Tuesday, January 23, 2018

990 -- AGAIN

Well, friends, JFNA has filed its 2015 IRS-990, disclosing so much and so little about its activities, revenues and expenses for FY2015-2016. You can link to it for your own reading pleasure on the JFNA website.

Highlights/lowlights include:

  • The gross compensation paid the CEO ($683,000) and the COO ($398,000) total $1,081,000. If you believe this to be outrageous, egregious, ridiculous, you pick the descriptive term, let someone know. If you believe that the return on this investment has been negligible, infinitesimal, you pick the descriptive term, let someone know. I can tell you, it.just.gets.worse year-by-year-by-year. 
  • In fact, the 990 lists 14 -- that's 14 -- senior professionals who were compensated in excess of $175,000 in the relevant fiscal year and, of those, 6 were compensated in excess of $250,000. If compensation is supposed to be based on merit, you should evaluate who among this roster merit what they are being paid.
  • Then there are the 22 (yep, 22) Consultants identified  (but not named, other than those paid the most) compensated in excess of $100,000 in the fiscal year. Our new "friends," the NY communications/marketing firm -- SS+K -- was paid another $1 million. This is the consultant paid by a donor using JFNA as a conduit for something called the Project Connect Production, which, you may recall, was determined to be  "Confidential" (as were all of the Consultant contracts) by Sandler/Silverman. This determination was made on an ad hoc basis with no criteria, no standards.
  • You will be pleased to know that JFNA puffs up its revenues by including the passthrough funds allocated by federations to JAFI/JDC/WorldORT. It's as if JFNA has anything at all to do with these funds oher than to send them on, and in the case of JAFI, for UIA to vet those allocations. This, of course, gives JFNA a sense of its own self-importance even as it raises not a single dollar of those funds.
  • In the 990 Part V, JFNA states:

"Schedule F, Part I, Line 2 - UNDER THE DIRECTION OF THE JEWISH FEDERATIONS OF NORTH AMERICA, LAY LEADER COMMITTEES AND PROFESSIONALS EVALUATE EACH GRANTEE EXTENSIVELY, BEFORE AND AFTER FUNDS ARE DISTRIBUTED. THE COMMITTEES MONITOR THE USE OF FUNDS, ENSURING THAT ALLOCATIONS REFLECT THE PRIORITIES OF THE JEWISH FEDERATION MOVEMENT. FUNDING GUIDELINES INCLUDE THAT ALL GRANTEE ORGANIZATIONS MUST BE WELL-GOVERNED, COMPLY WITH GENERALLY ACCEPTED ACCOUNTING PRINCIPLES, PRODUCE AN ANNUAL AUDIT BY AN INDEPENDENT FIRM, AND MAINTAIN BY-LAWS THAT CONFIRM TO LEGALLY ACCEPTED STANDARDS, INCLUDING PROVISIONS FOR APPROPRIATELY OVERSIGHT OF ALL FIDUCIARY MATTERS. GRANTEES ARE ALSO REQUIRED TO PROVIDE THE COMMITTEE WITH REPORTS ON HOW FUNDS ARE SPENT, AND THE COMMITTEES CONDUCT SITE VISITS AS NECESSARY TO ENSURE COMPLIANCE."
        OK then -- does anyone among you believe that JFNA itself is really doing this evaluation       and vetting? Does anyone reading this Post believe that JFNA is capable of "...ensuring that allocations reflect the priorities of the Jewish Federation Movement"? (And, yes, UIA does approve/vet/monitor the dwindling Federation allocations to JAFI, among UIA's responsibilities.)

Yes, the JFNA 990 is always good for something -- just not disclosure.

Rwexler

Saturday, January 20, 2018

SOON TO ZERO??

One of you recently commented:
"It seems that whatever the state of the organization may be, it has certainly proven to be a complete and gigantic failure in every aspect of assisting its partners in serving the overseas needs and goals of the Jewish People.
It also clearly continues to waste badly needed resources in order to pay for its own futile attempts to create an alternative to the very partners that it is supposed to be supporting and advocating for.
 
