Tuesday, May 23, 2017

DID ANYONE NOTICE? DOES ANYONE CARE?

Our friends at ejewishphilanthropy were the vehicle for the announcement of the demise of JFNA; or what should be the death throes but, of course, will just be treated with another shrug of the shoulders and a "who cares?" On Friday, April 28, ejp published an announcement from the Mandel Foundation:http://ejewishphilanthropy.com/who-will-you-nominate/?utm_source=April+28%2C+2017&utm_campaign=Fri+Apr+28&utm_medium=email

Yes, therein Mandel announced its Executive Leadership Program for mid-career Federation and JCC professional leaders -- you know, announcing that the Foundation would be doing exactly...precisely...what JFNA should be doing, would be doing in partnership with the federations' Continental vehicle, if it still existed. The fact that the the Mandel announcement didn't even mention JFNA would be a devastating message about JFNA's state of irrelevance were anyone at all paying any attention to the void at 25 Broadway. 

I speak to federation leaders all the time; so do you. And if you mention JFNA, almost to a person, all you get is a wince, eyes roll and the response generally is "...let's talk about something, anything else." Try it. There's no pride in the organization -- none -- where there should be pride and embrace and a "look what the organization is doing for us." If you speak with leaders of JAFI and JDC in private you hear pleas for meaningful advocacy and desperate cries for increased support; and no expectation that anything at all can be expected of JFNA.. Friends, as all of you who read this Blog with regularity realize, there is not one...not a single...area of what all of us intended JFNA to be (other than its efforts in Washington) where JFNA is functioning with excellence, if it is functioning at all.



  • Professional education and support -- nothing
  • Community consulting -- nothing
  • Financial Resource Development and Planned Giving and Endowment -- under construction without budgetary support necessary to hire the best and brightest under a new Senior Vice-President while the FRD COO is leaving at month's end
  • Israel Advocacy -- almost nothing at all
  • Emergency assistance -- Mailboxes...mailboxes
  • Lay leader education and support -- nothing
  • Missions -- no Prime Minister's Mission, no Israel (but we like India and Argentina), communities going their own way -- almost nothing
  • General Assemblies -- abject failures year-after-year
  • Self-promotion -- great work
Passion, engagement -- both gone.

Look, JFNA was created to serve the federations, to strengthen them in every important way -- more donors, more dollars, grow and intensify our communities relationship to and engagement with Israel, increase the level of and opportunities for communal professionals, innovate outreach to the next generation. It has failed in every one of these areas -- in particular over the past 8 years. 

There is a group of excellent professionals at 25 Broadway anxious to serve the federations. Yet, there sits a CEO who still, after 8 years, hasn't a clue. And, where are the lay leaders, where are the men and women who should be the partners in a proud and creative effort in policy-making and accountability? They are nowhere to be found...nowhere...except shrugging off all efforts to inform change as nothing more than assaults on their integrity.

My friends, for another organization the Mandel announcement would be the ultimate wake-up call. It is the announcement that JFNA requires a complete professional restructuring top-to-bottom. That announcement isn't a dog whistle, heard only by the few, it's bugle call, a shot across the bow, a slap in the face. But, if the past is prologue, JFNA's leaders will hear nothing.

If only Richard Sandler and his leaders at the top of the JFNA food chain hear the call and actually exercise their responsibilities.

Probably and sadly...they won't.

Rwexler


Saturday, May 20, 2017

WHEN IS ENOUGH ENOUGH?

...and failure begets failure.

Lest we forget:


  1. The Western Wall Initiative. There was what has turned out to be the ephemeral  commitment to the creation of an equitable prayer space at the  (or better description: "near the") Kotel. Letters (oh, yeah, JFNA has letters, lots of them) to the Prime Minister, even a "March" (a couple of 100 attendees at the last Jerusalem GA with nothing better to do) in support of Women of the Wall and some cheerleading for the real work in the trenches by Natan Sharansky. JFNA, as always, not getting its hands dirty. 
  2. The Government of Israel-Jewish Agency - JFNA "World Jewry Initiative." We sure remember that one. JAFI did a brilliant job of framing a significant Initiative in which the Jewish Agency would partner with the GOI and JFNA would be the implementing entity on North America. Then the Diaspora Ministry pulled the plug after an ugly public and personal battle with JAFI. Of course, JFNA might still have been in the fray as the Government's partner in North America but...no. For reasons we will never know -- was Naftali Bennett aware of JFNA's total weakness, total lacking in staff -- JFNA was out and the Government chose as its partner an organization none had ever heard of -- Mosaic United.                                                                                        I think it's a fair question to ask: what the hell is Mosaic United? It appears to have been formed by the former President of Jerusalem University who was also the co-founder of the Party City chain. Its "Steering Committee" includes as its Chair a Vice-President of the Detroit Jewish Federation as well as Pittsburgh philanthropist (and recent GA Co-Chair) David Shapira. And there is also an Advisory Board comprised of an eclectic group of Foundation and communal professionals. How or why Bennett and his political cronies chose to partner with this ambitious but tiny start-up is as fair to ask as why JFNA wasn't even in the mix. At least Mosaic United had an expressed "Vision:" "To galvanize participation in Jewish life and strengthen ties to Israel by fueling, scaling and connecting the most impactful innovators, programs and philanthropists." Of course there is no indication of how that organization might accomplish the Vision with a set of strategies they seem ill-equipped to implement. But we wish them well. 
  3. The failed Global Planing Table and the Abandonment of the Collective. There was so much wrong with the GPT from its onset to its death three+ years and millions wasted that it's hard to pick the worst part of that hot mess. I would point to the reality that because there was no one in a leadership -- lay or, worse, professional -- who even understood what was proposed, JFNA stood at the forefront of the GPT as the spearhead for the total abandonment of collective responsibility. In structuring its so-called "Signature Initiatives" -- doomed to fail only because the JFNA lay leaders actually thought that Jerry Silverman could raise the funds necessary -- as "coalitions of the willing" rather than as a total system effort, there was an intentional walk-away from the collective, from the very system-wide approach that had distinguished federations from every other charity. It astounded me then as much as it does today 6 years later that not one elected lay leader and not one federation chief professional officer stood up and said loudly "NO." 
Friends, there are more examples. A JFNA personified by ineptitude completes nothing and suffers from an institutional attention deficit disorder. Yet its lay leaders continue to let it die the death of a thousand cuts. And the death throes all start at the top.

We all know what must be done. 

And we all know that nothing will.

Rwexler










Wednesday, May 17, 2017

FAUX LEADERSHIP

There was a time when our Continental organizations were led and led well, with a passion and commitment we have to strain memory to even recall. Back then, pre-merger, when measured against the faux leaders of today, so many appear to have been and were giants. No more.

Today and for too long we have lay and professional "leaders" whose preference is to do nothing. Way, way back I compared some of our leaders to the characters in "The Emperor Has No Clothes" -- today that would apply to a much broader cross-section: to Officers, Executive Committee and Board members seized with silence, passivity and cowardice, some fearing, apparently, that speaking out will jeopardize their advancement in an organization that  has no relevance and no strength. And it is laughable to suggest that there is a Shoshana Cardin today who would confront a President about anti-Semitic tropes were they to occur today; instead our leaders might worry about losing their invitations to meaningless White House "briefings" or a West Wing Chanukah party or other meaningless photo ops.

You may disagree with me but I challenge anyone to read the definition of "lead" (noun) and  -- "an example for others to follow." Is that what we have today; is that we have had for the past decade? Some might say "Look at Richard Sandler's predecessor; he must have done a lot of things right. Now he's the Board Chair at the Jewish Agency for Israel." And I'd say, "Yes. Look at him. Great guy, like Richard. Rewarded for the wonderful philanthropist he is. Oh, and he knows Bibi." While he was JFNA Board Chair, allocations to JAFI from the federations fell to an all-time low exceeded only in the times since under Sandler -- no doubt Michael was also rewarded for not making a big fuss about that sad reality and for the knowledge that he will not be an obstacle to JAFI's professional staff and the World Zionist Organization doing whatever the hell they wish during his years as JAFI Board Chair. And it's hard to be comforted by the fact that Michael can rely on Steve Hoffman his long-time professional "partner" -- he had that "partnership" when he chaired JFNA -- to what end, exactly?

Friends, a real organization has purpose, mission and vision and policies, strategies and tactics to implement them; our faux thing has none, all of its "actions" are ad hoc, nothing sticks. There's no sense of purpose at JFNA, just a bunch of silos doing their own thing -- their "own thing" often nothing. Yes, "their own thing" is, but for JFNA-Washington, really...nothing, nada, all words, no meaning; all words, no substance.

