to people we disagree with and give them a chance. This is something I believe and have written and spoken about over the past several weeks.  Different perspectives within the American Jewish community are not new. I have respected the various perspectives expressed by members of the American Jewish community in the past, and I respect them now. I am hopeful that we can learn to listen to one another and learn from one another. I believe we can disagree without being disagreeable.

The comments reported in the press were in response to a question directed to me about David Friedman and reflected my personal view, based upon my analysis of the situation and my personal contact with Mr. Friedman. They were not meant to offend anyone, but rather encourage discussion."**
Apparently no one bothered to explain to Sandler why his statement as the chief volunteer officer of our organization was one he could not make. The entire scenario is just another example of an organization in chaos, of leadership out of control.

Shameful, ridiculous, sad.


* In a contemporaneous set of interviews in The Jerusalem Post, Silverman and Sandler's predecessor and Sandler himself, commented on anti-semitism in America. Yet, Sandler added his own opinion of Donald Trump in one of the more incredible and hysterical quotes: "“I think he is probably more knowledgeable than some people think on a number of topics..." If anything more need be said about the need for leaders to restrain themselves from commenting on politics and/or political leaders, Sandler has just said it.

** And, as Sandler has said in his Statements to the Jewish Journal and his From the Desk of...to the JFNA community: there will be no such "discussions." 

Saturday, February 25, 2017


From time-to-time I've looked at JFNA's strange lack of priorities in the area of fund raising, a sad phenomenon that has been a peculiar feature at JFNA under JFNA Jerry. It just keeps getting worse.

Back a few years, I think it was 2003, when I chaired JAFI North America, I visited one of the largest federations. When I walked in the door of the then CEO's office, he confronted me, in a nice way: "Richard, why can't JAFI get its act together? No sooner does one JAFI pro come here to solicit for his or her department; then another walks in soliciting for his/hers. You have to get this straightened out." David Sarnat, then the CEO of JAFI NA, who led us from out of a superb  federation professional leadership background, and I traveled to Jerusalem where we met with the entire JAFI senior professional leadership, and, after hours of meetings, reached an agreement there would be "one JAFI" where funding priorities would be clear and JAFI NA would lead the approach to federations coordinating with the Agency departments. 

No sooner had we left the Sachnut for Ben Gurion, then that agreement fell apart. It continued to be every Department, every silo, for itself. I have guessed that over the years this fragmented approach has cost the Jewish Agency tens of millions. Hopefully, under a better led JAFI NA and, perhaps, a more responsive JAFI Jerusalem leadership, the concept of "one JAFI" has been implemented. (BTW, the "agreement" we had reached was doomed from the start inasmuch as Alan Hoffman, then the Director General of the Zionist Education Department had told me: "Richard, if you guarantee me that JAFI NA will raise the funds to meet my budget, we're in; if not...." Of course, shortly thereafter, Alan rose to the professional head of "one JAFI.")

And today, that lack of focus, purpose and prioritization haunts JFNA. We have written before about the multiple "asks" emanating from 25 Broadway to the federations. While it is abundantly clear that JFNA cares, above all else, that your Dues be paid in full every year, it is equally clear that JFNA spews forth "ask" after "ask" without any thought to how these are perceived by the federation recipients or how and when the "asks" will be "answered." Think about them (and I'm certain that this list is missing one or two or three or more):

  • Aid to Holocaust Survivors -- driven by the need to qualify for a federal "match," JFNA formed an impressive lay fund raising Task Force co-chaired by MetroWest's Mark Wilf and L.A.'s Todd Morgan, and staffed by Consultant Max Kleinman. The FRD results to date have been impressive albeit short of the goal but, unusual for a JFNA effort, in reach;
  • Multiple "Mail Boxes," each established to deal with disaster relief or other emergencies. JFNA pops open a Mailbox, collects whatever funds come in and then distributes those funds. Strangely, JFNA counts those collections on its 990s as if it actually raised the money;
  • A "secret campaign" -- I don't know what else to call it inasmuch as I find nowhere in Minutes any approval whatsoever -- in support of the Ethiopian National Project to the tune of $18 million. How JFNA determined to proceed with this large fund raising effort and for what purposes are unknown. It seems abundantly clear that whomever "agreed" to this "campaign" had no idea that additional fundraising for the ENP had been attempted before, and failed abysmally*;
  • Allocations advocacy -- under the aegis of the Israel-Overseas Department, community "envoys" have been deployed to work with assigned communities in an efforts to increase the woeful allocations to the core budgets of JAFI, JDC and WorldORT. An excellent idea, reminiscent in some ways to the UJA advocacy efforts of decades past, especially so in light of the reality that never have allocations to the overseas partners ever been lower -- they are shameful actually -- having reached what appears to be a level of less than 12% (and, maybe, less than 10%) of aggregate annual campaigns, but the JFNA effort is de minimis and embryonic and may be -- just may be -- nothing more than lipstick on that proverbial pig having reached only 5 communities to date.
It's clear that inasmuch as JFNA has no priorities itself, flitting from flower to flower, task to task, without plan or purpose, so it is with the financial requests of federations. JFNA just leaves it to the individual federations to determine to which, if any, of these needs the federations will respond. Thus, not a single JFNA FRD effort has been successful; unsuccessful to such an extent that JFNA no longer establishes goals and never, ever, seeks anything beyond "best efforts." Nothing is binding; nothing is required. So no one, certainly not JFNA, is ever responsible for success or failure -- in fact, we never know what "success" of "failure" even means.

