Sunday, September 25, 2016

BUILDING CYNICISM

It's pretty clear what will happen to you in organized Jewish life if you "get out of line." The organizational  overlords keep clear of all those who are not in their thrall.  Question them, and they tend to get touchy...or worse. Watching this "process" play out, actually experiencing it first-hand, I am reminded of the warning in Pirke Avot:
"Be ye guarded in your relations with the ruling power; for they who exercise it draw no man near to them except for their own interests; appearing as friends when it is to their own advantage, they stand not by a man in his hour of need."
All leaders should make Pirke Avot required reading -- my own beat up Hertz version still bears the inscription: "Presented to Richard Wexler On the Occasion of his Hebrew School Graduation."  (That was 1954 for the inquiring reader!!)

We learn so much from Hillel. 

"Hillel reminds us that learning is not a passive operation. To learn means to be an active participant, listening carefully, asking thoughtful questions, raising considered objections, suggesting creative answers. A passive person who wants his teachers to do the job of learning for him will never succeed as a student."
Too often, in today's communal world, Hillel's admonitions would end with "listening carefully" -- there is no room, in too many places, for "asking thoughtful questions;" no room for "considered objections;" and never room for "suggesting creative answers." In fact, your lay leadership career is in jeopardy too often if you do any of those things.

I am reminded of a JFNA Budget and Finance Committee several years ago where a venerated professional leader, now retired, apparently frustrated with the number of questions being raised by Committee members scolded the lay leadership telling them that the Committee meeting was neither the place nor the time to raise questions (?!). The then Committee Chair agreed and the questions -- all appropriate -- died on the lay leaders' lips.

How many of you have told me in our chats about the Jewish World of the waste of time you find our organizational meetings to be? How many of you have tried so damn hard to make those meetings more relevant, more open, more inclusive only to be frustrated at every turn by a leadership disinterested in those very things, ultimately surrendering the hope for substantive change. (I fondly remember one leader whose idea of change was to seat a Board at meetings around small circular tables -- hoping I guess for more intimacy and printed as real "change.") How many of us have participated in "table discussions" at large meetings, to be told that "we will compile the results and recommendations and incorporate them in our plans and programs" only to never hear anything about them again? And our leaders can't understand the general cynicism that emerges.

Often, I have used these many, many pages to reflect on the reality that if one pushes back too hard, or pushes back publicly on matters of principle, on matters l'shem shamayim, one must be willing to accept the consequences -- ostracism, lech l'azazel, and worse. But if one merely acquiesces on matters of principle because to do otherwise is just "too hard," trust me, it becomes harder and harder to look oneself in the mirror.

Or, may be it doesn't.

Rwexler



Thursday, September 22, 2016

PERSPECTIVES ON LAY LEADERSHIP

Once again, ejewishphilanthropy has provided us with food for thought, a feast actually. First a piece authored by George Caplan, a Past Chair of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, and the esteemed academician and student of Jewish communal life, Steven Windmueller -- Federations and Their Legacy Tradition: How the "Greatest Generation" Impacted American Jewish Life. http://ejewishphilanthropy.com/federations-and-their-legacy-tradition-how-the-greatest-generation-impacted-american-jewish-life/. Only days later, the dean of American federation CEOs, my friend Steve Nasatir, published a response -- Let's Not Demean Today's Great Generation of Jewish Leaders.http://ejewishphilanthropy.com/lets-not-demean-todays-great-generation-of-jewish-leaders/?utm_source=Tue+Aug+30n**&utm_campaign=Tue+Aug+30&utm_medium=email

Both of these fine commentaries need to be read in full (and not only because the Caplan/Windmueller article did not "demean today's great generation..." but reflected instead on the incredible contributions of those of the "greatest generation") because, as one would expect, each is written from a unique communal perspective -- Los Angeles and Chicago -- in a point/counterpoint. (Not surprising, that captive sad rag FedWorld prominently featured Steve Nasatir's piece, while days earlier it merely provided a link to the Caplan-Windmueller article that was the catalyst for Steve's.) And neither are wrong although it is extremely difficult to convert their conclusions into something more universal. The cynic in me would suggest a post-script to Nasatir's piece -- might read like this: Let's Not Demean Today's Great Generation of Jewish Leaders -- They Are Doing a Fine Job of Doing So by Themselves. But that would be wrong.

I don't believe that anyone...that's anyone -- would argue that, but for a few even rare instances, today we are not producing another Max Fisher, z'l, a Corky Goodman, a Shoshana Cardin, a Marvin Lender, an Albert Ratner, a Charles Bronfman and others whose contributions to Modern Jewish History and leadership remain unmatched. And, we are terribly diminished by that sad reality. 

