Friday, May 5, 2017


Well, it has come to this...

With continuing disregard flowing top down from 25 Broadway to the federations Continent-wide; with so many questioning JFNA's top-down demands in almost every area; JFNA's constant asks culminating in an $18 million "campaign" for the Ethiopian National Project never approved by the JFNA Board; with secrecy the JFNA coin of the realm; and on and on it should be no surprise that we have now heard that a growing number of federations are either not paying their allocated Dues or are demanding a renegotiation of those Dues or are paying less than full Dues. And, of course, JFNA isn't talking about this budding crisis that is upon it, hoping, as the organizations' leaders usually do, that it just goes away...

Trust me, this would be an even bigger calamity, if it is one already, and one that would have begun much earlier, were it not for the fact that many federations, including a significant number within the Large Cities bury the JFNA Dues within their "overseas allocation," not only hiding the Dues from the inquiring eyes, if there are any, of curious Federation Board members, and, at one and the same time, falsely inflating the amount of their annual allocations to the core budgets of JAFI, JDC and WorldORT. Thus, if Community A claims an allocation to those core budgets of, say, $5 million, and its "buried" Dues amount is $500,000, then....well, you know the hypocrisy. And, in too many places, the community is told that the gross number is allocated to "Overseas" or whatever word(s) the community uses when, in fact, that amount is substantially less, far less.

And, the crisis, if it is not upon JFNA already, would be escalating exponentially if Federations cared. Examples? Let's look at the issue in context  (according to their most recent 990s):

  1. Our largest federation handed over in excess of $5.2 million (that's not a typo) for JFNA. What demands have been made, if any, for any accountability. Does that federation's donors just not give a tinkers' damn how this incredible amount benefits federation's beneficiaries?
  2. There are multiple communities for which JFNA Dues if not the largest allocation to any agency, is in the top five. Does this make any sense if the return on that "investment" to those communities -- yours, or mine -- can't be articulated beyond the grants achieved by JFNA- Washington?
Yes, the same question could be asked of your federation and mine.

I have written before of my strong belief that JFNA Dues -- as with CJF's and UJA's overhead before it -- were paid in an expression of our collective responsibility. Sure, my community, no community, did not receive a direct quid pro quo for our Dues, but I was always comfortable that whatever funds the organization received from us would be of benefit to others, or would help to meet a crisis or a great collective need. That is no longer the case...not the case at all. You tell me what needs are being met beyond the perpetuation of JFNA for its own ends. Just keep on feeding the beast.

As one of you told me: "The only time that I hear from 25 Broadway is when I tell them we are considering not paying our Dues." Another: "When I told them we can't pay the Dues demand, suddenly my lay people are asked to speak at the GA, Co-Chair or serve on a Committee. You know, buy us off with gornisht." The root causes of the unrest are never addressed...never.

One of you recently wrote, in response to our Post S.N.A.F.U.:

"Change will come when federations look at their limited financial resources and tell JFNA that going forward, they will only pay, let's say for example, 75% of their current dues; using the 25% for their local and Israel & Overseas needs.
That is the federations' new-normal' in 2017; why should JFNA get a pass and be allowed to have a budget of $30 million?

Imaging a JFNA with a $20 million budget: What critical services would the federations really lose if $10 million disappeared from the budget (I'm using $10 million as an example....personally I'd look at $15 million)?  

Someone needs to start that ball rolling, and once started, it will gather the momentum that will force the change that is needed.
It will not come from a Board Chair or the CEO, whether it is Silverman or someone else when his current contract expires"
I understand, with all of you, those communities' and their leaders' concerns. It cannot be denied that if the majority of Board members in a given community that is hiding its JFNA Dues in the overseas allocation knew the amount of Dues their federation pays, they might ask the seminal question: "what are we getting for this outrageous amount?" It is a question for which the answer is both all too obvious and all too embarrassing to contemplate. 