Where there are no priorities, everything becomes a priority. This is a sure prescription for chaos.

No one is responsible or accountable --  JFNA's operating credo.


* I would be pleased to discuss at any time.

Thursday, February 23, 2017


In sharp contrast to the ostrich-like approach to...well, everything actually...JFNA's leaders have been put to shame by the young men and women of BBYO. ejewishphilanthropy wrote about these leaders in http://ejewishphilanthropy.com/bbyos-conventions-delicate-balancing-act-on-the-refugee-debate/. Clearly there is much, so much, to be learned from them.

First, let's note that the discussion arose out of a plenary session of BBYO's International Convention that brought together between 4,000 and 5,000 leaders Dallas over Presidents Day weekend. For JFNA, whose leaders somehow still believe a GA that brings out less than 700 lay leaders annually remains viable, that in itself should be something to ponder. (Note to Richard Sandler who thinks that  GAs have been gaining strength these last few years: ponder, please.)

So, the young leaders of BBYO can engage in healthy "civil" debate on an historic value proposition -- a discussion held among 4,000+ -- and JFNA's leaders are so distrustful of...well, themselves...that they won't even tolerate such a discourse among 70 Board members at a Trustees meeting? Who decides these things? Nobody? They just happen? 

Let's understand one thing -- JFNA's Board meetings are rote -- so desultory as to be soporific. A little excitement might prove to be energizing. Why not try it? 




Friends, yesterday afternoon I published a Post that stated that JFNA was at fault for, as I reported it, not having answers for questions being posed to federations by two Haaretz reporters who seemed, to me, to be pursuing a legitimate line of inquiry as to how our allocated funds were being spent in Israel. I have taken that Post down. A number of federation leaders called me, some quite irate, to let me know in no uncertain terms that these reporters, with no evident knowledge of what federations do, or how they do it, were casting a wide net in their attempt to "catch" our communities by raising questions as to the most minute and immaterial matters on the annual 990s and that, contrary to my assertions, JFNA has been there to help.

I should have focused on the inanity of the demands for answers by reporters who appear to have done no further research than to read the 990s with a yellow highlighter -- without knowing a thing about our Conflict of Interest policies, about recusal, about the care that most federations give to how their funds are being spent. To these reporters it appears they believe that "you're guilty, now prove you're innocent." And that is wrong.

My sincere apologies.


Sunday, February 19, 2017


For what seemed like the third or fourth or fifth time, JFNA Board Chair Richard Sandler has tried to rationalize JFNA's inability (refusal?) to speak out on behalf of its federation owners behind a claim that to do so at a time of incivility would be, I guess, a distraction. The incivility impacting on our discourse or lack thereof has recently been a focus, as well, in an excellent piece by Spertus College CEO and President Hal Lewis in ejewishphilanthropy, Dysfunctional Discourse and Internecine Invective, and that great chronicler of Jewish life and leadership, J.J. Goldberg in The Forward,  Can Squabbling Jews Still Hear Each Other? Neither author called for an end to the "Discourse;" Richard Sandler doesn't feel it should even begin.

A terrific, thoughtful federation professional leader recently wrote: "The Rambam, in his commentary on Pirkei Avot, explains that the righteous (tzadikim) “say little but do much.” It strikes me that JFNA's Board Chair and its CEO practice a different version; theirs is that recommendation from Hamilton: "Talk less; smile more." And, by characterizing all issues as "political," unable to separately address Jewish values impacted by political decisions JFNA and some federations are unable and/or unwilling to even articulate those values

All of us would agree that we live at a time of heightened political partisanship which too often plays out in self-righteous anger. We have seen that anger expressed in Comments to this Blog and more certainly in far more important places. The question is: does that hyper-partisanship excuse our communal instruments -- local or continental -- from articulating positions on issues impacting on our historic communal values?  To me the answer is no; we must assert our position on those matters in the public space that place our long-established values in question; to JFNA's leaders the answer is -- we must remain silent until in their subjective judgment an undefined "civility" reigns.