And, examples of the contrasts in the point/counterpoint in ejewishphilanthropy are among those that I witnessed first-hand: in one community a Campaign Chair was plucked from out of the blue because he gave a substantial gift at an annual (now canceled, of course) UJA Aspen Event but had had no prior community leadership role; and, because the federation had no succession plan for its lay leadership, that same new leader was parachuted into the Chairmanship where, among other things, he would cancel Board meetings at his whim. With no background in federation governance, he was driving blind. Since then, the community has been placed in the best of hands.

In the other community, mine, competition for the top lay positions is often so heated that leaders who don't know better will, too often, actively lobby for the Chairmanship sometimes in inappropriate ways. One, the circumstances of which I remember vividly, involved a local leader of transparent ambition who tried to leverage a national agency leadership position against his desire for the federation Chair position, claiming he "would have to accept" the national agency leadership if he didn't get the Federation Chair...he didn't achieve the federation chair position...at that time. I'm certain that hope springs eternal.

Fifteen years ago, Jeffrey Solomon and I collaborated on an article in the Journal of Jewish Communal Service -- Settings Standards for Volunteer Leadership and the Professionwww.bjpa.org/publications/downloadFile.cfm?FileID=2188 We were honored with an 
award for the "article of the year," but more so by the fact that schools of Jewish communal 
service added the article to their curricula and that in the JFNA seminars for new Presidents and CEOs 
the article was a reference point for a number of years...certainly no longer. It is clear, from the Caplan-Windmueller and Nasatir articles that standards for lay leadership and the quality of those leaders vary widely.
One characteristic that all would agree upon, espoused most recently in the passionate words
of Richard Sandler, is a commitment to Jewish values and an understanding of how Jewish 
values infuse our sacred work.

At least there is that.

Rwexler

Monday, September 19, 2016

OH, THAT THING? IT JUST EVOLVED

Remember that "World Jewry Initiative," what was to be a partnership among the Government of Israel, the Jewish Agency and, among others, the Global Planning Table of JFNA? Well, it evolved.

Yes, it evolved  away from JAFI and JFNA into...well read the following and just weep: http://ejewishphilanthropy.com/jewish-identity-plan-raises-ire-of-non-orthodox-jews-in-u-s/?utm_source=Mon+Aug+22n**&utm_campaign=Mon+Aug+22&utm_medium=email  Yep, the Government decided to go forward in its campus anti-BDS efforts with, among others, Chabad and Hillel and ultra-Orthodox Movements to the apparent exclusion of the Reform and Conservative Movements and the organized Jewish community. It promises to be ugly.

You won't be surprised to learn that, as of this writing, the Reform and Conservative Movements have expressed their outrage -- JFNA...silent. Why? Because silence becomes us. (And, you will recall that a JFNA subsidiary leader took it upon himself to "rescue" the GOI-JAFI World Jewry Initiative. How did that work out? [That leader has now taken his extensive portfolio of leadership achievements to...World ORT.]) This is not about JFNA, after all, this is about the GOI and its internal divisions and the impotency of JAFI in what should have been a crowning achievement.

And the articles on the "new" Initiative relate that the effort will be headed by one Mosaic United, an interesting operation with an energetic women-only senior professional staff and Steering and Advisory Committees filled with many of our system's "friends," including some familiar names -- Malcolm Hoenlein, Tova Dorfman, Yossi Beilin, Mark Charendorf, Barry Shrage, Avraham Infeld, Gidi Marks and one of the 2016 GA's Co-Chairs, among others. An eclectic and unrepresentative group to be certain as Mosaic United will engage its yet-to-be-defined campus advocacy through Hillel, Chabad and Olami (another ultra-Orthodox organization) for this on-campus "connection" program. Just the right threesome of organizations isn't it, as Naftali Bennett, Israel's Education Minister as well as Diaspora Affairs Minister, put it: "...the real answer to growing anti-Semitism and Israel's de-legitimization." Uh-huh, "the real answer" indeed.. For a far more enlightening and in-depth analysis, read J.J. Goldberg's column in the Forward, August 26, 2016, Is Israeli Initiative Trying to Turn American Jews Into Orthodox Right-Wingers?

I'd say this $65 million "Initiative" (2/3rds of which are to be provided by philanthropists and "other organizations" -- sure!!)  is off to a great start, wouldn't you? I wonder what JFNA thinks -- probably breathing a sigh of relief that it doesn't have to engage in real FRD for the original "Initiative" -- something it already tried...and failed. But all we have heard from JFNA is, as usual...nothing. Did its bloated JFNA-Israel Office have any advance intelligence on this matter? We'll never know because...well, just because...

It's none of our business.

Rwexler

Friday, September 16, 2016

IS THERE STILL A PROFESSION?

Four distinguished professionals, each dedicated to both the federation system and the profession they have spent a career building, each having served as President of the Association of Jewish Community Professionals, three of whom had received the profession's highest honor -- the Mandelkorn Distinguished Service Award -- have made a further critical contribution in their recent article in ejewishphilanthropy -- Jewish Communal Service: A Profession or Just a Job? -- http://ejewishphilanthropy.com/jewish-communal-work-a-profession-or-just-a-job/?utm_source=Mon+Sept+5n*&utm_campaign=Mon+Sept+5&utm_medium=email. The article is a brilliant and impassioned cri de coeur for a profession to which these four leaders and so many others have contributed so much.