And, here is what happens at a faux organization wandering aimlessly, circling the drain -- good even great people leave. There are so many cases in the Silverman "regime" alone: from Joanne Moore, hired to run the DOA Global Planning Table and the GAs, left within weeks of her arrival when, we presume, she realized that she would not be permitted to actually do her job; to just a few weeks ago when Elissa Maier, treasured by her colleagues, at one point thought to be "turning around the Mandel Center for Leadership Excellence" (she was the Vice President of both that Mandel Center and JFNA at one and the same time [no I don't know how that worked]) at another, the sole remaining person at JFNA FRD, the pro who was the driving force for I-LEAD and the so-called "flagship" Fundraising University, yep, gone just weeks ago leaving for the Prizmah start-up where she will be COO joining what appears to be a top-heavy staff; or Matt Freedman, hired out of Baltimore with great FRD credentials, never allowed to do the job for which he was hired, gone; to just this week, Gail Zucker, who actually engaged with communal professionals, and was the "Director" of the Social Venture Fund for Jewish-Arab Equality and Shared Society (no, I don't even understand the subsidiary's title); and on and on and on. And they were among those who chose to leave, joining those forced out from Agron (who has made her semi-triumphant return as consultant) to Danny Allen and so many in between. 

When a faux CEO has no vision and no talent for leading a complex federation-owned organization, and no accountability to the faux lay leadership that should be his partners but are, instead, nothing more than enablers, great professionals are not going to stay, few are going to be attracted...and more and more they are not.

All of us want a real organization, with real lay and professional leadership; at least I think all of us do. That desire just isn't evident in any way at the faux organization with the faux leadership that we...all of us...by our silence, by our acquiescence, by our "let someone else do it not me" attitude, have allowed JFNA to become. We have, in silence, betrayed our values, betrayed our fiduciary responsibilities and let JFNA to rot in its continuing failure.

Shame on us. Shame on them. Enough shame to go around. And that ain't faux; it's real.

Rwexler

Sunday, May 14, 2017

IDLE THOUGHTS

~ Hard work is preparing for and testifying before a Congressional Committee; no work is preparing for and appearing in a photo op in Washington. Contrast and compare: William Daroff vs. Jerry Silverman -- hard work vs. no work. 

~ "This November, get ready to venture further --in mind, body and spirit..." Yep, attend the LA GA and JFNA will apparently improve your mind, your body and your spirit. Duh. Oh, promises, promises. As the PR material asserts: "This is your chance to venture further." (P.S., with thanks to a faithful reader, on the date JFNA sent out this promo -- March 28 -- the GA did not appear on the Calendar of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles whose Board Chair is also the GA co-Chair (with her spouse) and with Richard Sandler, a past LA Board Chair is the JFNA Board Chair.)

~ I have printed some of the more incredible questions for which professionals seek answers from their peers through that important JFNA-created vehicle...ta da...FedCentral.
Here's a recent question:
"Can anyone share an example of birthday greetings to donors? We have received tremendous feedback to this year's card, so the pressure is on to deliver another 'wow' next year." 
"Wow;" I'd say "Wowee!!!" I don't question the sincerity of the professional asking the question -- but that's about all I don't question. Forgive me but maybe they ought to name this thing FedLazy.

~ The most recent JFNA IRS 990 filing covering the fiscal year July 1, 2015 ending June 30, 2016 has yet to make an appearance -- JFNA still displays the 990 for the prior fiscal year ending June 30, 2015. Some of you may have noticed that we are rapidly approaching the June 30, 2017 fiscal year-end. This may be a revelation to those at 25 Broadway. In other words, by the time the next 990 appears, its revelations will be those of the prior two years. This is not to suggest that JFNA is in violation of the IRS filing date requirements; it is to suggest that JFNA would just as soon not file anything that would disclose to we, the public, even the camouflaged facts of JFNA's annual operation.

You're sure not going to find this "facts" in JFNA's Annual Reports filled as those have been with beautiful pictures and descriptions of what others are doing. You know: business as usual.

We'd suggest...again...some adult supervision. 

But we know that's asking the impossible for this leadership.