In short, with advocates and 'Envoys' like these, who needs enemies?
 If lay leadership is not willing or capable of putting a stop to this, the time has come for the three historical partner organizations to begin to realize that they are being sold out and to take their fate into their own hands - hopefully in a new joint effort but if not then even if it is each on its own behalf. If there are any true lay leaders left out there, this is the time for them to rise to the occasion and lend a hand." 
This brought to mind another moment in time. In the late "oughts" or early 2010's, I was Chair of what was then the embryonic JAFI North America. I had watched as the allocations to JAFI and JDC were headed precipitously downward while the two organizations continued a decades-long, often nasty argument about percentages. (One that continues, sub rosa, even today. An argument over truly marginal dollars.) ) At that moment in time my friend, Steve Schwager, was the Joint's Executive Vice-Chair. Steve and I had periodic chats about the sorry lack of suppoert for both JAFI and the JDC from JFNA. We had visited federations together to advocate for overseas allocations for both organizations and we had an easy rapport.

I asked Steve if JDC would consider an "advocacy partnership;" much like that suggested in the Anonymous Comment above. Schwager put together a meeting at JDC's New York offices inviting Judge Ellen Heller and Alan Jaffe, respectively JDC's then Chair and one of its most thoughtful officers, to join us. I made my case and we had a vigorous discussion of the pluses and minuses. Ultimately, the Joint's leaders decided not to join in such an effort with JAFI; they decided to continue to rely on promises from JFNA that that organization would lead a major advocacy effort. Nothing happened.

Might the organizations join together today? Doubtful. JDC is (and has been) engaged in successful direct fund raising in multiple communities across the continent. In some, its "success" is reflected in gaining a greater percentage of the "split" with JAFI. JAFI, on the other hand, while its JAID (Jewish Agency International Development) effort has had former federation CEOs as its professional leaders, has made only the smallest of inroads on the allocations front with whatever "successes" they have achieved reflected in increased supplemental direct fund raising -- at least FRD successes under Misha Galperin's professional leadership. WorldORT's professional leaders -- all or almost all of whom were successful federation CEOs in their prior service -- have recognized for years that it had to rely on its own successful FRD efforts, through individual solicitation, not on federation allocations (especially when, at the end of 2017, WorldORT's share of those fell to $2.4 million). 

Could a major allocations advocacy effort led by the three overseas "partners," and managed by JFNA (or, better, through a joint venture entity created by the three organizations themselves) be successful? While I think so, let me just point out that the three organizations under the current scheme (which is truly NOTHING: JFNA doing nothing, UIA proposing to once again engage in advocacy for JAFI, JDC out on its own, etc.) while federation allocations have fallen by over $200,000,000 since the merger. 

In fact, we reported the final numbers that JFNA provided the overseas beneficiaries at the end of November -- cash distributions so low that they represented a new level of futility. Yet, on the last business day of the claendar year, the organizations were advised that JFNA could not even deliver on those pathetic numbers. 

So what really might be lost through a combined advocacy effort? 

Nothing.

Rwexler




Wednesday, January 17, 2018

MASA -- IN LIMBO

In the often bizarro world of Jewish organizational life, relations between the Jewish Agency and the Government of Israel are fraught with incredible and often inexplicable conflicts. On January 14, a further conflict erupted over the future of the JAFI-GOI Masa program "amid disagreement between partners."

As federation support for JAFI has been reduced in almost Draconian fashion, our Israeli "partner" has become more and more dependent upon Government of Israel funding. It hasn't always been a mutually supportive relationship. Remember that World Jewry Initiative created by JAFI contemplating a real Government/JAFI/federation partnership that collapsed when the Diaspora Ministry pulled the plug on the JAFI/federation involvement? Then, of course, the lingering reality that the Prime Minister himself led the breach of an agreement he and his Cabinet approved that would have created an egalitarian prayer space at the Kotel? And, now Masa.