Some of you who are old enough will remember that until 6+ years ago and, as I recall, for a few years before that, the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles refused to pay the full Dues allocated to that community. Upon Silverman's engagement as JFNA CEO and Jay Sanderson's selection as LA's chief professional, in a secret "negotiation," JFNA caved, LA's Dues were reduced and past due unpaid Dues "settled," and Los Angeles was restored to what passes for a federation in "good standing" at JFNA, but just a few years later, its past Federation Chair, Richard Sandler, was elected JFNA Board Chair. Now, Sandler is facing an apparent Dues revolt -- what does Richard tell those federations that are seeking Dues relief or just refusing to pay: "ignore what we in LA did, we need you to pay full Dues?" Yeah, that should be compelling. (NB, the LA Federation CEO, who negotiated the settlement, has demanded that I "get my facts straight" and has clarified the nature of the settlement that LA entered into -- "I negotiated a 100% pay off over 8 years and we have honored that agreement." In addition Los Angeles has responded to JFNA requests for additional funds over Dues in payments of "hundreds of thousands additional each year." I have not been able to clarify whether that settlement also provided that Los Angeles pay a lesser annual Dues than the $2 million Dues the full amount of which LA had refused to pay until the settlement. Obviously, there are other issues as well.)

Then there is another Large City, one held in high regard by many, which looked at its increased Dues after the Dues formula was revised by JFNA's Board passage of its Dues resolution. That federation merely went to JFNA's then leaders, advised them that the Annual Campaign data on which Dues were based were "wrong," deducted the aggregate of designated gifts from the community's annual campaign statistics submitted to JFNA for the determination of annual Dues, and demanded its Dues be decreased. They were. (It should be noted that that community from that time forward had two annual campaign figures -- the annual campaign totals it submitted to JFNA and those which it proudly announced to its own community.)

For many years -- from the merger up to the Los Angeles "settlement" --  federation Dues issues, when they occurred, were a matter of discussion and negotiation between the communities and the JFNA Financial Relations Committee. I chaired that Committee for many years and was succeeded by Jacksonville's Steve Silverman. The Committee was blessed with an incredibly dedicated professional, Cheryl Lefland, and, for many years, a very committed CFO, Sam Astrof, and an active lay group.  Then, those negotiations, almost always successful, were coopted by JFNA's lay Chair, first Kathy Manning, then her successors and, I presume, by Silverman (Jerry, not Steve). Soon, Cheryl was no longer on the staff -- there is no longer a Financial Relations Committee, there is no longer a designated Federation Relations staff. This has "accomplished" two important goals of JFNA leadership -- secrecy and the continued elimination of lay leadership from the work of JFNA. 

Look, if what I have been told is true, this is a growing albeit undisclosed crisis for JFNA. If federations in number are told they are no longer "members in good standing," JFNA will fall apart. If JFNA is being asked by more and more federations the seminal question: "what is my community receiving in consideration of our Dues payments?" the jig is up; JFNA will be over. In so many instances to date, "membership" has held together for one or two (or both) simple reasons: 

  1. The community has been able to hide its JFNA Dues within the overseas allocation and no federation Board members have perforce raised a question about them; and/or
  2. The negative impact of a failure to pay Dues (no participation in National Women's Philanthropy or the Young Leadership Cabinet, no GA attendance [?!]), loss of membership, has been the compelling factor to continuing full Dues payments.
So, JFNA has not had to produce benefits to the federations to justify/rationalize the continuing Dues payments -- and it hasn't. Beyond the federal grants generated by the exceptional work of JFNA-Washington, what exactly are the "benefits" of membership?  To me and a number of others, JFNA should have been at work over the past decade working damn hard to increase those benefits; instead it has been hard at work building silos, overpaying those at the highest levels of its professional staff with no accountability while it had almost no community FRD function, abandoned the CEO search function and created an almost total void in its Community Consulting area, feathered the nest of its non-performing Israel office, among other areas of non-performance.

