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."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,Becky"
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.