All of us know that Masa, the year abroad study program that JAFI initiated in 2004 with GOI financial support, has brought over 120,000 young women and men to Israel. The Jerusalem Post and ejewishphilanthropy reported that the legal advisor to the Prime Minister's Office "...had asked to stop transferring funds to Masa due to a "conflict of interests."http://m.jpost.com/Israel-News/Future-of-Masa-in-jeopardy-as-Prime-Ministers-Officer-to-withhold-funding-534684

It was alleged by the Prime Minister's Office counsel that JAFI, which had agreed in the Masa funding contract to limit the involvement of its JAFI Israel Experience Company to a maximum of 20% of the participants had exceeded that limit; the Masa CEO responded that JAFI was in compliance with the contract limits and that because of the PM's actions, 340 Masa participants were turned away on the cusp of their departure to Israel. 

Now, perhaps "conflicts of interest" may mean something different in Israel than here, but no one has explained how a contract which seems to permit "conflict of interest" to the tune of 20% of the Program annually, can be postured as the basis for claiming a breach of contract if the services exceed 20%. As Amos Hermon, the Israel Experience CEO, one of the finest professionals with whom I worked during my years of service on the JAFI Board, pointed out, that 20% "maximum" can only be determined after the fact given that that maximum percentage can only be determined after all of the other MASA service providers have completed their annual Masa recruiting and delivery.

And, then, as if this scenario wasn't bizarro enough...the Prime Minister's Office told the Post that Masa is "...an important project and it will continue" and a resolution would soon "be reached." 

And, then, JAFI chimed in. in a letter to its Board. It is such an incredible missive, I offer it to  you complete:
"Dear friends,

For thirteen years, Masa Israel Journey has existed as a strategic and historic partnership between The Jewish Agency, on behalf of the Jewish people and Jewish communities around the world, and the Government of Israel, via the Prime Minister’s Office. In recent months, we have been conducting an ongoing dialogue with our partners in the government, mainly regarding the role of the Israel Experience company as a provider of Masa experiences.

The issues under debate are currently under review by the Government Secretary in full partnership with The Jewish Agency, with the express intention of both parties to reach an agreed-upon solution to the matter at hand and open registration for the coming year.

It is clear to all that Masa is a flagship program whose importance to the State of Israel and to the Jewish people is beyond question. Government Secretary Tzachi Braverman has stated the following: “The Prime Minister’s Office ascribes great importance to the continued existence of Masa Israel Journey, which has thus far brought tens of thousands of Jewish young people to Israel in order to strengthen ties between Israel and Diaspora Jewry. This important initiative is currently under discussion with The Jewish Agency, with the goal of continuing it as in years past and strengthening it even further.”

The leadership of The Jewish Agency and of the Government of Israel will spare no efforts in order to ensure that Masa’s future is even brighter than its past.

We will continue to update you on any developments in our ongoing discussions with the Government Secretariat. Meanwhile, we expect partial references to the matter—which will not necessarily reflect the entire picture—to appear in the media. We suggest taking those reports with a grain of salt and relying only on reports to the Board of Governors and on communiques from the Chairman.

We are confident that Masa Israel Journey, which is a strategic asset to Israel and the Jewish people, will continue in full strength.

Sincerely, "
Friends, this letter is such a work of bureaucratic art, so devoid of facts, of information, even an explanation of why it was sent, that it is nothing less than a classic. It explains nothing; it offers nothing. It's a joke. My congratulations to the author.

At one and the same time, this is a cinflict that should easily be resolved among people acting in good faith. In the interests of Masa, let's hope it will be settled immediately.

This entire circumstance is tragic comedy. It is another cautionary tale of the complexities of dealing with the Government of Israel; let alone relying on this Government as your major source of funding.

Caveat emptor; caveat omnis.

Rwexler 

Sunday, January 14, 2018

WE AND THEY HAVE REACHED ROCK BOTTOM

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 explain...an 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. http://ujtheeandme.blogspot.com/2016/07/a-great-hire.html. "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.

And...yet...

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..

Rwexler


Thursday, January 11, 2018

CHICKENS ROOSTING -- AGAIN AND AGAIN

I have written over the past two+ years of the extorted fuds engineered by JFNA CEO, Jerry Silverman, of over $1 million from the National Agencies Funding Pool to fund an Education Unit outside the JFNA Budget. And, at the very end of 2017, came this Anonymous Comment:
"The Education unit funding is simply fraud. There is no such thing, no such unit, no such product. It was an interesting idea of those who did not want to let go of the idea of JESNA. But it never started, never produced, and never breathed. JFNA just took the money plain and simple.

