Wednesday, June 14, 2017


A few weeks ago Federation CEOs received a modified generic letter from Rebecca Caspi, the head of the futile JFNA-Israel, which a lay person in one of our best and largest communities sent on to me with a terse comment that read "!!!!":
"As you may have heard, JFNA’s Israel and Overseas Committee recently launched a new targeted advocacy effort for Federations called the Envoy Program. Through this program, national lay leaders including Chicago Federation’s David Brown, Chair of the I&O Committee, and other volunteers visit local communities, engaging on a peer-to-peer level to educate, empower, and inspire ongoing support for the Israel and Overseas agenda.
Depending on your interests and needs, an Envoy visit could include meeting with members of your I&O and Allocation Committees, representatives from Young Leadership and Women’s Philanthropy, key members of your board and senior professionals. We could also invite leaders from the Jewish Agency for Israel, JDC, and World ORT to join the gathering, working with them in advance to ensure a smooth and synergized* presentation. Envoy visits are typically implemented at a Board meeting or through several smaller meetings.   This helps communities avoid incurring extra costs as a result of the visit.  Note that our amazing volunteers fully cover the costs of their own travel!
To prepare the Envoy to effectively engage with your community, we would provide them with background information on your Federation’s overseas allocations and specific interests. But we know well that numbers don’t tell the whole story and it would be helpful to hear from you about critical I&O issues in your community and any history or information that would be relevant to a discussion about your Federation’s overseas allocation.
Looking back as we look forward, I believe you must feel as I do that  the decline of I&O allocations across the system has come at a time when Jews around the world are less economically or politically secure then they were a decade ago. And we know from experience that it is Federation that provides a safety net and the ability to respond to crises as they occur.
I hope that together we can find a way to customize and leverage this opportunity in support of all your efforts to strengthen and build your community and perhaps, give one more booster shot to help all you built endure!
I have copied Rina Goldberg, the lead staff for JFNA on this effort, and we welcome any questions you may have.
Looking forward to hearing from you,
I have written more than once encouraging JFNA to enter into a serious Overseas Advocacy program bringing an educated laity to the communities side-by-side with representatives of the Overseas partners to dialogue for an increase in core allocations. I applaud this effort (which, contrary to the suggestion in Caspi's letter, began over one year ago) but at the same time I, along with others, know this to be way too little and way, way too late. I commend the intent but have come to understand that almost none of the federations contacted in this way (why is it always a letter??) have responded enthusiastically, if at all.

Federations have reduced their overseas allocations to core to the lowest annual levels EVER. And the momentum that has led to this sorry state has developed over the life of JFNA while that organization, charged with responsibility for advocacy with the federations, had remained silent; or worse. (In his first months on the job, knowing even less than he does today, Jerry spoke to a major federation's Board and offered, without being asked, that JFNA "...will never ask you to raise your overseas allocations" --or words to that effect.  Good work.

JFNA fails to understand that decades ago, first JDC and, then, JAFI and WorldORT have been in the communities developing contingents of major donors in support of their efforts. I can tell you from personal experiences how daunting it was to visit San Francisco and Boston, as examples, to advocate for all of the Overseas partners only to be confronted with passionate support for one organization and literal, visceral hatred for the others -- that hasn't changed; in fact, it's worse today., baked in over decades. So JFNA sets out to remake the wheel once again -- forget the history of a decade ago when JFNA embarked on a short-lived advocacy effort under superb lay and professional leadership and forget the long history of UJA's successful advocacy efforts -- because JFNA-Israel apparently has so little to do (!!), ignore the history, ignore the playbook sitting at 25 Broadway; start from scratch with no base knowledge of (a) how to do so; (b) how it has been implemented in the past; and (3) whether the path JFNA has chosen is the best one to follow. 

This is exactly how JFNA goes about its business in all things.

You cannot train a group of "Envoys," "Ambassadors," "troubadours" or whatever you might call them when the organization has wiped out the institutional memory that would inform the lay leaders of what to anticipate and how to respond. And, as all of you who read these Posts with any regularity know, there is not a single professional leader at 25 Broadway and, even more certainly, none at JFNA-Israel where a lack of federation experience appears to be a pre-condition to service, with the necessary federation background and experience to support this effort. Who will train/prepare the "envoys" to visit communities where the understanding of overseas needs is often bi-polar -- ranging from none to an intensive exposure to the reality or myth of a single overseas partner's work and, in those cases, far more knowledge than any "envoy" will bring to the effort. What happens then? Further embarrassment and a "we'll get back to you," one of JFNA's favorite misrepresentations.