The JFNA posture was most recently articulated by Sandler in his statement (14 February 2017): Reflections on Bringing Back Civility.* Therein, he attempts to dismiss any and all responsibility of our Continental organization to speak out on our behalf as follows: "Note that nowhere in my discussion of Federations' mission or responsibilities do I mention making statements or getting involved in political issues, either in the U.S. or in Israel." Following Richard's "logic:" in today's volatile environment (1) all issues are political and (2) therefore, JFNA will not speak out on any issue." Sandler's false premise may satisfy him, but it shouldn't. 

And, this position of "statements are a distraction" is a far cry from the position he and his LA CEO took when they rushed out a statement on the "Iran Deal" with no process and were badly burned. In an article in the Jewish Journal, Richard seemed to preview his position on JFNA backing away from taking any position on almost anything: http://jewishjournal.com/nation/215064/federation-stays-neutral-trump-refugee-order-despite-pressure/  The contretemps in LA arose when the members of the Federation"s Rautenberg New Leaders Project objected, privately and respectfully, to the community's articulated non-position on the plight of refugees: We must express our profound disappointment — for some of us, even anger and shame — at ‘Our Commitment to Immigration and Resettlement,’ ” they wrote, adding their voice to a chorus of donors and community members airing their grievances internally." Sandler attended a meeting with the New Leaders and expressed his own strong opinion:
“Federations really should not get involved in making statements one way or another, because they need not get distracted from the work Federations are supposed to do,” he said, adding that political statements inevitably upset some Federation donors."
It's clear that the Los Angeles discussion helped frame Sandler's posture vis-a-vis "Statements" -- yet, that very discussion should have demonstrated how discussions leading to public positions on matters related to Jewish and communal values can take place among leaders of good will in an environment of civility. 

Communities are facing the challenge in different ways: there's Chicago's strong statement, mirrored in other communities', Los Angeles' backing off, and another large city, after its leaders wrote they were "..most surprised and disturbed about the divisions in our community," announced: "[W]e are not going to make another statement on behalf of the Jewish community who we represent because we can't..." (!!) And, should the federations look to JFNA for guidance? Forget it. 

By the time Richard turned his attention to JFNA's (and, presumably, other Federation) Boards, the "distraction" theme was supplemented with a focus on "civility."
Sandler believes that what he identifies as "[T]he lack of civility around controversial issues within our own community" is but another excuse for JFNA's continuing silence on all issues. I guess his hope is that JFNA will lead "...a concerted effort to respect different points of view" and having achieved that wholly amorphous goal of "bringing back civility," JFNA will be able to go forward and speak for us on issues it determines are not "political." With respect, give me a break -- the constant JFNA drumbeat of "civility" from Richard and JFNA Jerry is nothing more than another excuse for doing nothing, and doing nothing all of the time.  Nowhere in JFNA's thinking on this matter is there any acknowledgment that silence also has a "cost" -- a cost in donors and sometimes sure at great cost to our values.

Nowhere in the Board Chair's Statement nor anywhere in that FedWorld rag was there any comment on the brilliant Friend of the Court brief filed in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals by the Seattle Jewish Federation-- apparently, and thankfully, the Seattle Federation didn't consider supporting Jewish and Jewish communal values a "distraction" or, somehow, "uncivil."

I admit that I may be wrong on this matter; but shouldn't JFNA's role in the public square be debated by its Board? You know, by the federations which own this thing? It's all well and good that the Board Chair and CEO have their opinions well- and often-expressed but their opinions are not those of the organization they are supposedly leading. I would respectfully suggest that JFNA's Board Chair lead a public Board discussion on whether JFNA has any...any...responsibility to speak on behalf of the federations and on what matters and, if so, how the public statements will be managed and processed. And, no more sermonettes on "civility," please. And, if developing and processing a Statement on, e.g., the communal values expressed in our historic Torah-driven caring for the stranger would somehow be a "distraction" for JFNA, pray tell what JFNA would be distracted from? It's a real shame that the Board Chair and CEO do not trust the leaders of the federations who serve on the JFNA Board and the CEOs to even engage in such a discussion.

Sometimes you just have to do the right thing...even JFNA...and that means that sometimes you just have to say the right things, even though that may be hard.


* I won't use this Post to respond to Sandler's specious assertion that Federations are "think tanks." More on that in a later Post.

Thursday, February 16, 2017


There's always something...

1. I was pleased to read that President Trump's daughter, Ivanka, and son-in-law and Middle East peace negotiator, Jared Kushner, received Rabbinic permission to travel to the January Inauguration parties and balls on Shabbat. The Times of Israel reported:
"The special permission was given based on the Jewish principle of placing the preservation of life over religious observance, known as 'pikuah nefesh,'"
Parties and Balls = preservation of life. I got it. I don't understand it, but I got it. Actually, maybe the President threatened their lives if they didn't attend the parties celebrating his election -- as in "if you're not at the parties, you're dead (to me)." 

