Thursday, January 31, 2019


Just when one believes that the failures at 25 Broadway can get no worse, they do. The allocations figures are in and core budget cash to JAFI and the JOINT from the federations have fallen to lows that none of these could have ever imagined when these organizations, these legacy partners agreed to merge and put the federations in charge. 

I recall being at a meeting in Jerusalem a decade ago when the Jewish Agency Board Chair said core allocations from the federations falling below $95 million would be "crossing a red line." And, like other "red lines," that line was crossed again and again and again. And what were the results of JFNA's feeble cash collection effort as at calendar year-end 2018? Read these and weep with me:

Unrestricted Core Allocations:

  • To JAFI: in 2018 -- $79,200,000 reduced from $89,600,000 in 2015 a 12% reduction of $10,400,000.
  • To JDC: in 2018 -- $29,700,000 reduced from $30,800,000 in 2015 a 4% reduction of $1,100,0000.
JFNA, in presenting these grim numbers includes, among other things, designated gifts/electives (generally raised by the organiizations themseves) and, in the Jewish Agency's case -- the U.S. Refugee Grant. Yet, these data included, the comparative numbers are even worse:
  • To JAFI: in 2018 -- $120,300,000 reduced from $144,600,000 in 2015 a 17% reduction of $24,300,000
  • To JDC in 2018 -- $44,400,000 reduced from $54,300,000 in 2015 an 18% reduction of $9,900,000.
If past be prologue, at the earliest opportunity, Joint and JAFI leaders will publicly express their appreciation while, in private, these leaders know that these reductions are doing great damage to the organizations basic ability to perform the roles assigned to them by, among others, JFNA for the federations.

What has been proved over the past decade, perhaps since the merger itself, is that the federations have breached their fiduciary obligations to the overseas partners. If the JFNA Global Operations Review Committee Recommendations are followed, among them you will note is the assigning of overseas advocacy (presumably including cash allocations advocacy) will be vested in JFNA-Israel -- the silo within JFNA that has already proved itself incapable, especially in implementing an overseas advocacy intensive effort. 

Listening to the presentation of these abysmal numbers to the JFNA Board boggled the mind. Though the "process" of cash collections is identical today as it was when UJA was collecting 44% of gross campaigns, JFNA staff, its current CFO, had the chutzpah to state that this December's cash collections were somehow different, the results surprised them. 

What has been allowed to happen without JFNA meeting its moral obligations is this: To paraphrase: JFNA took the passion and commitment of the predecessor organizations and ground those into debris, into dust. And, worse, serious questions are being raised as to how JFNA deals today with unpaid allocations from the federations. More on this issue to follow.

On these pages we have recommended time and again that JAFI/JDC recapture the advocacy effort. They should do so NOW. And, these partners should joint venture the cash collections effort, JFNA haviing proved it has no interest in doing so.


Wednesday, January 30, 2019


In response to our Post, Too True, we received  some very insightful Comments -- here are two excellent ones -- ones with which I wholeheartedly agree. The totally unnecessary emasculation of UIA appealed to the Kool-Aid drinkers. Bless 'em:
"Anonymous said...
Getting rid of UIA will do nothing to solve JFNA's problems or to relieve budgetary pressure. Its functions would have to be created if they didn't already exist. The whole thought is a mere tactical attempt to distract us from the real issues and the real problems of the organization.
UIA operates efficiently and with serious and passionate involvement of true lay leadership.
Leave it alone so that it can continue its good work and start fixing what is obviously truly broken."
"Anonymous said...
So, despite some refreshing but "manageable" opposition, they have gotten consent to lay the groundwork for the following:

* "reaffirm" commitment to advocacy for the Israel and overseas agenda (less so for our "partners") - really?

* kill UIA as we have known it for over 90 years, including "retirement" of 25 dedicated UIA lay leaders (even more if we include the Advisory Committee) and totally controlling at least 4 of the 7 board members left - no outside lay advice needed - get out of our way!
Getting rid of UIA will do nothing to solve JFNA's problems or to relieve budgetary pressure. Its functions would have to be created if they didn't already exist. The whole thought is a mere tactical attempt to distract us from the real issues and the real problems of the organization.
UIA operates efficiently and with serious and passionate involvement of true lay leadership. 
Leave it alone so that it can continue its good work and start fixing what is obviously truly broken."
Anonymous said...
So, despite some refreshing but "manageable" opposition, they have gotten consent to lay the groundwork for the following:

* "reaffirm" commitment to advocacy for the Israel and overseas agenda (less so for our "partners") - really?