Then, there was this in Caspi's letter:
"We could also invite leaders from the Jewish Agency for Israel, JDC, and World ORT to join the gathering, working with them in advance to ensure a smooth and synergized presentation. Envoy visits are typically implemented at a Board meeting or through several smaller meetings.   This helps communities avoid incurring extra costs as a result of the visit" (emphasis added)
This boils down, of course, to this "JFNA ain't paying the costs of any representative from JAFI, JDC, WorldORT -- you will if you want them. So the "envoys" will be on their own and they will pay their own way. And, who is training/educating the "envoys:" Caspi? JAFI? JDC? If you take a look at the original schedule for the first "envoy" training, you will see that the partners' representatives were given almost no time whatsoever to educate these well-meaning volunteers.

So,what can be done? First, JFNA could (as UJA did) absorb the expense of bringing the experts -- the top pros and lay leaders from WorldORT, JDC and JAFI -- to the communities and also let them lead the JFNA lay volunteers' training. Second, if this is really to be a serious effort, outreach to the communities must be a serious effort -- doing it the "JFNA way" -- writing a letter and suggesting that the CEO recipient call JFNA "if interested" is about as stupid and unrealistic and JFNA as any. 

Finally, and most important, if the "Envoys" are truly committed and want to demonstrate their impact, start their advocacy in their home communities. For example, leading the way, David Brown might start in Chicago and other leaders in their own federations. Let's see how that would work.

Like that's going to happen.



Anonymous said...

Richard, this envoy program is pure folly and of course, so JFNA.
The structure of the program is its death-knell: You cannot sustain a program of this scope with only volunteers. Compassionate and committed as they all may be, they do not and will not commit the time required to develop and sustain the relationships with the federations that this program requires
And this goes back to the JFNA budget.
I don't know where the $30 million goes, but a cursory glance at the services provided indicates that there isn't sufficient staff at 25 Broadway to steward a process such as this one.
I challenge any JFNA board member to make a list of JFNA professionals currently on staff who have the relationships with the federations.
This will go the way of the Global Planning Table and the new ENP.

Anonymous said...

This is quite the service JFNA is providing at your federation's expense and mine. We get a lay leader who will know less about the overseas agencies and their work than do members of our Boards and we will only get actual experts from those overseas partners if we pay for them. We will also be getting what JFNA calls Envoys who will know nothing about the communities they are visiting other than what we tell them (much like Silverman who knows nothing about us other than what we tell him before a speech which, apparently, he promptly forgets as soon as he is back on a plane).

If the organization hs any sense of embarrassment, this would be a good time to show it.

Anonymous said...

How can anyone expect JFNA Global Operations to advocate for anything beyond itself? It is absurd to think that they are going to advocate for our overseas "partners" (JDC, JAFI and World ORT) when they themselves don't want to support them and would rather attempt to direct funding to other boutique NGOs in Israel or, even better, to keep it themselves for their own global "programming" attempts. This is a classic case of conflict of intrest.
It is time for the organizations that were once real "partners" and are now not even seen as preferred service "service providers" to go independent and fend for themselves.
Will this wreck the system? No, because it is already wrecked, evidently beyond repair.
This top-heavy ship is going to sink anyway and it would be a shame it the organizations in Israel that can best serve our interests and get the job done for us go down with it.
The time has come for them and for us to "abandon ship" and find a better way to raise the needed resources and to get the job done!

Anonymous said...

Unless we care enough and can find the leadership, strength and determination needed to throw the pirates that have seized our ship overboard and put it back on course!

paul jeser said...

So – since we all know the problem, what is the solution?

My vision – or at least the beginning of a concept: We need a totally new communal structure.

• The Federation should no longer raise funds to directly allocate to other institutions, agencies or programs.

Thus it will not be seen as a competitor.

This is the key.

Once the Federation is no longer an advocate for any specific organization, agency or program, it can become the ‘honest-broker’ for the donors and agencies and the effective organization the community needs.

• The Federation should be the communal organization whose responsibility it is to:
o Serve as a resource for all organizations in the areas of fundraising, leadership, staff development and management.

o Serve as a resource for all donors and provide ‘fair and balanced’ (sorry FNC) information about all programs and projects needing funding.

o Serve as the place where all organizational leaders meet to discuss the issues – not necessarily to force a consensus but to allow for open discussion in a neutral environment.

o Serve as a true ‘community relations committee/council’ in developing relationships between the Jewish and non-Jewish community and even within the Jewish community.

o Serve as the community-wide outreach organization to motivate those not involved to become involved and assist them in developing their own paths.

o Convene the community in times of crises or special need. Play the major role in the development and coordination of community action, programs, and responses.

• Federation leadership should include the top local leadership (lay and pro) of all communal organizations and, as importantly, the top donors (who may be much more willing to serve in this new institution than in what we now currently have).

• Funding for this ‘new’ Federation will have to come from the cadre of communal donors who, if they buy in to the new concept, will see this new structure as a benefit to all, not as a waste of time and money.

• This vision does not see the need for the JFNA since the JAFI and the JDC and all other organizationswhich receive JFNA funding will, as many other organizations already do, raise funds directly in the community. This vision does see the necessity for an organization much the same as the CJF was – a national umbrella resource for all communities.