I am one who has a lifelong respect for Jewish communal professionals -- I have been privileged to have served within the lay-professional partnership and learned so much from the best and brightest of them. That respect even manifested itself in my unrequited attempt so long ago to join the professional ranks. 

Danny Allen, Alan Engel, Lou Solomon and Peter Wells decry the deconstruction of their profession:
"Our “Profession” has declined. There are at least four key reasons: 1) There is very little if any sense of being part of a larger enterprise among senior federation and other agency staff in part due to their increasingly disparate backgrounds. 2) A decline in the effort by JFNA to cultivate such a community, to assist communities in their search processes for senior staff – now completely suspended so we have been told – and to help set the standard and requirements for our American Jewish collectivity. 3) We do not have a professional association/community of practice that is properly funded in order to be a key player and 4) The profound changes and shrill nature of the discourse in Jewish religious and organizational life that are now common and which reflect to our discredit the political/civic culture in both America and Israel and which our leaders and organizations are doing precious little to counter."
We have chronicled this diminution of the professional Movement on these pages time and again. Now we are hearing the pleading from inside the system. As the authors wrote:
"With a collective biblical work experience of “120” years, we are optimists. We believe that among our colleagues, working and “retired,” there is a storehouse of energy, wisdom, ideas, abilities, and good will all of which can be placed in support of creating a community of practice which will serve our collectivity. We call on others to join with us in this quest, to unite with us as we begin the formation of a community of Jewish collective practitioners. This is not a request for funding – though it would not be refused. It is a request to use the vast human resources of our communities to be a link and strengthening agent for our people."

When a system-supported start-up designed to identify, enhance and prepare Jewish professionals for advancement and places the JFNA CEO, whose professional credentials can be summed up in one word: Dockers, on its Advisory Board, one has to question how much our system really cares about the profession it is supposed to support and grow. Not surprising, the article has not been referenced in that JFNA rag FEDWorld -- censorship perhaps; orders from on high? 

One great professional who served our system over 4 decades, commented on the article as follows:
"It deserves further serious analysis. How is it that after FEREP, Mandel, Wexner, Schusterman, Brandeis, HUC, JTS, Spertus, etc., there is such a shortage of good people in this field? How is it
that CEOs and others looking to hire report that “there is no one out there” and leave vacancies on their staffs for months at a time? How is it that several search consultants are in business, commanding substantial fees for finding candidates, calling lists of the usual suspects to see if they “know of anyone”? And how is it that when CEO openings occur, search committees of senior lay leadership decide to “recruit out of the box”?….Do they feel that this is a good incentive for capable and ambitious people to stay in the field?
"
Thus, the authors left hanging the question -- what duty do those serving at the top of their profession owe to it? Most of them have received their professional organization's highest honor for their professional leadership. What do they owe back to a profession that has become more and more viewed as a vestige of another time? The evidence suggests that this not a matter that they think about very much if at all.

One can only hope that the professional leaders who have raised the question have also lit a spark. Yes, we can only hope.

Rwexler

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

IRRELEVANCE AND MISTRUST

A federation professional leader and I exchanged thoughts on the sorry state of our communal structure over time to the point we have reached today. He would not want me to use his name but I wish I could inasmuch as his analysis, his perspective have been expressed in sorrow, pain and reality:

"The unraveling of trust of federations is way down the food chain of the causes of our system's ailments.  Several large federations got tired of defending or were unable to successfully articulate the business proposition and communal values underpinning community campaigns.  When their donors designated their gifts the federation itself could no longer defend its own (dwindling) undesignated allocation to traditional partners.  That gave them less voice with those partners and things spiraled into a mutual irrelevance.  And now because of designated donor and (smaller) Federation grants, federations have become irrelevant.   Irrelevance is the presenting ailment.  To be sure, lack of trust of its ability to deliver on things large and small has grown which in turn of course exacerbates the irelevance problem.

1) Stop believing in your unique product and articulating its philanthropic values and business value added.

2) Become irrelevant to donor and agencies alike.  (By the way, if Donor A loves the JCC or Hillel, why does donor or agency need federation?)

3) Community recognizes Federation can't do big, important things well...Irrelevance and  trust are married."
The analysis is, unfortunately, spot on. The reality presented evolved over time, beginning with the first check for a designated gift, to the encouragement of designated giving by the leaders of the Council of Jewish Federations in its last years, right down to today. All of us should recall the JFNA-endorsed, totally failed "Signature Initiatives" which formally announced the continental entity's "walk away" from collective action to the easy path of "coalitions of the willing" which to JFNA proved to be "no coalitions of the unwilling." Rather than dwell on that history, let's think about how our communities might reassert their relevance, if that is even possible.