* kill UIA as we have known it for over 90 years, including "retirement" of 25 dedicated UIA lay leaders (even more if we include the Advisory Committee) and totally controlling at least 4 of the 7 board members left - no outside lay advice needed - get out of our way!

* close down and get out of the Israel missions business - there are more popular global targets for missions anyway 
          * "restructure" and "integrate" UIA's work - exert total control with no further lay interference!*
          * get JAFI out of JFNA - let them take care of their own affairs! 

         * let the I&O Global Operations Office in Jerusalem continue to run rampant supporting and    promoting "boutique philanthropy" by bypassing our traditional partners whenever possible and even competing with them by duplicating efforts in areas where our 3 traditional partners have much more experience, knowledge and capacity.

         *This will be a serious setback for our overseas partners, for Israel and for our ailing organization which has just decided to make things worse.

         * Lets hope that things can be fixed, probably by creating alternative operational vehicles and coalitions outside of our suicidal current organizational framework."
As bad as this decision was, as bad as the Report that led to it was, things are even worse than even I imagined. More on that in the days ahead.

Stay tuned.


Sunday, January 27, 2019


This evening and tomorrow the JFNA Board will convene in New York City. Many of you have written the Blog (anonymously) with incredible insights both as to what to expect (more of the same) and what needs to happen (growth of a collective spine) in response to a self-defeating set of Recommendations on JFNA global responsibilities -- Recommendations which, if adopted, will defenestrate UIA in so many ways.

In Tragically Blind we pointed to the consequences of JFNA Board members'lemming-like response to these Recommendations that should never have seen the light of day. Here is what one of you wrote:
'They will probably suggest a "compromise" to get rid of only 20 UIA board members instead of 25 (leaving 12 instead of 7). Hopefully folks will be smart enough to realize that this would make no difference at all because the real isssue is that they want to make the UIA Board a total "puppet" board of the JFNA Board, which is itself, at least up until now, a "puppet" of the bureaucrats that run the organization. 
The true ideological basis of the proposed changes in the Global Operations recommendations is CONTROL: to get active lay leadership out of the way, to gain complete bureaucratic control of UIA's functions (free of UIA lay interference), to get the Jewish Agency and advocacy for it off the JFNA agenda and to let the I&O Israel Office continue unsupervised to do whatever it pleases (no need for control there evidently).
If Board members are going to go along with this, they should at least uderstand that this is what is really on the table. If they do understand, they shouldn't be looking to compromise, just to say NO!" 
Excellent insights...excellent advice.


Thursday, January 24, 2019


My dear friend and great Zionist, Gary Erlbaum, recently reminded me of a critical truth: None are so blind as those who will not see. And, in the case of far too many, among those who will attend the upcoming JFNA Board meeting, who have chosen to blind themselves from the realities we have discussed on these pages time and again -- you know, it's just better to be in denial than to actually confront and deal with the challenges right in front of their closed eyes.

  • Denial that JFNA has absented itself from the need to build federation annual campaigns, offering nothing more than lip service and an occasional consultants' visit to federations;
  • Denial that other than its LBTQ mIssion JFNA has led its constituencies away from Israel, choosing to send its own national missions to India, Argentina and Uruguay, Tbilisi and St. Petersburg and the International Leadership Reunion to Moscow. Why? If the argument is that "we just held the GA in Tel Aviv" or "we go to Israel on Missions so often, it's played out:" the response should be: "We have a moral obligation to take our constituencies to Israel." Period. Full stop. The answer we learned at UJA and continued into 2007 at JFNA is the hard work of recruitment -- fact: it still works (for other organizations).
  • Denial that JFNA is on the cusp of defenestrating UIA, one of its only functioning parts, solely because: (a) it can; and (b) to vest greater control in JFNA-Israel, one of JFNA's most dysfunctional silos. If this happens -- and it can only happen if JFNA's Board and leadership allow it to -- that would confirm that JFNA is only concerned with concentrating power in itself...and nothing more....nothing.
  • Denial that the incredibly successful Lion of Judah Conference (a holdover constituency of United Jewish Appeal BTW) is but an aberration, like an oasis in a fund raising desert.
  • Denial that the organization has no enhance the sorry state of Diaspora/American Jewry's relationship with Israel. We have seen nothing, other than quotes in the media decrying the sorry state that suggests that JFNA has a clue of what steps...even baby steps...might be taken to restore what was once the beauty and power of this relationship. 
There is, sadly, so much more; the list is never-ending.