This is drastic surgery for the community. However, without it, or something close to it, we will continue to see the diminution of the one community organization/structure that is so needed.

PAUL JESER said...


In the late 1970’s Project Renewal was proposed by the Jewish Agency and accepted by the Federation world. Many voiced reservations; not because the goal was not a wonderful one, but because they felt that once donors had the ability to so specifically designate their gifts (even with the parameters being agreed upon) doors would be opened that could never be closed.

There is a story about an incident that took place in the mid-70's during the discussion most Federations had about supporting Soviet Jewish Refuseniks who came to America (versus only funding those who went to Israel). A major Orlando Federation donor and board member, who felt strongly that all Soviet Jews should go to Israel and if they came to America should not be supported, seeing that he was in the very small minority, made the following statement: “I know that in a traditional democracy my position will be defeated, but let me redefine democracy for you: traditional democracy believes that one person has one vote; in my democracy, one dollar equals one vote.” Since his gift was more than all the rest of the Board members collectively, he felt that his position should prevail. Of course it didn't as it should not have. But the lesson was there – he did not want others to decide how to allocate his contribution!

Whether right or wrong, whether good for the community or bad, the fact is that most people, and certainly most – if not all - major donors do not want others to allocate their contributions and certainly do not want to spend time in organizational life.

We are now decades later. The desire and ability to have more control over ones own gift and what Project Renewal began has resulted in the unbelievable growth and strength of dozens (if not hundreds) of niche organizations, hundreds (!) of significant family foundations and the significant weakening of the Federation world.

PAUL JESER said...



Here is a slightly revised paper I wrote many years ago. The 'vision' does not include a JFNA at all. It might not be the right answer, but one IS needed - and, soon....

Paul Jeser –

Many lay leaders and professionals who are or were part of the Federation world are looking at what is happening today with very great sadness.

In the ‘good ole days’ (were they really that good?) the Federation was the key player in all, if not most, communities. In the ‘good ole days’ the Federations attracted the top leaders, the most significant donors, and the most creative and visionary professionals. In the ‘good ole days’ the Federations were looked to for guidance and support by the entire Jewish Community.

From what I read, see and hear, with very few exceptions, this is certainly not the case today.

Most major leaders and donors have decided that institutional life is not for them. They have set up their own Foundations, decided upon their own priorities, formed their own umbrella support system and have hired top staff.

So – as many of my friends have said: ‘Yes, we all know the problem – so what is the answer?”

I may not have THE answer, but I do have a vision.

But first, as the song says, let’s start at the very beginning.

I may be wrong, but I think that the most significant event that began the slide down the slippery slope was…. Project Renewal!

Yup – that great and most effective program began the downfall of the Federation world.

In the 50's, 60's and 70's, the major communal organizations were the Federations and their support organizations, the UJA and CJF. They attracted the major donors, leaders and professionals. That world was where all the action happened. It was the place to be.

Outside of the Synagogue world, and as a somewhat educated guess, probably 80%++ of all Jewish giving came through the Federation world. The Israel Education Fund was a quiet way that major gifts could be given through the Federation, not be allocated through the general campaign process, and be designated for special projects in Israel. With that exception most all other charitable giving and allocation was controlled by the Federation.

Anonymous said...

Moving on, the "Envoys" Program is laughable. My federation is not interested in someone untrained and from "out of town" coming into our community to suggest what we should do with our hard-earned resources especially when JFNA has done absolutely nothing to raise those dollars and lacks the expertise, as Richard has suggested, that is available to us from the beneficiary reps who are already in our community with regularity seeking significant funds.

I like Richard's idea -- have these "selfless" Envoys visit their own community Boards and allocations committees and demonstrate their ability there to change the equation.

Anonymous said...

This is the Global Planning Table 2.0.
A concept created in closed-door sessions of senior management at JFNA, with no input from the professionals at 25 Broadway or more importantly from the federations.

Where is the justification for all this work and dollar and time commitment going forward?
Did the JFNA board at their meetings last week approve a budget for this?

Where is the accountability that Jerry Silverman demands from others?

Anonymous said...

If there's a Budget for this balagan it is hidden in the bowels of Israel-Overseas+FRD+Marketing. You'll never find it. It is just JFNA's way. Like every other ill-conceived program under these people, it's top down dictation and has already met with federation rejection. Another waste.

Anonymous said...

Agree with Anon 2:40.
But if there is federation rejection (and I agree that there is), where are the voices?
Are the LCE rejecting this at the outset, or are they just waiting for another failure?

Anonymous said...

The LCE's won't do anything - they simply don't want the responsibility to fix JFNA.

Anonymous said...

Re Anon 6:58 am: Then it all goes back to Lay Leadership, and they have just walked away.
What gets me is that for some reason these local federation leaders either are clueless to the folly at 25 Broadway, or they are aware, but for some reason they see something good in being involved with an organization so devoid of purpose.
I don't know which is worse.