It would be nice, of course, if we had a living, breathing continental organization with a professional leadership that even understood the problem...but we don't...and it looks as if we never will. JFNA has become nothing more than a very expensive trade organization...and that appears to be enough to its leaders. JFNA can claim it's relevant -- invites to the White House, quarterly meetings with the Israeli Prime Minister, appointments to the Jewish Agency Board would probably be the validation points -- but it is JFNA's work that has become irrelevant; except as a trade association. 

My correspondent above continued with a dystopian view:
"JFNA, like JCPA, whatever their internal dysfunctions – and every group has their share – is beset first and foremost by being an umbrella body composed of weak shareholders. And rather than reinvesting, they want to sell their shares.  They are reluctant investors, not partners. They don’t value the products offered and they have less and less discretionary money to invest overall….so JFNA is a really unwelcomed tax. Moreover, the shareholders (Federations) want dividends paid in diametrically opposed ways.    They – the national -- are forced in every case into a zero sum equation.  What satisfies Chicago pisses off San Francisco (and what pleases New York) is ignored by Boston, and vice versa.

It is very hard for a national to parachute in and alter the now-established traditions (designated giving, abandoning the national and international collective) in local communities.  In this paradigm I can only imagine that rather than being viewed as mischpacha, a JFNA appeal is heard no differently than one would be coming from JNF, AJC, Hebrew U, The Israel Project.

I’ve spent lots of time diagnosing what ails our systems.  I’ve spent an equal time thinking of prescriptions…..to no avail.

Bottom line is JFNA (even a much better JFNA) embodies to too many communities what Harley Davidson does to me: they may well have the best marketing, the best bikes, the best prices…it just doesn’t matter.  I’m not buying.  It’s irrelevant.  My life is just fine without out and I don’t seek what you tell me is missing from my life."
Dystopian and, of course, total reality,

So, absent a proactive, relevant continental organization, it remains up to the federations themselves to examine how their own relevance might be restored.

And, how might that happen? Given that the Federations, you remember, the owners of JFNA, apparently see no hope of or have no interest in effecting the requisite changes at 25 Broadway; the only way to strike a new direction appears to be for the most responsible of communities to organize among themselves. The focus should be on a continental meeting driven by those communities which have yet to become irrelevant -- let me suggest that, among others, those would be Miami, Chicago, New York, Houston, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Los Angeles, Nashville, Rochester, Los Angeles and others. All federation chief volunteer and chief professional officers would be invitees. The program for that conclave -- let's call it "Oak Brook II" (reflecting back to the continental meeting that framed what JFNA was supposed to become) -- would be developed by a federation-led Steering Committee around the topic "Reasserting Relevance" or something similar. And, then, let the chips fall where they may.

These are times that cry out for a Jerry Bubis, z'l, or Rabbi Herb Friedman, z'l, for a Michael Steinhart or a Charles Bronfman. Instead...and this is not to say that JFNA's Board Chair could not lead this, but he first has to realize that all is not well...we can only hope that a Goldstein, a Nasatir, a Hoffman, a Sanderson might stand up and shout: "ENOUGH" -- but we have been hoping for that forever it seems.

I am certainly not Diogenes on some eternal quest for an honest person -- that's not me. I am just a commentator looking for a few good men and women with the courage to admit what we have just isn't working paired with the courage to go public in a demand for change.

What do you think?

Rwexler





Saturday, September 10, 2016

MORE: HUH?

So much has happened since we last asked the seminal question of JFNA: "Huh?"

1. There was this response to the Post on the strange episode of the SS+K  "secret agreement" sent off-line from one of the most respected professionals both inside and outside our system:
"I was really taken aback to read about the mysterious $1 million consulting firm.
You're the attorney and from everything I know from (almost 5 decades) in the field, you have it exactly right. I can't imagine that staff consulted general counsel and got a go ahead with a project like this, or at least with the "explanation" of what it is. As a CEO these past 30 years or so, I always felt and preached that my core responsibility was to protect the welfare of the organization. And perhaps nothing else is more important to protect than the organization's tax exempt status. Without this, you're dead!This is the family jewels--if you lose it you're sunk--no one will give you a nickel.
So it sounds to me that JFNA had better rethink its (non) explanation...it wouldn't hold water with the IRS."
It appears quite clear that JFNA considers itself not only above the law but above its fiduciary responsibilities. 

It is also clear that JFNA's lay leadership is in total agreement that its staff may stonewall on the terms of and parties to what they have determined (on what basis we apparently shall never know) to be an appropriate contract (se 2., below) but which may well be an unlawful conduit agreement -- would the IRS and the Non-Profit Division of the New York Attorney General's Office agree with JFNA's leaders? And, if either or both disagree with JFNA's entry into this mystery $1 million contract and its refusal to disclose, what might the consequences be?