As one of your wrote in response to our Post "Collapse:"
"Lets hope that the Jewish People will never need us again because without UJA (already "merged to death") and UIA (the next target), there is no chance that any true collective response will be possible beyond maybe another pathetic "mailbox" opportunity.
"Once UIA is "retired" after more than 90 years of service there will indeed be nothing left but a bloated trade organization for federation professionals - no collective response capability, no advocacy or real support for our overseas partners, no lay leadership, no activism, no passion - nothing to stand in the way of the bureaucrats hiring lots of outside consultants, setting up task forces, establishing review committees and studying ourselves to death instead of supporting what needs to be done.
"When will we wake up and put a stop to this fiasco?!"
So what is on the agenda for the JFNA Board meeting that might suggest that Mark Wilf and the Board he Chairs will lead JFNA out of the brier patch into which it has been driven? 

We'll soon know if sight has been restored.


Sunday, January 20, 2019


We are living in a time of unanswerable questions and the incomprehensible demand for "walls." As we have written on these pages time and again, the federations' continental organization has built an opaque wall, constructed on the flimsy foundation of claimed "confidentiality" and protected like the holy grail by a group of disinterested lay leaders and senior professionals just protecting their positions.

In that light, one of you, sadly anonymously, has raised some serious questions:

"JFNA’s Form 990 for the year ending June 30th 2017, shows total revenues of $261 million, down from $274 million in the prior fiscal year.
Grants, which one assumes are pass-through funds using JFNA as a conduit, were $213 million, down from $234.6 million.
Salaries were $23.7 million as compared with $21 million, but other expenses were $24.4 million vs $21.5 million.
Shockingly, page 2 (of 73) says FRD spent over $22.8 million. How is that even possible?
On page 19, one can see that they are getting fleeced by Blackbaud for their donor management system, when charities like the American Red Cross pay under half that amount.
Any clue on page 20, lines 2a-f?Line 3 on that page shows the astounding result of JFNA making $1 million a year just by sitting on the cash of other Federations.
On page 22, lines 11-12, we learn that JFNA is playing the stock market with $56 million of funds for which it is a fiduciary. I wonder how that amount did in the last few months? And who is their stock broker?
Page 43 is most instructive. Who donates $45 million a year to JFNA? Is this your friends at IFCJ?
On page 38 we learn that the entire DC lobbying activity which you laud is run for well under $1 million."
"So, I neglected to ask, given the opacity of the JFNA financials, how does one calculate a $30 mill budget as opposed to something closer to $45 million?" 
I wish that I had answers for you beyond knowing that the International Fellowship isn't donating to JFNA. Perhaps you,my friends, have some -- if so, send them on. These 990s are almost impregnable. While we have urged JFNA transparency time and again, there has been little evidence of any -- if anything, behind the claims of "confidentiality" with regard to every consultant contract, and the clear evidence that JFNA expenditures have nothing to do with Budget lines, the imprenetrability of JFNA is worse than a decade ago.

More's the pity.


Wednesday, January 16, 2019


I think back to the end of the Operation Exodus Campaign led by United Jewish Appeal in partnership with the community of mega-donors 
and the federations to incredible success — a $1 billion campaign. But, at its end, beyond the sense of accomplishment the Jewish communities began sending UJA a message — our donors are tired, and our local agencies need our attention. “Don’t bother us.”

I was reminded of that moment and the message (which, by the way, was not based on fact everywhere — in my own federation and others, we went about our business converting the increased gifts into the  annual campaign with great success in many instances — as I tried to identify what the hell happened and continues at JFNA.

