Sunday, January 14, 2018


Just when one believes that Jerry Silverman and his lay leadership can go no lower...they do. Now JFNA has truly hit rock bottom. Let me obviously disgruntled JFNA Executive Committee Member sent me the November 30 JFNA Financial Resource Development Report. In pertinent part, here is what the Report disclosed for the aggregate 2017 and 2018 Annual  Campaigns:

"2018 Campaign
  •   To date, Federations have raised $250,553,957 million for the 2018 General Campaign compared to $294,600,812 million at this time last year—a 15% decrease.
  •   To date, the total number of gifts for the 2018 Annual Campaign is 64,247 compared to 93,949 at this time last year —a 31.7% decrease.
  •   To date, the Women’s Campaign has raised $52,405,418 million compared to $74,991,465 million at this time last year - a 30.1% decrease.
  •   To date, the total number of gifts for the 2017 Women’s Campaign is 25,600 compared to 38,369 at this time last year — a 33.3% decrease.
 2017 Campaign
           To date, of the 148 Federations (plus NETWORK), 59 (40%) have      reported final results to JFNA for the 2017 campaign.
o 7 (11.8%) are Large 12 (20.3%) are Large Intermediate o 23 (39%) are Intermediateo 17 (28.8%) are Small
 Of the communities who have reported final 2017 campaign results, *27 closed ahead of their 2016 totals
o 4 Large 7 Large Intermediate  8 Intermediate 8 Small
  •   To date, Federations have raised $821,757,086 million for the 2017 General Campaign compared to $894,145,426 million at this time last year—an 8.1% decrease.
  •   To date, the total number of gifts for the 2017 Annual Campaign is 304,876 compared to 368,699 at this time last year —a 17.3% decrease.
  •   To date, the Women’s Campaign has raised $181,494,925 million compared to $191,192,502 million at this time last year - a 5.1% decrease.
  •   To date, the total number of gifts for the 2017 Women’s Campaign is 108,154 compared to 122,327 at this time last year — an 11.6% decrease." (Emphasis added. NB, I have omitted the 2016 Campaign bullet points.)
 In other words, even with very preliminary returns and no context -- disaster. Big time disaster. These stats portend an ugly reality for JFNA and the federations. Just one critical datapoint should suffice as an horrific warning: 

With reference to the 2017 Annual Campaign numbers to date at $822 Million, compared to the $895 Million at the same time for 2016, it would be critical to reflect that in the 2016 Campaign, between December 2016 and June 2017 (when all the "Final" numbers are reported'), only an additional $24 Million was raised (The data on the 2016 campaign evidences that it closed at $919 Million).......This year-to-year comparison highlights an overwhelming problem  -- if the 2017 Campaign only raised an additional $24 Million on top of the $822 Million, there is the real possibility of closing at around $846 Million....down around $73 Million!!!!!!!
So what did the Executive Committee do with this devastating (albeit preliminary) data on 2017 and 2018? This may not surpriase you, though in any other organization, it would: In the middle of this FRD presentation, Jerry Silverman interrupted to say that the Report "wasn't valid:" that it wasn't a comparison of "apples to apples." (No, I don't have a clue what the hell Jerry was talking about either.)  It's evident that Silverman didn't want this Report discussed -- especially by lay persons. G-d forbid. 

But the data are real. They evidence the potentially devastating collapse of federation annual campaigns and of the donor base that supports them...and, the real possibility of the end of the federation as the central planning and fund raising body for the Jewish community. (And we know that that is already the reality in a growing number of communities.)

I am going to give Jerry the benefit of the doubt -- that he wished to protect the federations from these preliminary revelations. Yet...

  • Didn't Jerry read this Report before the meeting and understand (or have someone explain the implications to him if he did not understand them) the implications of the Report's findings?
  • Does Jerry realize that JFNA's FRD Department should have been offering Campaign "best practices" to communities with terribly faltering campaigns -- isn't that what the JFNA Consulting Team and its esteemed part-time Senior Consultant are supposed to be doing?
  • Was that Consulting Team even aware of the Report? If not, why not? In fact, prior to its presentation who at JFNA FRD was aware of the Report and capable of interpreting it to the Executive Committee (or anyone else)
  • Did the Executive Committee or the Board Chair object to Silverman's demand that the Report be pulled in the midst of its presentation and, as Silverman expressed it, "ignored?"
Look, Friends, the reality is that those at JFNA either don't know what to do in light of the facts disclosed in the Report, so they suppress the Report, ascribing to it the deadly "it was incorrect" but, having no facts to support that claim, they just want it all to go away, to be "ignored." Sure, the Report is too preliminary for drawing any final conclusions for the 2017 and 2018 Campaigns but an intelligent organization with intelligent leadership would be asking some serious questions. Like:

  • Why do so many of the federation owners refuse to trust JFNA with Campaign data? This has been a constant even with Federations literallyowning the totality of the organization since the merger.
  • If we are truly expending 50% of the Federation Dues Budget on FRD, why has the system achieved not just no results but only negative results?
  • Does anyone at JFNA, including that Senior FRD Consultant, remember that the merger that created JFNA was premised upon, inter alia, "more dollars and more donors" or have they confused this with "less dollars and fewer donors?"
  • Inasmuch as the data clearly prove that under JFNA the system is producing far fewer dollars and  is in the midst of a major, calamitous drop in donors, what is the JFNA plan for leading the system out of the morass in which it finds itself?
  • Where is Brian Abrahams? (Some of you may remember my congratulatory Post upon Brian's hiring in July 2016. "A Great Hire." That was then and this is now.)
Chevre, I asked JFNA senior leadership to please explain what they meant in characterizing the Report as "incorrect." Isn't three weeks enough time for them to conjure a response? You might think so...but this is JFNA after all. 

Having heard nothing in response I can only conclude that I but, more importantly, the entire JFNA Board and Executive Committee are expected to just "accept" leadership's conclusions, leave them alone and sha...sha. This is the same expectation they have when they declare consultant contracts to be confidential. These leaders' unilateral determinations of anything and everything are not to be questioned. Ever. And this dictate is no way to run an organization -- not your federation, not mine and not our continental organization. 

There might have been reasons to ask that this Report be recalled. A few do come to mind:

  • The data are so preliminary that their release at this point in time could raise questions that may be answered as more detailed systemwide results emerge;
  • JFNA FRD needs to do a deep dive into these early returns before any discussion could be truly productive; or, even...
  • "Sorry, releasing this data now is a terrible idea -- terrible for JFNA and terrible for the federations"
But, "incorrect"... no.


Facts are denied. The reality is that our system is losing donors at an absolutely alarming rate -- couple that skyrocketing loss with the inexorable aging of the most significant donors to federations and there should be an on-going crisis response from JFNA. Instead, a Report which disclosed the potential extent of the crisis is deemed "incorrect." 

And, in a year of enormous wealth growth for so many, the preliminary data prove that annual campaigns in the aggregate are down...and dropping. As anyone who has run an Annual Campaign or merely studied them knows, Campaigns generally reflect a curve -- rapid growth early in the campaign then flattening out as the campaign "ages." When a Campaign begins poorly (see the data for the 2018 Campaigns), the challenges become all the more daunting. 

Crises compound and it is so evident that JFNA is taking the path that it travels so often -- sticking its collective head in the sand and hoping the crises just go away.

JFNA MIA. This has to end...NOW..



Anonymous said...

Your last few weeks of comments have been quite trenchant, disturbing and distressing.

How can any Federation, especially a big city Federation, defend the tens of millions of dollars wasted by this organization?

Heck, they can't even provide financials within six months.

If they were a public company, they would be sued by the SEC and delisted from trading!

Don't the large Federations have an obligation to fix it now or forever renounce any claim to being a true and faithful fiduciary of their donor's funds?

Why should I give another dime to my Federation unless they stand at the front of the line to demand accountability and change?

Otherwise, another 5% of my donor funds are completely wasted on top of whatever admin and fundraising costs my donations cover.

And shouldn't New York - with $8 million wasted on JFNA annually - lead the way? They can no longer keep their head in the sand or look in another direction.

Anonymous said...

Why do the big federations and their leadership allow this waste of money to persist?

Don't they know that the national organization is what the new millennial donors will see and become disaffected to supporting Federations?

The catchwords today is transparency, accountability and effectiveness.

Anonymous said...

Waiting for the following responses:
"I never said that"
"I was in the room and did not hear that"
And perhaps our relief at the response to the Haaretz expose were premature. Our donors may not be forgiving - a third may no longer care and have given up.

Anonymous said...

Richard-why do so many people at JFNA have in their e-mail headings. "From the Desk Of..." Seems odd, borderline solipsistic.

RWEX said...

Great catch. I think these self-serving Memo headings are designed to show:

1. A sense of unearned self-importance; and

2. "Look at me, I've got a desk and you don't."

Anonymous said...

Can you ask them to include pictures of said desk?
Perhaps they could email the pictures for you to share