2. More (or less) on the SS+K deal. When I was denied the opportunity as a Board Member to review the contract with SS+K, I wrote Richard Sandler with a copy of my Post on the subject.. He wrote back and assured me that he had reviewed the purpose of the contract, that JFNA has an active role in the contract implementation, the purpose of which was/is Israel advocacy, that the contract had been reviewed and approved by JFNA's auditors, and approved by his predecessor and the CEO.  So I guess everything's just fine.

3. Thanks to CEO Jerry I could write a Post every day -- it's merely my maturity and restraint that holds me to three a week (and, on occasion, yes, 4). So there was the inanity that appeared in another sermonette from the Smilin' One -- this one titled "Successful Leadership Starts With The 'Who.'"  (Possibly not referring to the English rock band.) Jerry appeared to intend that this one be some form of paean to Mort Mandel, but, as is the norm with Jerry's meandering, confusing writings, it went off-course early and often...very often. In adapting Mort's lessons on the quality of leadership and the best and brightest, Smilin' Jerry demonstrates a remarkable lack of self-awareness; he clearly did not understand that applying the Mandel leadership standards to himself would have illustrated how far this CEO has fallen short.

Our CEO cited Mandel as follows:
"Those people, he says, have to be the best in terms of intellectual firepower, values, passion, work ethic and experience. These kinds of employees are the A players. C players generally quit or are fired, while B players hang on—they're not so bad that you have justification for firing them, but 'they can't help you win the pennant. They cheat you from achieving all you could,' thus preventing an organization from soaring to greater heights."
Yep, written by our "'B player' in chief." G-d bless him.

4.. That preeminent publication -- FedWorld -- continues to astound. Just a couple of weeks ago the rag led off with the following cite: 
The chachams at 25 Broadway responsible for this thing have no reason to understand that it was JFNA back in the day which led the abandonment of the system's National Foundation for Jewish Culture. (Hellooooo The Alliance) Nor would they have read the article in Inside Philanthropy itself; I guess because the article had "philanthropy" in the title, that merited inclusion.

And so it goes at Lake Woebegone. Huh?

Rwexler

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

POSTSCRIPT TO A POSTSCRIPT

On October 1, 2012 -- that's four years ago by my count -- I wrote:

"One Anonymous Commentator wrote, in response to P.S. to a Post Script:

Richard, though you have written them before, please reiterate which programs you feel would be of benefit to the federations that are not being done now by JFNA. This would be helpful to those of us who aren't familiar and maybe could be helpful to some who can do something about it.


So, seeing as you asked:


  1. Bring together JFNA's Board, federation leaders all, and have a discussion about JFNA's purposes
  2. As a significant number of federations when surveyed had already articulated that their greatest "want" from JFNA was enhanced FRD assistance, reinvigorate the organization's FRD functions
  3. Instead of just talking about it, actually implement a robust set of national Missions led by charismatic leaders who will reach out to recruit across the Continent
  4. Actually insist on an independent evaluation of JFNA's services -- from JFNA Global Services to the GA -- and publish the results -- in some instance it will shut the mouths of critics and in others it will result in change
  5. Acknowledge that rebranding is over and dedicate that portion of JFNA's budget to FRD
  6. Stop the waste and chaos that is the Global Planning Table, an effort that is dragging JFNA down, and being to engage in real advocacy for the system' s historic partners
  7. Let's have real consulting services with and for the federations -- a Silverman fly-in doesn't count
And, these are just for starters.

What are your thoughts?"