If you are a regular reader of this Blog, you know my sense that the perfect storm of terrible circumstances arose in the election of Kathy Manning as Board Chair and her decision (and, face it chèvre, it was her determination, her decision) to: (a) embark on the Rube Goldbergian Global Planning Table  and (b) hire Jerry Silverman. Both of these decisions resulted in the catastrophe JFNA and the federations face today.

First the disastrous GPT.  Disaster was written over this “thing” from conception to execution (some would say it’s a perfect metaphor for JFNA itself).  And the disaster it was was predicted by many federation leaders at so-called regional meetings. where there was almost unanimous objection: to the creation of a faux governance, to the override of collective response with a set of undefined “coalitions pf the  willing” around project areas never approved by the federations, to the distraction of 100s of federation lay and professional leaders from their historic tasks, to a real abandonment of the system’s historic partners.  And, through it all, Silverman sat in bewildered agreement with Manning and with everyone else. 

There can be no doubt that the ultimate decision to hire Jerry for a position to this day he does not comprehend was Manning’s simple insight that he would not “get in the way” of her GPT — as he did not. When a brilliant young professional was hired to run the Global Planning Table  and the GA, she resigned within weeks seeing that she would be “running nothing;” that Manning would be running everything. To this day, no JFNA Board member knows how many millions were wasted  on the GPT. (In typical JFNA style, “it’s confidential.” What we do know is that Jerry embarked on a "War Against Memory" -- it is the only JFNA battle that he clearly won. And it was/is a battle that served JFNA so poorly.

As Manning’s terms as JFNA Board Chair were running out, she appointed herself — yes, you read that correctly — the Chair of the Global Planning Table. More millions were invested in staff and consultant time until Michael Siegal, Kathy’s successor as JFNA Board Chair, found the support necessary to put an end to this terrible chapter (while, at one and the same time, even though after 5 years there was not a single positive outcome under Silverman’s leadership, Jerry was given a 5 year contract extension).

Circle back with me to the beginning of this Post and the sense of exhaustion that accompanied the triumphal end of the Exodus Campaign for here is the parallel — at the ultimate end of the GPT (with its surviving remnant, a barely breathing I-Rep working to achieve a barely breathing Israeli Civil Society effort, for which adequate funding has never been realized) the federations were again exhausted. Federation lay leaders had no interest in and, in fact, had been weaned away from collective responsibility by JFNA itself. The one organization charged with advocacy for collective responsibility just plain walked away from it. Collective responsibility, one of the critical pillars of our Jewish polity, literally left in the dustbin of history.

Attempts by the United Israel Appeal to revive continental advocacy were first adopted and then stripped form that organizations raison d’être by JFNA leaders who themselves could not interest the federations in giving an audience to the needs. And, now, through the work of a Task Force on Global Responsibility, UIA itself is threatened with defenestration to preserve the illusion that JFNA-Israel is capable of…anything.

And, while I worry about UIA and the overseas partners, I see no visible efforts and no visible ability at JFNA to provide any guidance to the field, to an incoming professional class, 60% of whom are new CEOs. These professionals, dedicated to community as their predecessors may no longer view the role of CEO as a cause, or the federation profession as a Movement, but may only see it as a job — often a great job, well-paying, with great perquisites — just a job. JFNA should...must...engage JPro in an organized effort to educate and train new CEOs. LeadingEdge does a fine job with a purposefully limited cadre of organizational leaders but it is JPro leaders who would bring the experience and the passion of the Movement to the newly hired.

Friends, the system is in a state of shock…a literal state of collapse. When a new Federation CEO joins the system and realizes, as one will, that his/her community, with an annual campaign being rebuilt after years of stasis, is paying $2,600,000 (+) in JFNA Dues, while that community’s local agencies are competing with the central Federation annual campaign for funds, something has to give. The argument to that community and others — “if you reduce your JFNA Dues, the system will collapse like a House of Cards” —  is no longer compelling when the community is getting close to nothing back for its Dues “investment.” (In addition, many of those CEOs who make that specious argument, have retired, are themselves retiring or will soon do so.)