2. After years of active resistance, the WZO has entered into a settlement ordered by the Israeli courts that will provide 250,000,000 Israeli shekels for Israeli Holocaust survivors. Is this enough? Is this equitable? JFNA has been advised of the settlement -- perhaps, it's trying to figure out how to take credit for it, having done nothing to secure this result. 

3. To its shame, JFNA has disclosed that allocations to the core budgets of the Jewish Agency, the JDC and WorldORT have fallen to the lowest levels in history -- or, as JFNA's Treasurer recently reported, the 2016 year-end results "were off a little." Shrug; let's move on; the federations let you down, not us. Let's be clear JFNA has failed its overseas partners as never before. Period.

4. JFNA  convened its 2017 Investment Institute in Florida last weekend. The Institute leaders gathered about the most impressive roster of speakers that I have ever seen listed for any organization and they should be congratulated. That was the list I first downloaded. Then several of you brought to my attention that JFNA Jerry had added himself to this incredible list. Many of you asked me "Why?" I do too. 

5. Last month Chicago's Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation closed the 2016 Annual Campaign at $84,282,000, a record of unsurpassed achievement. Many ask me "how is this possible?" Well, you combine an incredible professional staff with not just Steve Nasatir's indefatigable leadership but the example of his own face-to-face FRD, a dedicated and committed laity, creativity, hard, hard work and a communal tradition and a wonderful esprit de corps. "Leadership," you know, it really works.

6. When JFNA ceased its CEO Search services, dropping that federation benefit (such as it was in the implementation), I have been waiting for the next shoe to drop. It has:

"To Apply

JCC Association is conducting the search on behalf of the Jewish Federation of Greater St. Paul. Qualified candidates can apply for this position at jccworks.com/stpaul – please include a resume, cover letter and salary requirements. 

Deadline to apply: February 17, 2017"
Perhaps, the St. Paul Federation has decided it's just a JCC in all events; certainly it could have used this moment, while the Minneapolis Jewish Federation is seeking a CEO as well, to explore a merger; or, most likely, this is a Hatfields and McCoys deal up there. 

There was time, a few years ago, when JCCA, seeing the void at JFNA, actually discussed providing services to federations. Perhaps, inasmuch as the void just keeps growing, they are revisiting that "plan."

7. Finally, with the assistance of a number of you, as we do from time-to-time, we wish to highlight a couple of entries from FedCentral:
"Looking for best practices on notes of condolence -- specific language. Thank you."
"Hello, I'm looking for a platform to manage integrated online & live auctions. Does anyone have any recommendations?"
It's hard to comment when you're speechless.

Monday, February 13, 2017


As I've written -- too often, I'm sure -- JFNA is operated (if one may call it that) with an over-abundance of consultants. It is a place where in one area alone -- FRD -- part-time consultants appear to outnumber full-time  professional staff. Perhaps, as a means to ameliorate criticism on this score, Jerry and his crony (a consultant, no less), Deborah K. Smith, have now created a new, new thing -- calling those who live and work away from HQ "non-resident employees." Well, in truth, nobody calls them that but me.

What do I mean? Well, and this is purely speculative, why would a bright and accomplished professional leave her position as President and CEO of a Jewish college -- in this case, Gratz College -- to assume the title of Associate Vice-President for Planning and Research at JFNA. Then, in JFNA COO Mark Gurvis' announcement of Joy Goldstein's hiring, in almost a footnote, he recited that Ms. Goldstein will be working from Philadelphia, where she lives. 

OK, then...

...When Brian Abrahams was hired as Senior Vice-President, FRD last year, that engagement was clearly made contingent on Brian  working from Chicago, where he and his family reside. Perhaps, had JFNA Jerry agreed to compensate Brian at a level commensurate with the responsibility of the position, Brian would have been able have afforded to move his family -- but we all know that Silverman is all about taking care of Number One, and only Numero Uno.

So, here's that new, new normal -- senior professionals now can work from wherever they may live. The concept of building a cohesive professional staff has been lost somewhere along the way; probably lost along with that sense of purpose, mission and vision. To me, there is but a little difference, if any, between part-time consultants and "home work" senior professionals. Are they reporting to Jerry, to Mark? Is Brian reporting to Vicki Agron, a part-time consultant herself? Is this nuts? Just look through the JFNA "employment roster" and you will find consultant after consultant after consultant.