So I thought, a half decade later that we take a look at these suggestions and where JFNA is today. Shall we?
  1. Bring together JFNA's Board, federation leaders all, and have a discussion about JFNA's purposes. Grade F -- there has still never been a discussion of purpose by JFNA's Board. It is as if as JFNA's most senior lay and professional leaders have never defined the organization's purpose(s), they fear what the Board might produce. If you don't know where you are going any road will get you there -- or nowhere.
  2. As a significant number of federations when surveyed had already articulated that their greatest "want" from JFNA was enhanced FRD assistance, reinvigorate the organization's FRD functions. Grade IncompleteFour years later, after the complete collapse of FRD, it appears that JFNA is on the cusp of recreating its Financial Resource Development operation with a new Senior Vice President, two outstanding consultants and an actual (albeit superficial) "plan" -- one that reads like the Platform of either political party.
  3. Instead of just talking about it, actually implement a robust set of national Missions led by charismatic leaders who will reach out to recruit across the Continent. Grade Incomplete. Partially implemented -- though more and more federations are going their own way on Missions, JFNA has conducted some important ones. Yet, a succession of National Campaign Chairs, apparently having nothing else to do, have appointed themselves as Mission Chairs time and again rather than using Mission Co-Chairs as a means of identifying the future leaders of the Continental FRD effort . Further, more and more federations are going on Missions with no assistance from JFNA/
  4. Actually insist on an independent evaluation of JFNA's services -- from JFNA Global Services to the GA -- and publish the results -- in some instance it will shut the mouths of critics and in others it will result in change. Grade F. If an independent evaluation has taken place, the results have been totally suppressed so those results must have been as terrible as the failures have been so visible. Assuming there has been no such evaluation, one can only ask: why not?
  5. Acknowledge that rebranding is over and dedicate that portion of JFNA's budget to FRD. Grade HaHaHa. JFNA as Dockers -- the brand is everything to these chachams.
  6. Stop the waste and chaos that is the Global Planning Table, an effort that is dragging JFNA down, and being to engage in real advocacy for the system' s historic partners. Grade D. One can only ask: what took them so long? From the get-go, even before it was begun, many of us saw the GPT as fatally flawed; it finally died only because JFNA failed to raise the requisite seed money to further its ill-formed purposes. It died while the CEO was still saying that if the GPT went away so would JFNA. And "real advocacy" continues to elude JFNA which, at least, is now giving lip service to it through the embryonic "Envoys" program.
  7. Let's have real consulting services with and for the federations -- a Silverman fly-in doesn't count. Grade F. CEO Smilin' is still flying hither and yon to what end only The Shadow knows. With its Senior V-P Community Consulting departure in 2015, JFNA now has not even the appearance of a Community Consulting function. And, now, FRD plans to implement one on an extremely limited basis -- maybe that will work.
So, let me ask: what has been accomplished after the seven years of Jerry, seven years of worse than mediocrity, that would encourage responsible lay leaders to continue down (and it's really far down) the path toward irrelevance and worse? Let me put it another way: How much longer will the lay and professional leaders of the UJA-Federation of New York continue to tolerate the waste of $6 million (+/-) a year on this nothingness; how long will the leaders of Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Baltimore, Miami and, yes, Los Angeles, throw tens of millions of dollars at JFNA in the false hope that these funds are being well-spent. 

I used to be at the forefront of those advocating for more...yes, more... for JFNA under the theory that while my own community was only directly benefiting from these outlays in an extremely limited way, the JFNA Budget expenditures were benefiting smaller communities with programs and assistance they could not pay for themselves -- our Dues were an expression of collective responsibility. No longer -- except for the small amount of JFNA's work which directly benefits the Dues-payers, the rest benefits no one but JFNA itself...and hardly JFNA. 

Do I continue to hold out hope that federation leaders will stand up and demand transformational change from new, transformational leaders at JFNA -- no. I know so many of these leaders -- dedicated women and men, all of them -- so it is inconceivable to me that they would not only tolerate the hot mess that is JFNA today but, in some instances, typically by the higher office aspirants or those who benefit from the mess, encourage it. But, I'm coming around to believing that they just don't care.

Rwexler

Sunday, September 4, 2016

THE GA 2016

Here we go again...

The flood of promotions for the November GA has already begun, the kind of hyperbole that has typified the way the folks at 25 Broadway have attempted to "sell" this thing for the past seven years.

So, instead of substance, these leaders continue to market the General Assembly as if it were a pair of Dockers -- they try to sell the non-existent "sizzle" when they should be focused on the substance. But...they...just...can't. And the preliminary Program for the 2016 Assembly looks excellent, by the way, if, in the main, excellent for the professional community above all. Perhaps the folks running the GA should take a lesson from JNF. All  they need start with is the Program for its National Conference 2016. 
http://www.jnf.org/about-jnf/events/2016/2016-national-conference/2016-national-conference.html
Then they might attend the JNF Conference -- it's next week.* 

With JFNA and our GA however, first, came the "Save the Dates" from the Co-Chairs. They are appropriate and welcoming. Then come the hyperbolic mentions in the joke that is FEDWorld. Of these, the most needlessly hysterical is the announcement that Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks (more about Rabbi Sacks, later) will be one of "130+ other noted speakers from around the world." These "130+" are apparently known only to those at 25 Broadway in charge of the hype, because they appear nowhere on the GA Website -- oh, sure, joining Rabbi Sacks, are Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and NBC's brilliant anchor of Meet the Press, Chuck Todd, and author Bruce Feiler (who is also presenting to JNF, BTW) and a number of others including a film director**,  but only at JFNA does  20 equal 130, just as 700 lay registrants equals 3,000. (I'm sure that just as last year the final program will identify close to 130 "speakers," many of whom will not speak.) There are some wonderful speakers in this first list; I'll leave it to all of you to decide if the roster is attractive enough to attract you to Washington (again).

And, then, there is Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks. In response to an earlier Post, several of you noted that, given Rabbi Sacks well-documented outbursts as Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, he should never have been invited to keynote the GA of and for the federations; his incredible intellect, powerful voice and receipt of the Templeton Prize notwithstanding. My friends have a point.