Friends, the chickens are coming home to roost and it continues to appear that JFNA's leaders. their heads perpetually in the sand, don't know or don't care or fail to understand the implications of non- or partial-payment of Dues. Because, as sure as I can possibly be, it is lay leadership's failure to demand accountability from the CEO, its failure to exercise its fiduciary responsibilities that include, to use a currently popular phrase, emptying "the swamp" at 25 Broadway, bringing in an interim CEO to serve while a rational search process in undertaken that will assure that the next JFNA CEO at least offers the hope to the federations that an effective and responsive JFNA will emerge.

But, no. For JFNA to have any chance of success, its leaders must take the responsibility for the organization's success. As Bret Stephens pointed out: ""....recognizing failure is the first step on the road to wisdom;" JFNA's Board Chair and its lay leadership can't possibly turn the organization in a successful direction unless they first acknowledges the desperate circumstances they have perpetuated by their refusal to take responsibility.

So, Richard Sandler, it's past time to just sit back and let this group of professionals under this CEO continue to drive JFNA over the precipice. Here are the questions:

  1. How many federations have not paid all or part of their Dues over the past 5 years;
  2. What is the amount of unpaid Dues; and
  3. What steps are being taken to collect the unpaid amounts?
There is also the existential question: does anyone at JFNA understand that, except in instances of "extreme hardship" (as was once the jurisdiction of the now non-existent Financial Relations Committee), under the extant Dues Resolution, a federation that has not paid its full Dues is automatically, without the need for further action, no longer a member of JFNA.




Anonymous said...

Amazing Chutzpa! How can anyone claim that JFNA dues should be classified as federation Israel and Overseas expenses?
While a lot of the dues collected are indeed wasted on the inflated and ineffective Global Operations office in Israel, dues are supposed to fund the overall JFNA budget, much of which is wasted on things that have nothing to do with Israel and Overseas.
If there was any degree of transparency at all in the organization, either the flow of dues would come to a halt or the organization would be forced to start controling its budget, staff and activities.
Doesn't anybody out there care?

Anonymous said...

To Anon 7:13, nobody cares and that's why JFNA is what it is today.
From an operational perspective, my question is if JFNA needs $30 million to function, and let's say there is a deficit as per Richard's post of a couple million dollars, where does JFNA get the shortfall in receipts?

Anonymous said...

Richard, is the recommended action for Federations to act by saying enough and cutting back on dues support in an expression of discontent/dissatisfaction or complying and muddling through? It seems as if you are advocating both.....which is it? And, do your follow community leaders in Chicago feel satisfied with JFNA? Is your own community the problem or the answer? If what you say is correct (and I think it is) that change will not come from JFNA ranks, how do you propose our system moves beyond this point? Interested in your thoughts.

RWEX said...

Your questions are ones I have asked myself for years. I shall devote a future Post to my attempts to answer them.


Anonymous said...

If enough federations are upset and hold back dues, things will change.
They have legitimate excuses in terms of not getting services and this would force JFNA leadership to make the case for the level of operating expenses. More importantly, the driving force here is a reduction in fundraising levels, coupled with increasing needs in the local federation communities. Yes, using withheld dues for services locally is a short-term fix for the federations, but it would be a long term issue for JFNA.

Anonymous said...

I think 3:50 P.M. has provided the ultimate JFNA rationale: "we have to maintain Dues at the current level so that we have the capacity to provide the services to you the federation that we cannot and do not and will not perform." Probably makes great sense to Jerry Silverman and Richard Sandler, neither of whom seem to get it.

Anonymous said...

As for exec of an intermediate Federation, one would think we would use JFNA resources. We do not. Our $100,000 in dues is a waste with little benefit. (we can take our leadership overseas if we want on our own) The marketing is too Israel focused for our community. And, I remember when we were told a consultant will call us regularly. Stil waiting for phone to ring. A real shame!

Anonymous said...

My question for anon 7:29 - why are you paying the $100,000? You admit you are not mostly not using/receiving services so one can only assume you consider dues a form of tzedakah.