Back in the UJA days, the United Jewish Appeal leadership hired Rabbi Brian Lurie away from the San Francisco Federation. Brian was a brilliant CEO, a constant font of ideas, a spectacular speaker, fund raiser and an inspiration to me and so many others. He still is. Brian was a weekly commuter from his home in SF to UJA's New York offices and, often, very often, to Jerusalem. He was indefatigable but it became clear that over the years of his UJA service he grew worn down...by travel, by being away from his family. And Brian Lurie was full-time. It seemed to me that any fair analysis of Lurie's service to the United Jewish Appeal would lead to the conclusion that senior non-profit managers must live where they work; not where they would rather live...be that Chicago or Philadelphia or Jerusalem. And, to live in the New York City Metropolitan area, they need to be compensated so as to be abe to do so.

Clearly there are instances where being at HQ isn't a prerequisite. William Daroff's JFNA effort is focused on behalf of our communities in Washington where he works, directs a D.C.-focused staff and where he lives. That works. Yet, Becky Caspi's residence and leadership of JFNA Israel and Overseas from Jerusalem does not...except for her air mileage account.

As one of those Commenting on the Sad, Sad State of Now Post observed "...there is no sense of community and purpose" at 25 Broadway. A real CEO, not the faux CEO ensconced there today and for the past 7+ years, would insist that the organization's senior staff be in residence with him/her, building that "community" of professionals within 25 Broadway. You cannot have "a sense of community and purpose" when your CEO has none. That is just one of the sad realities that absentee lay leadership has permitted,

And so it is at JFNA Camp Worbegone.


Friday, February 10, 2017


A few weeks ago the Boston Globe, among other media, reported that the lay leaders of Boston's Combined Jewish Philanthropies determined that its CEO, the long-term Boston professional leader, Barry Shrage, had been "severely underpaid" for years in comparison with others "similarly situated" and provided Barry with a "make right" payment of $1,340,000. Now, Barry was "only" making $563,000 in total compensation (including benefits) in the year of this nice "gift,"* and Barry wasn't going anywhere, but, as the Globe reported:
"...the payment was authorized after the board compared Shrage's compensation over the past decade with that of leaders of similar nonprofits and determined he had been consistently underpaid."
One "compensation consultant to nonprofits" advised that the IRS "...permits nonprofits to do a 'look back' to determine if their executives have been underpaid, and to make up the possible difference."

OK, then. If CJP leaders don't mind that, as one expert noted, "Shrage's payment 'has very negative optics for the organization,'" and I'm sure they could not care less, and assuming that few believe, as did the Director of Georgetown's Center for Public and Nonprofit Leadership, who told The Forward that this $1.34 million payment was "'ridiculous' and 'above and beyond what is normal,'" what are the potential implications?

  • While I don't see this "look back" as creating an avalanche of the same or more by a multitude of federations (after all, whose compensation and benefits numbers did CJP's leaders look at if not those some of the Large City Executives and, of course, the leader of the pack, JFNA), one never knows. I continue to believe that when the Large City Executives meet at some golf resort for their annual "retreat," one of the off-line discussions must always be who is making what and what more in the way of benefits might they enjoy? Who knows.
  • For example, Barry also enjoys "chauffeur services" in addition to "an auto allowance or leased vehicle." We know about the City clubs, the Country Clubs, the business or first class air travel, etc. What's next -- a parsonage?
  • My personal experience suggests that nothing angers donors within our system more than when CEO compensation numbers are revealed in The Forward or local business journals. No one can possibly quantify the donor and dollar losses attributable to donors disgusted with the compensation and benefits disclosures but system-wide they must be in the millions over time.
  • Then there is the reality that in too many instances, not with Shrage whose value to Boston's federation is deemed by that leadership to be beyond measure, where compensation has no relationship to performance. Enter Jerry Silverman. Certainly the Boston compensation consultant entered Jerry's "package" into the mix; and just as certainly, no one noticed that Silverman is and has been among the most egregiously overpaid within the nonprofit world. Were I a federation CEO, I would view Silverman's compensation as the paradigm for which I would strive -- oh, to be overpaid in such an outrageous manner.
Yet, at some point there is certain only the possibility that CJP's action here will become the canary in the coal mine; that federation (and, unlikely, JFNA) lay leaders will look at the totality of what is being paid to their top professional leaders and say: "what the hell are we doing? This has to stop." 

OK, so that probably won't happen. But a guy can dream, can't he?


The newspaper stories revealed that "[O]ver the past decade, (Shrage) has generally earned between $400,000 and $500,000 a year," not exactly chump change, and, arguably, at an appropriate compensation for the years in question

Tuesday, February 7, 2017


The Mission Statement still reads:
"Inspired by Jewish values, we broaden and deepen engagement in Jewish life to strengthen Jewish identity, foster dynamic connections with Israel, and care for all Jews in need.