I think all you know that were I advising Mark Wilf (and, no, Mark hasn’t responded to my “Letter” Post to date), I wouldn’t be waiting for "The Breakstone Group Consultant Study,” I would be convening the lay a professional leaders of each JFNA City-size group to develop programs and plans that would both interest and benefit…them. Of course, that would require a new CEO (or, that for which I have pled time and again, an Interim CEO) and a staff capable of looking toward the future with a sense of purpose and integrity.

If there is to be a future.


Saturday, January 12, 2019


Depending on your federation, JFNA Dues should be a matter of concern for everyone, but let's take Federation X as an example. 

You are the CEO of this community. Your Annual campaign could most charitably be described as "struggling," it's what you inherited, but you're working so hard to turn it around. Your JFNA Dues: $2,641,000 (at least that is what it was on your last available 990). If your staff were asked "what do we receive for $2,641,000?" -- they would be stumped. You, yourself, have no idea how to respond if your lay leadership were to ask the same question.

When you raise the possibility of non-payment or partial-payment with your fellow federation CEOs, some support the idea, but others, all of whom you respect, admonish you for even bringing up the possibility. "If your federation were to do that," they suggest, "the whole system would come crashing down." It's the same argument, you think to yourself, that was used to justify the Vietnam War -- the dominoes would fall -- and how did that turn out? "Do you want to be the one who leads to the collapse of JFNA," they ask? This sounds to you like the threat that it really is.

What these other professional leaders don't tell you is that they have been asking themselves the same question -- "why? why?" (One of them suggested to me at the outset of the pre-ordained failure of the Global Planning Table: "I can't believe that I'm watching the destruction of the very system that has been my life's work." "Watching" being the operative word.)

Then, you begin to think: "what if our Dues were reduced to $1,000,000? Still outrageous, but just barely defensible." The community could use the $1,641,000 "savings" to hire two more in Campaign; we could increase our allocations locally and overseas with the balance.; we have so many unmet needs...everywhere. I have lay leaders who lobby for me for more money for our JCC or the JDC, for our Family Agency or the Jewish Agency, and on and on, and I have to plead with some of them to not publicly raise issues of the JFNA Dues amount (and immediately after doing so, I ask myself "why?").

Hell, you begin to ponder, where do my loyalties lie -- with a Continental organization that evidences no responsibility to my community, tosses me a bone once in a while (they ask me to speak at the GA, give some of my lay leaders some minor kavod, etc.) -- but shouldn't my allegiance only be to the community that hired me, that pays my salary and my perks, my retirement some day?

And, you conclude: it's time to acknowledge that JFNA has demonstrated no excellence in anything that it attempts. In reality it has become nothing more than a $53,000,000 a year trade organization -- a bloated bureaucracy -- a collection and distribution agency (and not a very good one at that). I'm going to find CEOs of other federations who have come to the conclusion that we can demand that our Dues be reduced to the maximum amount necessary to support a trade organization. Someone has to lead this effort, why not me?

If only...


Tuesday, January 8, 2019


In a move both curious and bizarre, someone(s) at JFNA resolved, after the decision to non-renew Jerry Silverman's contract had been made and before Mark Wilf was installed as Board Chair,  to hire The Bridgestone Group on a major consultancy. To my knowledge, The Bridgestone Group (hereafter "TBG") has no experience with the federation system in all of its complexity -- hiring TBG was the consultant equivalent of JFNA hiring Jerry Silverman.

So it cam to pass, that TBG made its first presentation to the JFNA Board summarized as follows:
"“TBG then facilitated discussions focused on how Federations might work together to solve the major challenges facing the Jewish world and Federations. Board members reported back thoughts and suggestions as to which challenges JFNA might be able to address for the system: (1) engagement with interfaith couples and how to successfully integrate them into the federation community, (2) young adult engagement and giving including a national conference, (3) professional talent recruitment and development, (3) legacy giving, endowment and the transfer of wealth, (4) Jewish affordability, particularly for day schools, (5) sustaining global partnerships inside and outside Israel, (6) creating and sharing strategic fundraising and marketing plans including compelling fundraising stories, (7) building a value proposition for giving to Federations, (8) creation of a national curriculum for community and Sunday schools, (9) connecting the disparate Israel education programs so that donors can move through a continuum of Israel education and engagement programs."
This entire thing reminded me of the moment in the aftermath of the UJA-CJF-UIA merger when one of the newly-elected Chairs foisted on the organization Louise Stoll as COO --someone with no knowledge of what federations were all about, whose presentations were a series of "revelations" -- to her -- of everything federation. "Wow." She was soon gone.