In announcing the Templeton Prize, Rabbi Sacks was characterized as:
"Central to his message is appreciation and respect of all faiths, with an emphasis that recognizing the values of each is the only path to effectively combat the global rise of violence and terrorism."
And few have offered as many quotes on values and tolerance and civil discourse than he. But, then, there is the reality that while he served as Chief Rabbi, he sometimes demonstrated the same lack of tolerance of non-Orthodox Movements as have multiple Chief Rabbis in Israel. Examples in the London press?
1. "...he denounced the much admired Reform rabbi and Auschwitz survivor Hugo Gryn as "among those who destroy the faith" – which produced a furore both in the Jewish world and in the national press. The outcry lasted months..." 
          2. "The JFS (the Jewish Free School) debacle, when a Jewish school under the chief rabbi's authority tried to bar a non-Orthodox Jewish child was yet another example of self-generated communal discord." 

In the wake of the attack on Rabbi Gryn there were calls for Rabbi Lord Sacks resignation. One critic observed: ""Clearly, the Chief Rabbi no longer represents all Jews and speaks only for the Orthodox sector,"

Of course the question arises whether CEO Jerry, he who only a few weeks ago preached his own sermonette on the need for tolerance and civility had any idea that Rabbi Sacks hasn't exactly been a paragon of either. Then, again, maybe Jerry just didn't understand or didn't care -- after all it can't hurt, some might think, to bask in the reflected glory of a Templeton Prize winner.
Once again the GA is not off to the best start. This time there is the hope that the excellent lay Co-Chairs will assert themselves in an attempt to assure that the GA will not just be one designed by and for professionals, but will have a broad appeal to lay and professional "registrants" alike.  You know -- like it once was.

Rwexler

* Perhaps, JFNA should invite its Negev Task Force to the JNF event so that they might understand what substantive programs for the Negev are all about.
** Only the GA promotors at JFNA could think that announcing that an "Haredi film director" will prompt a spate of Registrants

Thursday, September 1, 2016

IT'S KADDISH FOR THE LAY-PROFESSIONAL PARTNERSHIP

The death of the lay-professional partnership began so many years ago -- first in our communities and, then, in almost a trickle-up, at CJF where in its last years, there was no question where decisions were being made. 

I was so wrong when in real time I thought that the federations' desire/demand for merger was to gain control of the United Jewish Appeal Budget. 20/20 hindsight has educated me to the real reason, budget control was important, but the desire/demand of mainly the Large Cities and, there, of the Large City Executives, was put an end to an organization where lay leadership still led policy decisions in partnership with a professional staff that then executed them. Nevermore would there be an organization that could drive an Operation Exodus or anything like it; nevermore would there be an organization that felt the moral obligation to advocate for greater allocations to overseas needs; and nevermore would lay leaders seeking a balance in the lay-professional partnership assume leadership positions in what would be JFNA. Well, these professional leaders, the best and brightest of our generations, succeeded in most of these goals -- perhaps, beyond their dreams.

When I write "most of these goals," it is because there have been failures along the way to the hegemony of the professional -- and those failures have been mammoth. Two stand out:

  1. The Global Planning Table -- driven by the passion and determination of Kathy Manning, this was a monumental multi-million dollar fiasco -- a wholly predictable nightmare of a JFNA FUBAR. For years system professionals will demand "leave it to the professionals" and, if necessary, point to the GPT and observe that "this is what happens when lay leaders with no knowledge of what is happening in our communities push a personal agenda." But, the GPT would not have happened absent...
  2. Jerry Silverman -- clearly hired because, unlike the LCE who immediately preceded him as CEO -- Hoffman and Rieger, without commenting on their competency -- Jerry would be wholly subservient to those who hired him and compensated him to such an egregious extent. 
But, there were other failures -- costly ones -- as well -- think the "ONAD process," think the "Trust," think "TribeFest," think "#ISH" -- all of them failures driven by professionals

I once complimented one of the best professional leaders: "You have an incredible gift; you are able to convince the lay leadership that they/we are actually participating in the decisions." I meant this as both a compliment and a lamentation on the passage from what was first the dominance of the lay leader, to a balance in the lay-professional partnership, to the gross imbalance of today.

Last year a wonderful lay leader stated:
"...to be effective Federations must be run by professionals. Lay leaders have a role to set the mission, make sure the organization has the right CEO and that CEO is supported and has the resources to do his or her job. Federations can no longer be looked upon as just fundraising organizations and lay leaders can no longer get involved in making day to day decisions."
I assumed that this consummate leader, who would begin his Board Chair service at JFNA weeks later, fully understood the difference between "the right CEO" and the wrong one; and that having "set the mission," lay leadership would have a continuing responsibility to assure that that mission was being implemented with excellence and, if not, to take all necessary steps to make certain that the mission was achieved. As other organizations have learned to their sorrow and to their community's their organization's ultimate detriment, handing over the organization to the "wrong CEO" can be, and in JFNA's case is, an unmitigated disaster.

