Tuesday, August 1, 2017


JFNA held an important Board meeting in New York City in June. "Important" mainly to those in attendance.

Here are some highlights:

  • Shhhhh.  The Board Chair kicked off the meeting with a statement designed "...to remind the Board of its fiduciary obligation to raise board issues within the board structure and to model our values including refraining from indulging in Lashon Hara." In other words, although it's pretty clear: "say nothing critical at any time." As I've written often "criticism of any kind is considered to be lashon hara to the leaders of JFNA." (BTW, if you don't catch it, Spell-Check will automatically convert "lashon" into "lasagna" -- which does change the meaning after all.)  It is of interest to this writer that the only mention of "fiduciary obligation" at this meeting was in the demand for "silence." So, out of respect for the Board Chair's admonition, I will only write and comment today about matters in the Minutes of JFNA, a public charity.
  • Change. The draftsperson of those Minutes evidenced an excellent sense of humor when the Minutes stated that at this meeting "[C]hange was in the air..." Sure, but only in the turnover of various chairs. Otherwise...business as usual. The Budget about which I have reflected on these pages as structured by its express language to be nothing more than "a suggestion," inspired a unanimous approval. When reading this my thoughts returned to the Board Chair's admonition about "fiduciary obligation" and my own sense, sadly, that that obligation is observed in form (everything's confidential), rather than substance. 
  • Jerry Silverman. Oy. Here is what Jerry had to say:
"JFNA President and CEO Jerry Silverman reported on JFNA’s activities to date. “I am more optimistic than ever,” he said, and then listed a series of impressive initiatives and accomplishments; including:
  • A series of incredible national missions and events taking place over the next few months (see full list below);
  • National Young Leadership Cabinet, Federations’ hallmark leadership development program, has been completely reimagined and reengineered;
  • A team of very seasoned consultants have spent the past nine months working with individual Federations in an effort to develop targeted engagement plans to strengthen the health of each one; and
  • Since inception, our National Jewish Federation Bond Pool has helped facilitate $1.4 billion in financing for capital projects of Federations and their agencies."
         Join me in looking carefully at the causes of Jerry's "optimism:"

      • "Incredible national missions" -- unmentioned are the national Missions canceled in 2017 because of lack of interest/attendance. Perhaps Richard and Jerry (or Jerry and Richard) should have considered just why JFNA didn't think it appropriate or necessary, or both, to convene a leadership Mission to Jerusalem celebrating both the 50th Anniversary of Six Day War and the Reunification of Jerusalem. Inconvenient? Didn't think of it? Indifferent? This omission is what's really "incredible."
      • The YLC's "completely reimagined and reengineered" plan is being rolled out -- please get your hands on it; you will find, as I have, that this product, the result of a two+ year long consultant study, is nothing more than old wine in new bottles -- old wine from a bad vintage at that. Once again, as is the rule at JFNA, with no institutional memory and no interest in the successful models from the past, there is no "there there"
      • That "team of very seasoned consultants" that have worked the past year? Two part-time consultants plus part-time consultant Vicki Agron -- that was it. The "team." Definitely "seasoned," great professionals. How many? Few. Very few. How many community consultations? 22...that's twenty-two...that's "robust?" Now Agron (not the Sr. V-P FRD, the consultant, Agron) has hired two more part-time consultants, also "seasoned," like the first two, probably great. BTW, those consultants were engaged to assist Federations with FRD; now, with nothing else going, they will be asked to provide more comprehensive consulting services to the communities. This only makes sense from a JFNA Budget standpoint; not at all from a federation service standpoint.
      • The National Jewish Federation Bond Fund has been great. So glad that I thought of it years ago. Seriously, a terrific spin-off of my original plan to market a team of bond experts to the federations. The Bond Fund leadership has has done a great job with it. 
      • If you find cause for "optimism" from this litany, I have a Bridge to sell you, The fact that this is the list that Jerry provided the Board indicates to me how much he takes the Board's approbation for granted. "Is this all there is, my friends, is that all there is?"
  • The Annual Campaign. Outgoing National Campaign Chair Harold Gernsbacher, who did an incredible, indefatigable job in the face of incredible odds and institutional obstacles (like "why are we doing FRD?"), in his final message stated a fact: "While the average gift per donor is up, he said, the number of donors is down." Harold has never struck me before as a master of understatement, he has now. Here's the reality: the merger promised a cutting edge organization dedicated to "more donors and more dollars." It has produced neither; it has helped not a single federation to date to produce either.  Annual campaigns in the aggregate are in stasis and the number of donors has literally collapsed. In a New York Times article from November 28, 1988, U.J.A., at 50, Is Thriving but Also Being Challenged, the author noted that the then national organization "[L]ast year...collected $720 million, from about a million donors, roughly a third of all Jewish households in the United States." Today, the aggregate annual campaign is, adjusted for inflation, far below that $720 million and the number of donors has fallen to somewhere around 200,000...and JFNA appears incapable of doing anything about it.
How does the JFNA laity, each and every one of them a leader in at least their own community, continue to support the institutional fecklessness that the organization exhibits 24/6? Is there some By-Law that dictates fealty to this JFNA imperium?


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