Crooked Jerry go home.

I am not sure JFNA can survive but at least we will maintain the last vestige of dignity." 
If the Commentator is correct, then this alone should be the ultimate evidence of JFNA's abysmal failure coupled with a lack of integrity -- the latter, something that Richard Sandler cares deeply about. What will he do about this? Will he just ask his CEO "is this true" and when Silverman replies "Let me explain<" will Sandler once again just accept anything he is told?

But, how can this be? Could JFNA have already abandoned its inane attempt to go operational in the field of Jewish Education? Here's what JFNA says it's doing:
"The Jewish Education and Engagement department empowers and supports Federations as they reach out to Jews wherever they are, giving them the tools they need to live more vibrant and meaningful Jewish lives. It’s an investment in enriching our people and our communities, now and in the future."
So, you see, there is a "Department" apparently fully engaged in...how to say it...total bullshit. JFNA continues:
"We are a laboratory for new ideas, challenging the status quo and shaping conversations that reimagine strategies, leadership, and Jewish community in response to evolving needs."
Yep...total bullshit squared.

Understand, at the time that Silverman contemplated this "Unit," he was warned by, among others, John Ruskay, then the President-CEO of UJA-Federation of New York, that it would be a mistake for JFNA to go "operational;" Jerry ignored this counsel. Silverman committed to raise the funds that would be required to jumpstart this effort while hitting the bricks to hire a bright, young professional from Chicago as the Unit's "Director" and added an Associate Director never disclosing that his internal fundraising was a non-starter. So Jerry just found another source; unfortunately, it wasn't "his" money; he just took it from others without their consent...without even consultation. 

Now, if our Commentator is correct, "bullshit" evolved into misappropriation  -- no "Education Unit." no "Education Department." Just Jerry's demand that there be an immediate transfer of over $1,000,000 from the National Agencies -- in fact and law, those funds belonged to the National Agencies when they were deposited in the National Agencies Alliance Funding Pool -- to the JFNA Budget where those funds just plain disappeared into that black hole; no questions asked...ever. To Silverman that's "internal fund raising;" to us it is part of the kleptocracy that JFNA has been permitted to become by the "hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil" crowd.

Finally, quoting JFNA's own description of its "leadership" in Jewish Education:
"We convene changemakers who share smart practices and resources and make data-informed decisions to create more and better education and engagement opportunities. And we help them strengthen connections to each other and local partners, from synagogues to supermarkets."
So there you have it -- making connections "...from synagogues to supermarkets." "Supermarkets" indeed. The order must have been issued from the Executive Suite at 25 Broadway: "get me something in writing on our Education thing" and this is what emerged. Maybe this is what our correspondent meant when he wrote "no such Unit, no such Department, no such product." It's there...but it isn't. Just like JFNA.

This whole thing stinks to high heaven. It is paradigmatic of JFNA itself. It is shameful. In any responsible organization the CEO who directed this failed scheme would be gone. Instead, as in so many things, JFNA tries to hide its failures behind a wall of secrecy. If you want answers, you can try to penetrate that wall.

Don't hold your breath: JFNA's "leaders" are doing that for you, hoping as always that this just goes away.

Rwexler



Monday, January 8, 2018

ACCOUNTABILITY?? WHERE??

How long will the federations (forget  about the JFNA Chair, Vice-Chair, Executive Committee and Board) allow JFNA to skate along on the successes of the Washington Office and a periodic dip into disaster relief success? Apparently...forever.

The litany of failures needn't be repeated any more -- everyone knows them, even the most ardent supporters of Silverman and his ilk -- the JFNA claque as it were -- know them; they just choose to ignore them. Hell, the argument must go, the federations still pay full Dues, don't they?

Any one who reads this Blog regularly knows that I can't abide Caroline Glick's politics, but she sure can turn a phrase. It was Glick who recently wrote: about what she called the: “defiant rejection of observable reality. Although she was writing of a different reality, the defiant rejection of observable reality is exactly what JFNA's "leaders" engage in 24/7.

Stating the obvious, JFNA has hit the rocks; the only problem with that reality is that it does a disservice to rocks. The Washington grants and  disaster relief tides haven't been sufficient in any way to float the organization off those rocks -- not at all.


