Monday, June 5, 2017


I received the following over the transom from a Large City Federation leader:

Dear Friends, 

We look forward to seeing you at the June Board Meeting of JFNA and in particular at our meeting for Large City Size Presidents and Trustees, taking place on Sunday, June 4, 2017, at 4 pm at the offices of UJA Federation of New York. Per a suggestion we received, we will focus our discussion on this topic: 

"With no dues increase or other revenue enhancements in sight, and continuing cost increases every year, resulting in an inevitable need to make choices, what do the large city leaders view as JFNA's key businesses?  For example, should we try to move more towards being a membership organization focusing on the needs of our members, or should we focus more on being a national/international voice?"

In a parallel effort, you should know that Richard Sandler and Cindy Shapira, chair and vice-chair of the Board, are in the process of conducting interviews in a very similar vein with the Large City Executives group. Based on the questions Richard and Cindy are asking the LCEs, we thought it would be helpful to focus our conversation using the following questions and wanted you to have them in advance of our meeting:

1. What do you consider the purpose and goals of JFNA?
2.  How effective do you think JFNA is in performing its activities and achieving its goals?

3.  What is your understanding of the most important activities performed by JFNA staff?

4.  Are there specific activities that JFNA engages in that you believe it should discontinue? 

Please come prepared for our conversation; if you have any questions or comments, as always, please don’t hesitate to reach out for any of us. We look forward to seeing you on Sunday June 4, and wish you all a chag Shavuot sameach.

Tom, Leslie, Cindy"
When I read this, quite frankly, I did not know whether to laugh or cry, ultimately opting for a primal scream. For JFNA and Federation lay leaders to find themselves asking these questions 17+ years after the merger, tells one all one needs to know about the futility of this organization under this leadership at this time. These discussions, at this time, border on the cynical and cross the line into the irresponsible.

And the timing couldn't be more exquisite (or grossly negligent) could it? This meeting took place last night literally on the cusp of the approval of another $30+ million Budget, a Budget that in a normal organization would express the means of implementation of the vision, mission and business purposes of the organization. And, while the FY 2017-2018 Budget does present, at some length, a set of priorities and goals, these must be fictional inasmuch as at JFNA the leadership is attempting to find out just what its purposes, goals, priorities and the means of implementing them should be, the Budget be damned.* Once again, JFNA leadership works at cross-purposes, taking actions that totally conflict with one another, its Board and the vast number of federations totally in the dark.

And, the audience -- just the Large City Federation representatives -- 19 communities -- not the Large Intermediate, not the Intermediate, not the Small and certainly not the Network. You can take it for what it's worth that 70% of the federations have been excluded and ignored...again.

But, I digress. The glaringly obvious presumptions of this "conversation" seem to include:

  1. We cannot be both an organization focused on the federations and a "national/international voice for the federation" at one and the same time because of budget constraints;
  2. That JFNA has  "purpose(s)"
  3. That JFNA has "goals;" 
  4. That JFNA has "key businesses" that have to be curtailed due to limits imposed by its annual Dues budget.
Sadly, each presumption in this secret communication is wholly rebuttable. I mean, really, have some in leadership honestly suggested that JFNA has been unable to perform the roles assigned to it 17 years ago because of its own budget limitations? Does anyone, other than CEO Jerry, believe this to be the case?

All of us know, from our business experiences and our non-profit roles that leadership is all about making "choices." If the exercise described in the announcement of the meeting above is to help this leadership make real choices -- the choices that this leadership should have made years ago and as recently as the date on which Silverman's contract was renewed -- that might be a good thing. If it is merely destined as other JFNA "conversations" have been -- one that just makes everybody feel warm and fuzzy with no real changes in the offing -- then the response should be: "Please don't waste our time."

Were I asked I would first challenge JFNA's leaders, lay and professional, to answer these threshold questions: 

  1. What do you believe to be JFNA's "purposes, goals and 'key businesses'"?
  2. Why can't JFNA perform with excellence under a $30 Million annual Dues Budget?
  3. What is needed to enable JFNA to both serve the federation members and act as their national/international voice?
For if the lay and professional leaders of JFNA can't answer these essential questions, and clearly they cannot, then the answer is clear -- it's past time, long past time, to clean house. For we are 17+ years into an entity that still doesn't know its way; it is lost.

Very lost.


* We will have more to say abut this "Budget" in an upcoming Post. It is an astonishing and exasperating document, this year more than ever.


Anonymous said...

As someone from an intermediate Federation, I find this to be so frustrating. I understand that the larger communities pay an inordinate amount of the JFNA dues, but they also request the least from JFNA. They have enormous staffs and basically fill every role JFNA can provide on their own.

Why not ask the USERS what they want and need?

There is no doubt $30 million is too great a budget (JFNA will tell you they need a $45 million budget) and that we are not receiving the benefit in return for our dues. Regardless, why not reach out to communities of my size and ask for their input.

Shame on the JFNA (big city) leadership for leaving out 70% of the people JFNA purports to serve.

Anonymous said...

As a former large intermediate city size EVP I completely agree with your comments. If I were at the meeting or asked in a survey to participate I would suggest the answers might be:

1. What do you consider the purpose and goals of JFNA? Richard’s answer is 100% the correct one. After 17 years what the h…. has this organization been doing?