We mobilize our community’s resources, leaders, and organizations to address the community’s most critical needs, creating profound impact locally, in Israel, and around the world."
Sadly, for the authors of that Statement, at the Jewish Federation of San Diego County, it's now "never mind." In an article in the San Diego Jewish World, http://www.sdjewishworld.com/2017/01/12/jewish-federation-to-eliminate-unrestricted-funding-for-local-jewish-agencies-and-schools-by-fy-2018/ brought to our attention by a Friend of the Blog, the entire rationale underlying the sorry scheme to effectively de-federate was made clear:
"In an interview, Jewish Federation CEO Michael Sonduck explained that the change is a reflection of how much fundraising has changed in the Jewish community since the 1930s when the Federation first got started.  In the early days, he said, donors would send their checks to the Federation which then would parcel out the money based on its assessment of community needs.  It was a one-stop shopping arrangement with the various schools and agencies refraining from independent fundraising.
That changed over the years, however, with most schools and agencies mounting independent fundraising efforts including gala dinners, golf and tennis tournaments, raffles, and direct solicitation for major contributions.
Sonduck said major donors to the Jewish Federation by and large are the same people who are supporting the agencies and the schools.  In discussions with Federation staff, he said, donors said that Federation grants to these agencies and schools duplicate the contributions they already make.  They urged the Federation to focus instead on building collaborations within the community to respond to unmet needs.
For example, said Sonduck, as a result of a matching grant made to the Federation by the Jim Joseph Foundation, the Federation has encouraged the development of an outreach program to Jewish teenagers.  This program is administered by Lawrence Family JCC and will involve encouraging high school students to connect with the Jewish community via various mitzvah projects.  The grant for this program is considered a “restricted fund” because it must be used for the Teen Initiative."
Michael Sonduck is a lifelong Jewish professional; promoted to Federation CEO after a series of communal roles. He knows what a federation should be; he knows the basic purposes a federation (and, thereby a federation gift) must serve -- he's no doubt well aware of his Federation Mission statement that expresses communal values. Yet, the action that the Jewish Federation of San Diego will now take,  moving over a brief period from a grant-making, central communal planning body, to effectively the status of a conduit for donor-designated gifts, means...well, it has abandoned the federation model. 

This has been a conclusion that has been coming down the road in San Diego for a while...

  • The San Diego Federation's work has been overshadowed within the community by its separately incorporated Jewish Community Foundation San Diego for the past two decades. Even though, as is true in so many federated communities, the Foundation Board os comprised mainly, almost entirely, by former and present Federation leaders, it has postured itself as an alternative to the Federation, in competition in many ways with Federation. It has been successful in all ways -- the Foundation is the model for designated, focused funding -- this Federation is now morphing into a donor-driven foundation and what community really needs two of those;
  • In the early-1990s, Federation, already feeling the pressure driven by failing annual campaigns, entered into a comprehensive community planning process, staffed by a consultant (who knew little of federation values) and JFNA's Community Consulting Department (which should have articulated a federation-centric vision for the community but did not) and which resulted in a "federation as conduit" plan which was then not implemented but which planted the seeds for that which has emerged a little over a decade later;
  • This Federation has not grown the leadership (or educated the leaders it has -- excellent and dedicated as they are) that could and would articulate the case for communal philanthropy that would exist side-by-side with donor-driven designated philanthropy. Instead, lacking vision and will, San Diego's leaders merely set the table for the end result that is now being implemented. A continental organization worthy of the Dues it is paid would have worked with communal lay leaders as UJA did decades ago -- one might fairly ask: "what has JFNA done for the Jewish Federation of San Diego County" other than watch it (1) diminish and, (2) now, disappear....and, of course, accept the Dues San Diego has paid...?
As one Commentator to another Post observed: "I think we need to call the phenomenon for what it is - the privatization of Jewish philanthropy and the slow negation of the concept of community." It's a shame and shameful when Federation leaders themselves preside over the passing of their federation into oblivion. In this community and others -- for San Diego is not alone certainly -- inspiring the passion that drove the community's founders just stopped long ago.

And, where was JFNA you might ask? It's a good question. In its 2015 Annual Report JFNA proudly boasted:
"Growing and nurturing strong communities is the essence of Federation’s work. So when it comes to giving back, there’s no need to go it alone. Our affinity groups harness the power of the collective to connect community members to the movement and help them develop strong personal networks and leadership skills."
My guess would be that JFNA's highest level of professional and lay leadership either (1) has no clue what has happened and what was happening in San Diego; or (2) knew, shrugged, their collective shoulder and said "too bad, nothing we could possibly do to help." And, the reality is clear: those beautiful words in the Annual Report were just that...words...and nothing more. And, we know, at JFNA that's all there is.

Sadly the reality for San Diego is self-evident in the experience of others. For it is a fact that every community -- and there are some -- that has got down the road San Diego is now traveling, has failed, either becoming totally irrelevant or well on their way to total irrelevance. Irrelevant to its donors who have many places to put their gifts; irrelevant to their own leadership, because if all federation leadership is doing is watching funds flowing (indirectly) to local agencies, what is left for their passion and commitment? 