Its professional leader has weaponized information with the apparent constant support (or continuing ignorance of reality) of the Board Chair:

    ~ Expenses
    ~ Consulting agreements
    ~ Excluding all but “voting Board members” from meetings on an ad hoc basis

When will this end? Apparently...never.

I asked a friend who has had leadership roles within JFNA, after my reading of a recent set of questions posed by federation professionals to their fellows in FedCentral: "Does JFNA do anything?" The response was telling: "Well...They run the GA to show the world that they do things. Like run the GA." Yep, JFNA.

I don’t doubt that JFNA’s leaders want a successful organization, they know that the organization is a failure.  Yet, there is no price being paid for failure; just the opposite. Dues are paid; the CEO continues to be paid as if he and the organization were incredibly successful; the organization has no focus; JFNA-Israel continues, as it has for a decade, without success (I'm certain the explanation at 25 Broadway for ignoring the need for change in Jerusalem today -- in the totality of the JFNA-Israel operation -- is:"we can't change now, we have the GA in Israel next year." This ignores the reality that on a number of prior occasions Israel GAs have been administered from New York HQ).

The New York Times Magazine recently devoted its First Words to the concept and construct of “loyalty.” (November 19, 2017) Loyalty as both a “virtue” and, sometimes. a curse. And, friends, loyalty is admirable— but loyalty to a fault, loyalty without accountability, is a recipe for total failure. And that’s where JFNA is today...

Nowhere...


Rwexler

Friday, January 5, 2018

...FOR WHICH THERE ARE NOT ANSWERS

About a year ago, while JFNA's senior volunteer leader was publicly obsessing and ducking for cover over the prospect of being urged to speak for the federation constituency on matters related to Jewish and communal values, over at 25 Broadway, Jerry Silverman was obsessing over this: "An Israeli investigative reporter named Uri Blau and his associate Akela Lacy are purportedly working on a story for Haaretz and The Forward about Jewish Federations in the United States." Panic apparently ensued at 25 Broadway where there were/are no answers to the reporters' questions. JFNA's advice to the federations: equivocate; we can't help you. Sorry. Yep, really, really sorry.

The language quoted above appeared in a set of something called "Inquiry Guidelines for Individual Federation Chapters." (Just as an aside, who writes this shit? Does the CEO of JFNA not understand after 8+ years that the federations are not "Chapters?" Rhetorical question.) In any event these "Inquiry Guidelines" were sent to Federation CEOs, one of whom from a Large City (the identity of whom you would never guess) sent them on to me directly with the comment: "...they tell us nothing. They are so out of touch." 

And, what happened? Most federations understood that JFNA's advice was, as always, best ignored; that responding to the Haaretz reporters inquiries would be (a) far better than silence; and (b) the answers were in the federations' hands, not Jerry Silverman's, not JFNA's. Many federations spent literaly 100's of hours responding in detail while CEO Jerry gnashed his teeth on their behalf, offering nothing because JFNA had nothing to offer. The ultimate articles raised serious questions, printed the serious responses received from multiple federations -- proved that there is really nothing to fear from the truth...from the facts.

Yes, you probably noticed that this JFNA, the organization all of us should be able to rely upon for facts, apparently had none to offer in response to an inquiry from a reporter about, inter alia, "financial oversight, fiduciary responsibility and specific spending over the Green Line." Anyone reading those pathetic  Guidelines would have had to conclude that JFNA has no answers and my guess is that these JFNA "leaders" didn't even know where to turn to find these answers; although one would like to think that among the 25-27 staffers of JFNA-Israel there would have been someone who has a clue -- yeah, I'd like to think that. Somehow the organization that stated that it would assure that the facts "will speak for themselves" doesn't know what the facts are

But the federations knew the answers, provided them in detail and their responses were included in the ultimate Blau Haaretz articles. JFNA itself is so opaque it operates as if everything it does is secret. JFNA and transparency have been determined by Jerry Silverman with the active connivance of a disinterested laity to be wholly incompatible.
Is there anyone...anyone...who sees the basic problem raised by the reporters' "inquiries?" That JFNA has serious problems with...facts? One big one being...it is in possession of none. And, therefor, it reacts in panic. 

