Sunday, April 8, 2018


One of you, anonymously of course, clearly much smarter than I, recently commented on my Post decrying the JFNA murder of the National Agencies/Jewish Federations Alliance, as follows:

"Ah...another lament for the end of something that wasn't working anymore for anyone. Please stop measuring success as the funding of things that "used to be oh so great." (Similarly, please stop judging the system by how much money JAFI and JDC and ORT get.) JFNA does need to figure out what Federations can/should/are willing to do together -- and it's done a lousy job of that, but ending the Alliance was a necessary thing to do because times have changed. So many things that you, Richard, count as major JFNA failings would have died no matter the national structure (merger or no merger) because Federations, communities and the giving landscape are so different now. The question to tackle is -- what can and should be done collectively now given today's realities?"
This was certainly fair commentary even as it excuses all -- that's all -- of JFNA's failures over its existence and then suggests that it's up to JFNA " figure out what Federations can/should/are willing to do." Up to JFNA -- really? This formulation reminds me of the story of the child who murders his parents and then asks for mercy as the murderer is now an orphan. 

"Times have changed" is an unassailable fact but that fact is not an excuse for doing absolutely nothing but sitting back, sighing and, well...doing nothing. No advocacy for the federations, no firing up the troops, no passion, no purpose. One of you recently challenged my readers to identify a single JFNA accomplishment over Jerry's 9 years of work. Other than the work of JFNA-Washington I have heard none...none loud and clear. 

Was the National Agencies Alliance "not working?" Probably, but that failure was not the fault of the National Agencies, that was clearly the fault of the Federation members of the Alliance who failed in their responsibilities, and the fault of JFNA leaders who not only did nothing to support the Alliance, they looked the other way as Jerry drew down over $1 million in funds belonging to the Agencies and already allocated to them.

And, have I been guilty of "judging the system by how much money" the overseas partners have received -- an amount in the aggregate that has reached record lows in each and every year of Silverman's tenure. What I have done is measure JFNA's commitment to its core purposes -- among them marshalling the system's commitment to collective responsibility -- by this collapse of the overseas core allocations.

My Anonymous friend opined that many, if not all, of these commitments would have collapsed no matter what JFNA would have done. One thing I am certain of is that none of us can know what the outcomes would have been had JFNA met its responsibilities because JFNA has done nothing to influence those outcomes in a positive way. 

Perhaps, one of you said it best in responding to the above critique:
"Times are indeed changing and things are getting worse and worse. The problem is that nobody is doing anything about it. 
If indeed what is happening would have happened anyway what does that tell us about the obscene waste of hundreds of millions of dollars to fund an organization that is supposed to be doing something about it?
We are wasting so much of our valuable resources, yet Federations get no value at all. With no leadership, no accountability and no supervision or oversight, our presence in Israel does more damage than good while wasting still more millions of Dollars under more than a decade of Becky Caspi's decadent regime.
The whole thing is a total mess and current leadership will go down in history as being responsible for the death of our collective Jewish organizational life. 
Does anybody care?"
We are in the midst of systemic failure while JFNA Jerry continues to be distracted by the next shiny object he may see...or thinks he sees.

And, as always, the seminal question: DOES ANYBODY CARE?



Anonymous said...

Unfortunately we are all broken records on this issue, mine being that all of this lies at the feet of lay leadership at JFNA.
Yes, the landscape is much different than it was 18 years ago, but good organizations (and businesses) react, hopefully proactively, and adapt. To Richard's point, JFNA has done NOTHING.
I wonder what would happen if someone polled that past and current JFNA board and asked them to explain the Alliance or the Global Planning Table, or Tribefest, or the most recent effort to fund the ENP (would they even know what this acronym stands for?); the list goes on and on.
The JFNA board is clueless and/or doesn't care.
And Jerry Silverman is laughing all the way to the bank; he is the source of so much of what is wrong at 25 Broadway, but you can't accuse him of not being smart.
He will walk away from JFNA a much richer man, and given how search committees (as evidenced by the one at JFNA) don't do their diligence, he will be hired by some other national or international organization.
Lay leadership has allowed JFNA to become what it is today.

