Tuesday, June 18, 2019


I served on the JFNA Budget and Finance Committee for the first 8 years of the post-merger organization after serving on the CJF Budget Committee for a decade or more and serving and, ultimately, Chairing, the United Jewish Appeal Budget and Finance Committee. The JFNA Committee over those 8 years had a certain integrity baked into its membership. Questions appeared to be welcomed back then...and, then, they weren't. Budget meetings, from the eras of both UJA and CJF, were multiple day affairs, now they became a few hours long (including breakfast and lunch) -- they were once serious hearings, and, then, they became farce.

But, as bad as the JFNA Budget "process" had become, nothing could possibly match the 2019-2020 Budget for the Three Card Monty game that JFNA leadership is playing right before our eyes. The organization has now reached depths not even this writer thought possible; these are depths apparently to be repeated ad infinitum. And, today, JFNA professionals assert that somehow the 2019-2020 Budget is different -- it isn't.

Sure, there's a new Budget and Finance Chair, the reliable/pliable Harold Gernsbacher (in the new tradition at JFNA, Harold is also the Chair of the Secure Community Network and just completed his service as Chair of two Task Forces on Overseas), but, until Eric Fingerhut joins the staff and Mark Wilf asserts himself, all else remains the same. And "same" equals obfuscation, distraction and painting the old failures as the alleged successes of today and tomorrow. Challenge the farce at your peril.

But, challenge it we must because this Budget, approved at the June JFNA Board and Member meetings, is nothing more than the annual shell game writ large. This, a Budget of $50,790,000 allegedly based upon a "Strategic Review Process" that must have been folded into the Bridgespan Group consultant study and, thereby, became a secret. So you can join me in the guessing game as to what the hell is intended by the "...launch (of) an ambitious marquee initiative to engage the next generation of Jews" -- this from an organization that has watched with apparent disinterest as literally hundreds of thousands of donors have left the federation system on JFNA's watch. Yes, the organization that has proved to be unable to engage the current generation of Jews will now focus on the next. What are we missing here?

The authors of the Budget document clearly believed (and were rewarded for their belief with a unanimous vote in favor) that throwing out stuff like the following would blind the JFNA Budget & Finance Committee and the Board from the reality that the Emperor was not wearing any clothes -- that this was all flash and no substance. "Stuff" like these: 

  • "an ambitious marquee initiative"
  • "a movement-wide collective initiative"
  • "position the movement as relevant and impactful"
  • "the existential issues facing our community around engaging future generations"
  • "meaningfully affect the trajectory of Jewish life"
  • "recommendation points to JFNA leading a process through which the Federations can conceptualize an audacious goal"
  • "we want to sell you the Brooklyn Bridge"
And, there was also the annual lip service to "zero base budgeting." It appears that no one at JFNA knows or cares what the term means. Here is a textbook definition:
" Zero-based budgeting is a method of budgeting in which all expenses must be justified for each new period. The process of zero-based budgeting starts from a "zero base," 
But, of course, nothing...nada, nil, zip...about this JFNA Budget meets the definition. It's merely words; it is rendered meaningless at 25 Broadway. 

Oh, BTW, the Budget document reveals that JFNA has engaged another Consultant -- "a consulting resource" -- Third Plateau -- to run the "process."

I am not making any of this up.

At least the Budget reveals what we reported when it happened -- JFNA admits in writing that, beginning 4 years ago, it absconded with hundreds of thousands of dollars from the National Agencies Funding Pool, and has now exhausted that ATM and must raise $606,000 "...for the Jewish Education and Engagement Unit as a foundation for undertaking the Marquee Initiative" -- an "Initiative" in its "developmental stage" but about which there is no further information. You see:
"JFNA will provide leadership to convene and align Federations around an audacious goal and raise significant resources for the system to scale high-impact strategies."
Yes, there is a smell emanating from these pages, friends, and it's a bad one. It's JFNA, once again, telling the federations "trust us"...details to follow...maybe. And JFNA will now fund raise to support this effort!! 

Simply stated: there is no Marques Initiative...send money. 

Oh, that's not all, of course. Your federation is being asked to fund "...a new 3 person Business Intelligence Unit...to collect, analyze and share performance data back woith the Federations." That's data the federations, not trusting JFNA, currently do not share with JFNA. 

And, there is a further "reorientation" planned of "services and support," moving JFNA out of the business of directly supporting federations and leaving it to federation-to-federation "self-help." You must begin to question: what the hell does JFNA do for $50,790,000?

Well, there will be no GA substituting in 2019 something called FedLab that will convene a small group of "top leadership from Federations." These leaders will "...work together on three major issues facing the Federation network and Jewish world." These "major issues?" Don't know. Not disclosed." 

Oh, there's more -- JFNA will "stepping out of or scaling back:" support of Community Mission, national affinity-based Missions and programs, memberships in national/international organizations, production annual campaign marking "collateral" (JFNA's word) and streamlining UIA structure and process. 

For all of this JFNA's annual expenses will increase by "about $700,000 per year."


Three card Monty doesn't cover it.



Anonymous said...

I am getting out my boots and shovel to get through all of the vapid buzz words you shared.

Anonymous said...

Readers might wish to review the Third Plateau web site (from style to bios) and then ask who at JFNA, veteran or new, found this gaggle of consultants? Kind of scary. But who says zero based budgeting can't be FUN? (A favorite word at that shop.)

Anonymous said...

It is pretty obvious why they only use the phrase but don't implement zero-based budgeting.
If they did implement it they would be out of business.

Anonymous said...

Richard, actually, this post of yours should have been titled 'You can fool some of the people all of the time', and it has been the mantra for the JFNA leadership both professional and volunteer, during Jerry Silverman's tenure.
They have followed this strategy from day one, and why not?
Look what they've gotten away with for the past 9 years.
The 'some of the people' have been the JFNA board in particular, because given their inaction these past 9 years, and their leadership positions in their individual communities, I will give them the collective benefit of the doubt that they were not actively complicit in enabling Jerry and his successive board chairs to do that they have done, or should I say more accurately, do nothing but waste the hundreds of millions of federation dollars during the last 9 years.
I guess I should add Bridgespan to the 'some of the people'.