And the Board Chair and those with whom he consults see no problem...no problem at all.

Rwexler





Tuesday, January 2, 2018

HOW LONG???





How long until federations stop paying/overpaying/egregiously overpaying for ineptitude and failure? That is the question.

Some already have, of course; JFNA has pled with those communities to pay while urging them to keep their non-payment "quiet." Yet, JFNA under this so-called leadership offers a veritable buffet overflowing with failures.


With all of the failures you can add what may be the biggest failure of all — the failure of imagination. These leaders can't imagine, let alone achieve, greatness; these leaders can't imagine, let alone achieve, transformational change. They merely repeat -- over and over and over again -- the programs of the past, some successful, most redundant, while parroting what they may have heard. (Example: Michael Siegal, when Board Chair, without any consultation with the federations, called for a multi-billion dollar effort to provide free Jewish education to all [he had no idea what the real cost might be]. That was six years ago. This past November, Smilin' Jerry S. called for the same thing -- nothing more than a pandering, patronizing applause line -- not a moment spent in planning, in putting meat on the bones of Siegal's idea over the six years between then and now. Truly despicable and so sadly typical.)

JFNA has evolved/devolved into an Idiocracy. I sense that in a number -- small but growing -- of federations there is a growing exasperation (one that should have surfaced years ago) with JFNA and an emergent reevaluation of the federation/JFNA relationship. This is a topic that Federation CEOs discuss in confidence among themselves at Retreats and in on-line chat "rooms" -- JFNA is "fortunate" (in the worst way) that these CEOs are waiting for someone else to take the lead. 

A growing number of these leaders realize that JFNA's ineptitude can actually lead to destabilizing the federations themselves. So here's the point: a weak, ineffective JFNA ultimately weakens the very federations which support it. 

What can one do about an organization designed to reflect strong leadership -- as JFNA was -- that has abandoned fund raising, abandoned the national agencies, abandoned the overseas partners, abandoned purpose, abandoned Mission, abandoned vision? My answer: you either reform it or you abandon it for another, recreate it. You don't just continue to throw $30 million (+) year-in and year-out and expect these same chachams to effect change when they believe that the very payment of those Dues means that they are doing just a fine job.

I despair -- JFNA is comatose, going through the motions; relying upon its member federations and their leaders to ask no questions, make no waves. There is no hope any longer, if there ever was, that the longest-serving Deans of the Large City Executives will invest any energy in effecting change at the top of JFNA (although they could). The only hope is that New York UJA-Federation CEO/President Eric Goldstein and his top lay leadership, will examine how that community's Dues -- millions each and every year -- are "invested" and what kind of return New York receives on that "investment;" and, when they find the answer to be none, they will demand that immediate steps be taken. 

Because...immediate steps need to be taken...

Rwexler


Saturday, December 30, 2017

SEARCHING FOR PURPOSE

In his superb summary of the General Assembly, JTA Editor-in-Chief, Andrew Silow-Carroll,     cited JFNA Board Chair's address:
"Federations are much more comfortable, and unifying, when they stick to what they do best: Richard Sandler, chair of the JFNA board of trustees, described that threefold mission as relief for the needy, support for Jewish education and identity, and inspiring a connection to Israel."
https://www.jta.org/2017/11/14/news-opinion/opinion/federations-rally-around-pluralism-but-wish-they-didnt-have-to?utm_source=JTA Maropost&utm_campaign=JTA&utm_medium=email&mpweb=1161-1688-27384
We might debate whether these are JFNA's or Federations' most pressing purposes, but, inasmuch as JFNA has for 9 years now, has not articulated (and stayed focus on) any mission, these three would be a magnificent mission for the organization.