But let's not ignore Board Member obligations. As one group of non-profit experts set forth:
  1. Determine mission and purpose. It is the board's responsibility to create and review a statement of mission and purpose that articulates the organization's goals, means, and primary constituents served.
  2. Select the chief executive. Boards must reach consensus on the chief executive's responsibilities and undertake a careful search to find the most qualified individual for the position.
  3. Support and evaluate the chief executive. The board should ensure that the chief executive has the moral and professional support he or she needs to further the goals of the organization.
  4. Ensure effective planning. Boards must actively participate in an overall planning process and assist in implementing and monitoring the plan's goals.
  5. Monitor and strengthen programs and services. The board's responsibility is to determine which programs are consistent with the organization's mission and monitor their effectiveness.
  6. Ensure adequate financial resources. One of the board's foremost responsibilities is to secure adequate resources for the organization to fulfill its mission.
  7. Protect assets and provide proper financial oversight. The board must assist in developing the annual budget and ensuring that proper financial controls are in place.
  8. Build a competent board. All boards have a responsibility to articulate prerequisites for candidates, orient new members, and periodically and comprehensively evaluate their own performance.
  9. Ensure legal and ethical integrity. The board is ultimately responsible for adherence to legal standards and ethical norms.
  10. Enhance the organization's public standing. The board should clearly articulate the organization's mission, accomplishments, and goals to the public and garner support from the community.*
No, the non-profit experts don't suggest that lay leaders merely hire the best CEO and back-off. Far from it.

An incredibly high percentage of our communal organizational CEOs will retire or be discharged within the next two to five years -- it's already happening. If organizational leadership fails to use this time to understand the role of lay leadership in balance with and respect of organizational professionals, then the disaster that is JFNA today will (as it has already begun) further infect our communities. Because if all our leadership says is "to be effective Federations must be run by professionals," without adding "...who understand and respect the lay-professional partnership," the communities may be wholly delegating their fiduciary responsibilities to too many who will not understand how to move the community forward in positive ways.

The accretion of communal power to the professional cadre would not have taken place/be taking place were it not for the weakness in or unwillingness of lay leadership to accept their fiduciary responsibilities and exercise them. 

But that's where we are.

Rwexler

Richard T. Ingram, Ten Basic Responsibilities of Nonprofit Boards, Second Edition (BoardSource 2009).




Monday, August 29, 2016

PATHETIC

I remain a JFNA  Board Member. In that capacity, following JFNA's refusal to share with me the "agreement" with SS+K (See, Post, Shepardson Stern and
Kaminski, LLC -- Who Are These Guys?), I requested a copy of a Consultant Contract from Pam Zaltsman, JFNA CFO. Her response to the request was terse: "...JFNA doesn't share its contracts." Hmmm, yes, friends, JFNA locks away "its" (aren't those Contracts, "ours"?) contracts just as Donald Trump locks away his tax returns. 

It would be easy to just dismiss this denial to a non-profit Board Member of a basic right; but this is too important. A Board Member's duty of inquiry is vital to the success of any and every non-profit, not just JFNA. But JFNA doesn't recognize that duty, in fact it resents it and it rejects it absolutely and in every way.

I recognize that JFNA and others need to place reasonable restrictions on the potential distraction that inquiries might create. That would be fair. But, inasmuch as  the CFO's announcement of a "policy" appears to be nothing more than an ad hoc fiat created at the whim of the CEO, not an adopted "access" policy of the entity, it is but another pathetic example of misguided professional action that has come to typify JFNA. And, from all indications, the CEO is doing so with the implicit if not explicit approval of the JFNA Board Chair.

I, and others, have over time, asked for full disclosure of the number, extent and amounts of JFNA's consultant contracts -- while the number of undisclosed consultancies in excess of $100,000 increased with non-disclosure from the five in 2013-14 to 15 in 2014-15 -- an increase of 300%. And not one of those agreements has ever been reviewed and/or approved by the JFNA Board. We are talking about $6,528,000 for unidentified "Outside and Professional Services" in the 2016-2017 Budget -- the second largest expense category; almost more than JFNA invests in Program. That "Outside and Professional Services" Expense line is up 8.3% over the prior fiscal year and makes up 12.3% of total expenses and Board Members (at least this one) are told: "...JFNA doesn't share its contracts."

Several years ago we observed the impropriety of JFNA delegating (how or why we never learned) to the Marketing Committee the determination of how to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars with no approval by the Board or the Executive Committee. That request for information was just ignored. That's how JFNA conducts its business..and it's wrong and it's pathetic...and it's dangerous.

We see $6.5 million unaccounted for and unsupervised...and, now, we have come to understand that there is no accountability for these expenditures. If JAFI had a $6.5 million line item with no back-up, no lay review, no approval process and no disclosure, is there any doubt that JFNA lay leaders on the JAFI Board would be ballistic, demanding accountability? If our federation budgets had a line equivalent to $6.5 million for which there was no accountability and no disclosure and an inquiring Board member were told "...we don't share our contracts," I guarantee that change (in every way) would be immediate.

But, of course, this is JFNA...and not one cares. 

Rwexler