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.



Bob Hyfler said...

The entire culture has sadly changed. When the existence of something called "community" was acknowledged by major donors and their Foundations they felt obligated to listen and engage. An earlier generation understood this and was careful to defer to Federation on communal priorities. Indeed, when an odd major donor behaved in a heavy handed way his peers would quietly call such behavior out.

And make no mistake about the first misstep leading to this decline. It began long before UJC became JFNA, long before the merger. There was and is a correlation between peer solicitation and communal discipline.

When the person who calls you for your pledge is now a paid professional you have licence not only to say no but to say "jump".

Anonymous said...

West coast Jewish communities are very different and JFNA certainly doesn't recognize that. They are too NY centered to care much about what happens 3000 miles away from 25 Broadway.

Anonymous said...

I don't think it is a matter of distance. JFNA doesn't seem to care much about communities on the other side of the Hudson either.

paul jeser said...

One of the benefits of reading your blog is reading comments by Bob Hyfler. He is 100% right.

The steps leading to the decline started, I believe, with Project Renewal, which allowed most donors to designate their giving and open direct relationships with their projects. Once that barn door was opened it could never be shut.

Bob H. said...

Thanx...if only Paul and I might agree on Israel and Palestine ;-)

Anonymous said...

I happen to be a big fan of Mr. Hyfler. And I respect his institutional memory, especially since my involvement came way after the merger.
What I don't accept is his/your premise that a federation community began to be destroyed just because donors were allowed to make impact gifts in addition to their unrestricted annual campaign gift.
There must be examples of federations where both/all giving streams have flourished; I'm guessing the The Windy City is one of them.
I wouldn't be surprised if the breakdown in the sense of Community had more to do with the professional and volunteer leaderships' inability to appropriately deal with the changing philanthropic landscape.
I'm not suggesting that this was/continues to be an easy task, and I know that there are many examples where it was not handled properly (United Way, anyone?).
The issue that this blog addresses is whether or not JFNA provided the proper direction while this changing of the philanthropic landscape was taking place.
I don't have enough institutional memory to answer that.
I do know one thing: Many contributors to this blog appear to be living in the 'good old days of UJA' when the unrestricted annual campaign was the only game in town. You need to get your collective heads out of the sand or you are just as guilty as those western communities that are struggling with their realities.

Anonymous said...

My institutional memory goes back as far or even farther than Bob's. It does not seem to me that the doors of designation were opened because of Project Renewal. In my community Project Renewal did exactly the opposite. Initially we were able to better engage those donors who focused on support for Israel. By engaging them around the projects our community supported in our sister city it exposed these donors to the broader picture of the work of the federation on behalf of all constituencies. As these donors finished paying off multi-year pledges almost always they rolled these donations into their annual pledges. Project Renewal was followed by the Passage to Freedom Campaign and Operation Exodus again asking for over and above 'designated' donations. As payment on those campaigns concluded again the donations for the most part were rolled up into the annual campaign. Over a period from the mid 80's to the mid 90's the annual campaign more than doubled.

Bob Hyfler said...

I would agree with Anon 6:27.
My point was in reference to the decline of peer soliciting not the rise of designation. Project Renewal,Exodus etc. were, at least in communities I was connected with, very much lay driven and strongly lay engaged. They were however not so much designated giving but special purpose campaigns - the difference being the impetus and purpose came through community and national process and not an individual agenda. A distinction without a difference to some but important to some of us.

And that gifts were often folded back into the annual campaign speaks to another near lost virtue - the seriousness of the ratings process and the once recognized right of the community to assess the quality of a major donor's gift.

Anonymous said...

Bob is right, except that the rating process if done properly is a two way process and not just the right of the community to assess the quality of a major donor's gift. The community rates the prospect based on evidence available and the donor/prospect rates him/herself on their own history of philanthropy, priorities, acceptance and rates the qualifications of the beneficiary organization and so forth. The resulting gift demonstrates the level at which the two processes coincide. So when you have a 'special' campaign which I would agree with Anon 6:27 is a designated campaign, the donor has rated him/herself accordingly and the two 'rating' processes are much more in line with each other - the community recognizes the larger capacity of the donor and the donor recognizes the qualities of the organization.