Anonymous said...

I agree with 8:16. But it is not only lay leadership; it is all the LCEs - but especially the complicity of Cleveland, Chicago, and NY - that has allowed JFNA to become a do-nothing laughing stock. They could force change if they had any interest in doing so.

Anonymous said...

Just to be clear, the absence of advocacy by JFNA for JAFI, JDC, World ORT, and the many national organizations has forced each of them (that still exist) to advocate for themselves approaching each federation individually. While they may have had some success in that they may have captured some of the decline in funds that previously came thru collective responsibility, what has been the cost to re-capture these funds? First there is the $30 million wasted on JFNA. Then there is the individual cost to each organization that has had to ramp up its development efforts. I have no idea what each of the organization spends on fundraising but I assume that information is available in the 990's of each organization. I imagine that the collective investment has to be at least another $15 mil give or take. Just imagine what could have been done if one assumes a 10 to 1 return on investment (not an unreasonable expectation for a nonprofit). First the federations would have had $30 million more they could have allocated. Then you have another $150 mil (at 10-1) equals about $180 million. Isn't this more than is currently going to JAFI, JDC and ORT? Even if these numbers are inflated somewhat it seems that if JFNA did it's job they could easily have doubled the allocations to overseas AND still had enough to allocate to the Alliance and then some.

Anonymous said...

8:10 hit the bulls-eye.
Had JFNA, under Silverman, decided that JAFI, JDC, and World ORT were not competitors and strategically worked with each of them to present a unified message to the local federations about the importance of overseas and collective responsibility, perhaps things would have turned out differently.
After all, JFNA in this case is the honest broker with regard to the 3 historical overseas partners.
It could have turned out much differently, but that would have taken leadership from JFNA.

RWEX said...

Thanks to each and all of you who have written. As usual I would love to have your names associated with your Comments as I sense that the future of our system rests with you.

Anonymous said...

Richard, you probbaly won't investigate this but as a rep to the Alliance from my community I can tell you that after NY-UJA made its decision to defund the Alliance immediately, Chicago withdrew its $500,000 from the Alliance and THAT was the final straw. Why Chicago did so is unknown but its leaders (who, like you, constantly talk about "collective responsibility") want to go their own way in allocating to agencies making a mockery of that federation's, your federation's, supposed commitment to collective action.

Anonymous said...

This is not complicated.

There is no shared purpose, therefore no alignment of human and financial resources to accomplish anything. And it is this way because those with capacity to influence the direction of JFNA choose not to use it -- they want it this way.

Plain and simple.

If they wanted a powerhouse entity that brought the federated world together to identify what to do together and how to do it, it would be so.

It is time to do one or both of the following:

1. Enforce the rules of membership in JFNA, and be prepared to lose federations who fail/refuse. Make it the coalition of the willing, and start to get stuff done.

2. Determine once and for all the JFNA is a trade association; not a strategic leader for the federations, not an organization with an interest of its own. But an organization that does those things where the economies of scale work to the benefit of the communities. Human resources, information technology, communications/marketing, certain purchasing (like software rights) for example. Maybe the DC office. This isn't meant to be exhaustive, just a sample. Oh, and still enforce the rules or you're out.

RWEX said...

To Anon 4:57 -- Thank you so much. I only wish the solutiojn were "not complicated." I only wish that this leadership had the capacity, individually and collectively, to do what needs to be done, and has needed to be done for years.

Anonymous said...

I didn't mean the solution was uncomplicated. No doubt it'd be a challenge to compose the common song sheet and then execute the collective voices to sing from it in harmony.

I meant that the situation is simple. Sadly so. And no doubt, the situation is an intentional one dictated by the forces that have the power, authority, influence etc to change it.