Let's dig down and see where we are on this "threefold mission:"


  1. Relief for the needy: Federation agencies have been and are engaged on this Mission as they have been for decades; in some instances, for over a century. I recall our communities, including my own, confronting the "new Jewish poor" in the early 1980's, as the Council of Jewish Federations exposed the issues, the best practices, and highlighted the emerging challenges at at least two GA's. That was then; today? JFNA, the successor to CJF, is doing nothing.
  2. Support for Jewish education. Federations have dramatically increased allocations to Jewish education and, yet, Jewish education remains underfunded generally, teachers are severely underpaid, and, as a general rule, Jewish education does not, although it should, inspire our fund-raising. Meanwhile, what has JFNA done under this leadership to lead "support for Jewish education?" Well, while JESNA died away from underfunding, JFNA's leaders, lay and professional, did nothing, said nothing. Then, a few years later, Silverman led the theft of over $1 million from the National Agencies Funding Pool to fund a "Jewish Education Unit" that his budget couldn't support. JFNA is doing nothing.
  3. Inspiring a connection to Israel. Laughable...that's L.A.U.G.H.A.B.L.E. With no advocacy (and, no, the JFNA-Israel "Envoys" thing, isn't) for our institutional "connection(s) to Israel," at this date, year-end 2017, allocations to JAF/JDC/WorldORT are at the lowest levels ever, just as the year before these allocations reached the lowest levels ever, and the year before that...Worse, national Missions have reached such a nadir that in 2017 the Prime Minister's Mission, once the crown jewel of national Missions was canceled, another national Mission traveled to Argentina, etc., etc. JFNA-Israel is an unmanaged black hole of no accomplishments deveouring millions year-in and year-out. JFNA is doing worse than nothing.
Sandler's mission trifecta for JFNA was nothing more than words. The dots don't connect; does Sandler realize that reality?

No, the dots don't connect. Under Sandler/Silverman they never do.

Have a wonderful 2018.

Rwexler

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

TAX "REFORM"


Friends, I cannot believe that any federation leader, lay or professional, believes that Congress' version of "tax reform" will benefit those of our People most in need in any way -- just the opposite. With predictions that the law could reduce charitable giving by $13 billion per year, the impacts could well be catastrophic, the safety net unraveled. 

So I thought I would investigate what JFNA did during the negotiations that resulted in this legislation. And what I learned should make all of us proud. 

Examining JFNA Action Alerts, reports to JFNA's governance bodies, even FedWorld (!!), the effort became clear. And here's what emerged: JFNA's Washington Office was at work from the outset. Senior tax policy counsel Steven Woolf led the efforts on the tax bill, and in fact helped lead the efforts of the entire charitable sector through the Charitable Giving Coalition. (Visit the website at:  https://www.givevoice.org/)

JFNA's major focus was to push for an “above the line” or “universal” deduction that would have allowed anyone who makes charitable contributions to have a deduction, regardless of whether they itemize (obviously more important because the bill will significantly reduce the number of itemizers). The JFNA and the Coalition succeeded in getting this position into the “Manager’s Amendment” in the Senate, but unfortunately it ended up not gaining sufficient support to get into the final Senate-passed bill. 

JFNA also worked to stop the repeal of the Johnson Amendment (which prohibits 501(c)(3) charities from endorsing political candidates), to save Private Activity Bonds (which were eliminated in the House-passed bill), to oppose the repeal of the state and local tax (SALT) deduction, and more.

There were dozens of meetings with Members of Congress, Senators, and their staff. JFNA kept relevant federation professionals alerted, which resulted in dozens of more interactions with Congress; and also communicated positions on our behalf to the White House and Treasury Department even though the real action was in the House and Senate. JFNA and federation lay leaders were mobilized from Richard Sandler's working the Hill to federation leaders with strong contacts with individual Senators and Congresspersons working their contacts. This was a planful strategy even if that strategy ultimately did not succeed.

Articles in the press including one in the New York Times --https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/15/business/charities-tax-bill.html -- predicted up to $95 billion in decline in charitable deductions claimed, not actual giving. Estimates are of a $12-20 billion based on 5 percent of taxpayers itemizing (as distinct from the 35 percent who currently itemize). I'm told that the actual number of itemizers will probably end up being higher due to the $10,000 SALT level. But one estimate is that the loss will likely be 10 percent of taxpayers who end up itemizing, so the $12-20 billion loss is thought to be overstated. Even so, the loss will be devstating.

JFNA leaders and the members of the Coalition were clearly swimming against the tide on this one. They fought the great fight for all of us. The question remains whether only a battle was lost or the war itself; either way this is not over.