Then, the TBG report continued:
"TBG also presented alternative revenue models from different networks with which they have worked such as the Boys and Girls Clubs of America and the United Way. Ms. Shapira noted that JFNA will create a task force to guide the strategic review with the assistance of TBG and present recommendations to the Federations and the Board in about 6 months.”
Friends, only those who know nothing of our system would suggest any possible relevance of the "Boys and Girls Clubs of America and the United Way" as possible comparative and compatible revenue models for JFNA. 

This whole fiasco is consistent with JFNA appointing not one but two -- yes, 2 -- Global Operations Committee Task Forces both of which overlap and duplicate the work for which TBG is being paid a princely sum.

You've got it, I'm sure: but just in case you cannot follow this Three Card Monte, let's review:

  1. JFNA hires TBG at great expense, to consult on all organizational matters
  2. The JFNA Board convened to learn that in its work to date TBG had discovered that there is a federation system doing things (things woven into the fabric of federation activities and of which they were fully aware;
  3. JFNA simultaneously appointed two Global Operations Task Forces whose work conflicted with and duplicated the work for which TBG was/is being paid.
  4. Then there will be a new CEO and if past practice holds true (as happened when Steve Hoffman succeeded Steve Solender and, then, when Howard Rieger succeeded Hoffman) whatever "plan" emerges from the work of TBG, it will be rejected. (This is known as the "wash, rinse, repeat cycle" in Jewish organizations.)
And, soon, this will start all over again.


Friday, January 4, 2019


Dear Mark,

First, my apologies for the beat-down my Bears inflicted on your Vikings last Sunday. I think that victory was a reflection of changing times.

And I wanted to wish you and your family a healthy, prosperous and peaceful 2019.

Mark, you have been formally "on the job" for 1-1/2 months now, after deep engagement with JFNA for years. I'm certain that you know that in your businesses, after terminating a CEO or a Head Coach, you don't have that person literally "hanging around" awaiting their replacement. As I have suggested, on these pages, in phone calls, it's past time for the organization to move forward, effecting change in the CEO position -- either on an interim or permanent basis -- NOW. 

You have been empowered to lead change, please Mark, get on with it. JFNA cannot wait any longer. This past decade has been execrable; the JFNA administration pestilential. Your predecessors have allowed JFNA to become a secret society, 25 Broadway is like a Faraday Cage from which no unwanted sounds escape. You have to assure that JFNA, the place where the Jewish public's business is conducted, is a true open book; a place where claims of "confidentiality" are barred.

Continuing to await the moshiach described in the job description published by JFNA's Search Consultant, DRG, is to put the organization further at risk. We have lost the institutional value systems that were in place at CJF and UJA -- so lost that most do not remember what they were. But you remember them, Mark: you helped to build them. It was Bob Iger at Disney who said: 
"The most important thing a CEO does is create a value system...Then it's incredibly important to live by those values."
Sadly, we have had a Chief Executive who not only didn't construct a value system, he deconstructed the institutional values that were created and implemented by the great work of those who preceded him. And, he did so while eliminating institutional memory so vital to moving an organization forward.

I have been terribly saddened that a succession of JFNA lay leaders sequentially blew multiple chances that they were offered at course correction for the organization. You now have your chance to implement necessary change. As the brilliant business journalist for the New York Times wrote about the Tesla Board in a quote worthy of JFNA:
"What it tells us is this Board, as a strategic plan, must be using the Jim Jones-Jonestown suicide pact."
But it no longer needs to be that way. JFNA no longer needs to be at the cutting edge of meh. You have been blessed with the mantle of Board Chair at the most critical point in JFNA's history. You have the opportunity to rally your Board to great achievements and to transformational change...but you must begin -- NOW.

Please, Mark, don't blow it.

Warm regards,