2. How effective do you think JFNA is in performing its activities and achieving its goals? This is impossible to answer without understanding the answer to number 1 above.

3. What is your understanding of the most important activities performed by JFNA staff? The correct question is “What is your understanding of what the most important functions SHOULD be?

4. Are there specific activities that JFNA engages in that you believe it should discontinue? Stop hiring and renewing the contract of incompetent and unqualified CEO’s.

Anonymous said...

Sandler, now joined at the hip in failure by Cindy Shapira, should be embarrassed at the state that JFNA is in. In fact they should be beyond embarrassment. My federation will, with others, reevaluate our continuing participation in what Richard has properly identified as a clown show. I am meeting with our CEO today and we will work with other communities of like mind (and we believe there are many within our City-size group, to demand a total restructuring of the organization or we will leave it, and that restructuring must start with a new maybe interim CEO and the creation of an organization accountable to all federations not just the few and largest.

Enough is enough.

Anonymous said...

You have not highlighted one seminal issue here -- the organization is being "led" by a Board Chair whose claim to infamy is that he abdicates all lay responsibility to his CEO (he might have gotten away with it in LA where he actually had a CEO) but he's not getting away with it at JFNA where he has none; a single Vice Chair who's never led a federation and a CEO who hasn't a clue how to lead a complex organization. Thus, JFNA isn't being led by anyone with a clue how federations truly work. And, now the lay leaders are summoning federations to tell the what JFNA should be doing? Insanity.

Anonymous said...

Richard, this situation is not "the one-eyed man/woman is King/Queen," it is the blind "leading" the blind.

Anonymous said...

I think your readers are missing another point here.You have lay leaders organizing and ostensibly leading meetings including those with "Large City CEOs" without any mention of the JFNA CEO. Apparently, they are willing to pay Jerry Silverman 3 times what he should be earning for doing less than 1/2 the job he was hired to do so long as they can totally emasculate him in this way. And from Silverman, not a peep. They ought to be ashamed but of course they are not. And if the LCE choose to meet with Sandler and Shapira without stating clearly this is not how things are done in a place where the lay-pro partnership is to be a bedrock, they share the shame.

Anonymous said...

I left these Board meetings with questions: why do I and others continue to attend? why does my federation continue to pay horrific amounts in Dues? why does this version of a continental organization continue to exist?

I'm returning to my community with a recommendation that we seek common cause with the federation leaders with whom I spoke the last 24 hours, all of whom are asking the same or similar questions. JFNA's leaders can no longer ignore what is going on merely because they have coopted your CEO, Richard, along with Hoffman, Goldstein, Solomon and Sanderson.

Anonymous said...

Blah, blah, blah...
Really, asking all of these questions on the eve of approving the $30 million budget?
Is this what JFNA would recommend to federations if asked how to structure change in their local federation?
Would the JFNA consultants or whoever at 25 Broadway recommend this bizarro-like timing sequence?
This discussion should have occurred 6 months ago (actually 6 years ago).
JFNA leadership should be ashamed of themselves, particularly the 3 who sent out the questions to their peers. My guess is that they would never pen such a request in SF, Pittsburgh, or Metrowest.

Nothing, absolutely nothing, will happen until the likes of Anon 8:18 actually say to JFNA that they will not pay what JFNA calculates to be their share of the bloated $30 million. And if by some chance there is a, to use JFNA's favorite phrase, 'coalition of the willing', then perhaps it will get someone's attention.
But don't count on it: The leadership at JFNA is both deaf and blind.

Anonymous said...

The fault no longer lies with JFNA leadership. Neither professional or lay. They are who they are. They do what they do.
How many times have I read on this blog that someone says they are going to pull back their dues. But what happens nothing
The local ceo's will not ruffle feathers of national. They too are tied up in this mess.
Only lay leadership can solve this mess. Only lay leadership can stand up at a local board meeting and say enough is enough.
MLK one said, " the biggest sin in life is to know what is right and not to do it".
Looks like a bunch of sinners we have truly become

JProactivists said...

Jfna-ujc had as its public goal in 2000 to raise the campaign levels and thus raise the overseas allocations as well. The efforts toward this goal are an utter failure. It is time ... as others have said for lay leaders to decide to stop funding jfna until there is ageement on purpose. The combined uja cjf uia budgets were $52m Today uia has the same budget as 2000 more ore less which costs jfna about half or less than $700,000 . It still produces millions in real income. Uja budget was about $30 million and was funded not by dues but from the overseas funding streams. It produced or help produce real campaign dollars. Cjf had dues for its support. It was a consulting and convening body for and owned by federations. It did professional placement ( gone) shared leadership development with uja(weak) and provided a great resource in its planning department to federations( gone). Uja will not be resurrected. Uia continues to provide a real service. Jfna needs to recalibrate as a service to federations with the Washington office ,a good research and planning team, a rabbinic and leadership cabinet worth having, a serious placement effort , the network and perhaps scan. Well run the budget would be less and the value of jfna improved P.s, the israel operation is almost entirely unnecessary and a huge drain for no gain

Anonymous said...

I agree totally with Anon 7:41. The CEOs won't act; it's the lay leaders' money (not intended in any way to malign the professionals) and they are the only ones that can make something happen.
To JProactivists, no FRD function at JFNA 2.0?