Building federation, building community is damn hard work. San Diego just wasn't up to it and had nowhere to turn for consultation, guidance and inspiration. JFNA doesn't exist.


Saturday, February 4, 2017


Anyone who reads this Blog thing regularly knows of my continuing pride to live within the boundaries of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago. One of my great joys was to have played a leadership role there. Now I have the greatest pride and joy in seeing how the great tradition and values that were passed on to me and my generation of leadership continue to reside dor l'dor. Friends, it's so beautiful to behold.

In the wake of the actions of the Trump Administration that brought tens of 1000s out in protest, and saw many of my former partners to airports to assist those unlawfully denied entry to the United States or at risk of deportation, the Chicago Federation issued a statement built upon more than a century of assisting immigrants regardless of religion or country of origin. That statement read in pertinent part:
"The Federation has encountered--and overcome--policy, budget, and other obstacles over the decades, but has never wavered in its commitment to fulfill this sacred Jewish and American task.  On behalf of the Jewish community, the Federation is proud of this accomplishment and pledges to continue this important work. 

The Federation welcomes America's refugees who have passed the most thorough vetting process of any group of foreigners seeking to come to our country and applauds the statements from many Jewish and non-Jewish groups that are now speaking out on this issue.

Every public policy should be reviewed and strengthened, especially when it involves our security.  However, the administration's sweeping, sudden, and uncoordinated executive order undermines the noble ideal of our nation serving as a safe harbor for those fleeing persecution and directly imperils the Federation's work on their behalf.  The Federation opposes policies that bar or privilege certain groups of refugees solely because of their religion or country of origin.  It is the well-founded fear of persecution by any country against any minority that has long inspired America to provide refuge."
I commend this Statement of principles and values to every federation and, of course, to JFNA. I know that many federations have already spoken out as has Chicago. I see no reason whatsoever that our Continental body, speaking on behalf of all of the communities doesn't rouse from its slumber to assert our continental commitment to our national, continental and communal values embodied in "caring for the strangers" among us. And, in keeping with its steadfast commitment to silence, even its captive FedWorld has failed to link the readers to federations which have spoken out on our values.

Chicago, and, likely, your federation as well, "has never wavered in its commitment;" yet, our umbrella organization, the one that should have absorbed all...all...of our values and should be able to assert them, lacks any commitment to anything whatsoever.

Yes, the fact...the very fact...that a Statement was not adopted, was not even considered, by the JFNA Board at its Retreat a little more than one week ago, on the heals of the President's Executive Order that impacted on 1000's of refugee families.  We either have values or we don't; we either stand up or we don't. There's just no explaining the continuing institutional silence in the face of...everything and anything.

Everything and anything.


Wednesday, February 1, 2017


We have many serious issues within the federated communities and, beyond them, in Jewish organizational life generally. Within federations inside and outside of the largest, and in too many organizations to count, there have been too frequent examples of the most wealthy and generous philanthropists demanding sometimes absolute control of and power over communal/organizational decisions that have had the effect of rending the communal/organizational fabric. One leader deeply engaged with and in our Jewish organizational world has described this "phenomenon" as "the tyranny of the mega-donor,"

First, way back when, in so many places, at a much simpler time, a small group of men (and they were all men back then) would gather in a room, determine the community's needs and divide up the costs and fund them. It was, so obviously, a much, much simpler time. No longer.

In an extremely insight-filled Report, the Institute for Policy Studies and Inequality.org recently published Gilded Giving: Top-Heavy Philanthropy in an Age of Extreme Inequality. Therein, the authors cited the "risks...of a philanthropic sector dominated by wealthy mega-donors and their foundations..." These are risks to communal democracy and, thereby, to "charitable sector organizations," e.g., federations.

But, to us, this is not a new phenomenon. And, prior to the merger (which is a date fading more and more into the past), there were examples -- e.g., the North Shore Massachusetts Federation and the Tidewater Virginia Federation, among others -- of the most wealthy demanding that communities cease paying their CJF Dues and the communities doing so. And, over the years many communities, under pressure from significant donors, demanded significant changes in allocation percentages reducing the Jewish Agency share often unrelated to needs. The threat, and we have all heard it in one form or another, is something like this: "Either do this, or I will never make another gift." 

And, these are but examples of the deterioration in the concept of "community" -- of the deconstruction of community into the paradigm of "bowling alone;" into the exercise of personal power where the greater good is sacrificed to personal aggrandizement. Few communities, few organizations can ever recover. The ultimate examples of this can be found in the more recent past -- and even the present...

We have seen one southern/southwestern federation, once a true partner in every way that a federation could be, with a strong lay and professional leadership cadre, a significant allocation to overseas needs, coopted by the community's largest and most influential philanthropist, one dedicated totally to that philanthropist's personal agenda and generosity. The CEO left and a large measure of the lay leadership who objected, loudly or quietly, it made no difference...out. The community never recovered. (If you go to this Federation's website, you cannot even link to the community's Board of Directors, if there is one any more.)*

Then, there is a Federation in the West, at one-time the fastest growing Jewish community in North America, with a cadre of young philanthropists, cultivated by a terrific professional leader, who were beginning to realize the great communal potential in a partnership with JFNA -- a partnership, like most with JFNA, abandoned by our inept umbrella organization at the worst possible time. That federated community always seemed to be under the dark cloud of one of the most major philanthropists. In my experience with the community, I watched as this donor threatened to forever withdraw his support (which had not then been realized upon, if it has been, sort of, today) if, first, the federation did not force out its CEO (who had built the community and its lay leadership in dramatic ways) and, second, if its then Chair and most significant and thoughtful leader, who, with his wife, a dedicated philanthropist and communal leader in her own right, did not withdraw from their lay leadership roles (which they did in the supposed "best interests of the community"). CEO...gone. And that CEO, it turned out, would not be the last -- there and elsewhere.

A new CEO was hired in the midst of the economic crisis that impacted this community as badly or worse than others. Inasmuch as there was no tradition of federation giving in the community, the annual campaign quickly cratered and the new CEO, an energetic and creative campaigner like his predecessor, had to start anew -- which he did. Even this philanthropist was persuaded to make a significant gift (most, if not all, of which was designated to the philanthropist's projects in and outside the community). but three years in, this donor demanded that this CEO must go or, once again, the community would lose its largest gift. (This was not the first time that this donor made similar demands -- at one of our most-cherished charities, dedicated to bringing tens of thousand of young Jews to Israel for a one week experience -- the same philanthropist demanded that the sitting CEO, one of our system's most creative fund raising leaders, be forced out; the implication being that the alternative would be that the donor would terminate his contributions of tens of millions annually. In short order, this CEO was out.) And, so it was, in this growing community, a CEO driving to rebuild an extremely complex community was gone at the whim of a mercurial mega-donor. 

There is also one of the Large Cities where the lay chairs, among the community's largest donors, along with a small cabal of fellow travelers, were known to either suppress or overrule Federation Committee recommendation with which they disagreed with no further process. And, if rumors are true, they have joined in the recent force-out of their sitting CEO...and not for the first time...a CEO they themselves had hired.

And there is the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, an "institutional" mega-donor, if you will, whose incredibly generous annual gift has been withdrawn from organization after organization if the ever-increasing demands of its "sole decider" could not be met -- and met immediately.

And we saw an invitation to Rabbi Lord Sacks to speak at the 2016 GA dictated by a JFNA lay leader who clearly has her eyes focused on the Board Chair position and who ignored the staff's warnings that this choice would prove not just controversial but tremendously divisive. Over the years, present and immediate past-Chairs excluded, a succession of Board Chairs became frustrated when their personal agendas weren't immediately implemented, but those frustrations ended with the imposition of the GPT, something that would not have happened had there been a true lay-professional partnership and Board members with the courage to speak out.

When things like these happen, when personal agendas prevail over the communal agenda or when a single donor, or even a small group, convinces himself/herself/themselves that his/her/their agenda is and shall be the community's/organization's agenda, the sense of community and the community itself are lost. The same thing can occur (and has) when a small cabal "captures" the organization's leadership believing that the small group goals trump communal goals. (Yes, I'm talking about the epic failure that was JFNA's Global Planning Table). And, of course, there are even more federations and other Jewish organizations where the CEO dominates assuring that the CEO is "protected" by a captive, acquiescent lay leadership. All of these circumstances are characterized by an attitude of "...let ___________ do it" -- a delegating away, a failure of fiduciary duty.

Be assured, as a former Presidential candidate said of one incredible Jewish philanthropist, himself a past Chair of a Large City Federation who put community first, in the instances cited above, there are so many men and women have "used...(their philanthropy)...to enrich the lives of so many people whose names you will never know." At the same time, in the instances cited above, men and women who should know better, but are never told, have confused personal agendas with those of the community...and the end result has not been to the detriment of the philanthropists/the "deciders" themselves but to the detriment of their communities/organizations. More and more we have sold our communal souls to the highest bidder -- and, after all, if great Jewish wealth can "buy" presidential candidates, why not a community, an organization or two or three or...

And we have come to learn, too many times, just where this "practice" can lead. The chances of the resurrection of collective responsibility under these circumstances are nil.


* Yes, I have identified neither the philanthropists nor the communities/organizatiions. Please neither ask nor speculate.