Rwexler 

Thursday, May 11, 2017

WHAT THEY COULD ACHIEVE; WHAT THEY HAVE WROUGHT

I am grateful to all of you who read these pages; and, in particular, those of you who write, even anonymously. What follows is a letter I received from one of our preeminent professional communal and thought leaders. I won't offer his/her name; it is his/her thoughts that should count:


"Hi Richard!
Hope you and your family had a wonderful Passover.   Just wanted to say hello and thank you for your having the opportunity to read your regular blog.  There are so few voices out there publicly analyzing the state of our global Jewish community and I’m thankful yours is still there and still loud and clear.
Reading what you write each week one thought come to the forefront over and over again:  with all the huge investments and focus on leadership development and next generation funding we have witnessed over the last three decades at least, why is there such a dearth of leadership, both lay and professional, across the Jewish world?
Where are all the graduates of those very expensive initiatives that focused on building a new generation of leaders and creating an elite cadre of Jewish global thinkers to lead us out of the wilderness?  Something is basically wrong when we keep pouring our energies and efforts into expensive programs that don’t deliver what they promise.   Private foundations have stepped in to fill that gaps left by Federations  yet the more these initiatives fail at really creating strong Jewish leaders, the more our community feels we need those same failed initiatives.  One need not have to look beyond efforts in the field of Jewish education, synagogue movements, Federation young leadership, Jewish social services etc to realize that not only is the needle not moving forward it’s going in the wrong direction. 
I can only conclude that the strategy of focusing on the elite to lead has failed us miserably."
Here is my response:
"Thanks for your “thought,” sad as it certainly is. These have truly become “the worst of times” in Jewish communal life and there appears to be no bottoming out. It is inexplicable to me that your former...colleagues have been willing to sit on the sidelines witnessing the debacle that the organization they demanded has become and the profession that has given them so much has been allowed to implode."
And, then, my friend's incisive response in part:
"I think the LCE communities have been facing huge challenges over the last number of years and the lack of leadership and concrete acts of collective action is often seen as a welcomed relief from the pressures of just dealing with the day to day of trying to keep their heads above water.    

The last thing many of them want is a call to action and as a result you jettison lay leaders who tire of this inaction and attract those who are at home with it.   Visionary leadership has stepped off the bus and the wrong people are driving it in community after community.  Left to their own resources each community determines its own benchmark for success, it’s own measure of what an “Annual” Campaign is and what is their commitment to Israel.  When there is no sense of collective direction you get a lot of bravado but nothing really to show."

Friends, lamentations aside, it didn't have to be this way; it doesn't have to be this way. It just is.  If every Federation Board member, every JFNA Board member and every communal professional leader would stand up, slam their hands on the table and shout "ENOUGH," and then act on their will and their fiduciary responsibility, perhaps...perhaps... things would change. 

Or not.

Rwexler 

Monday, May 8, 2017

THE ONE CONSTANT -- OTHER THAN UNMATCHED MEDIOCRITY

...it's secrecy.

Examples:

1. I just learned that long after the Second Lebanese War, JFNA-Israel/Becky Caspi (they are one and the same aren't they?) was directed to prepare a report on the application of special campaign funds. Even though there were/are over 25 persons on the payroll in the offices of JFNA-Israel, Caspi, I am told, had/chose to hire two consultants (!!??) to do that work. And, then, for reasons never stated, that Report never saw the light of day. It just disappeared. Surprised?

2. Remember the "secret consultant/secret donor/secret purpose" $1 million conduit agreement? Well, it's still secret, confidential in all ways. So what if only a very small cabal know anything about this deal and I have been assured by the Board Chair that "everything's fine." Sorry, nothing about this secrecy is fine and, though I trust the Board Chair totally, his attestation of propriety doesn't override the fiduciary duty of disclosure. Surprised?

3. Then there are a myriad of other consultant agreements all of which are held in confidence, and none of which will be disclosed to Board members. There are the agreements with D. K. Smith, V. Agron, two more FRD consultants, one Planned Giving consultant, etc. etc., etc. Those have all been deemed so "confidential" that they will not be revealed even to JFNA Board Members. Surprised?

4. For the first time in the history of JFNA, for that matter for the first time in the history of the UJA and the CJF, a special fund raising effort, a Special Campaign, was never processed through the JFNA Board for approval -- this one an $18 million...that's $18,000,000...campaign to aid the Ethiopian National Project. Even though there was no emergency that required this to be "approved" by the JFNA Executive Committee, that's what was done -- with no plan (that was "to come"). Surprised?

5. And how about the failures of a succession of GA's? There's never been an accounting of the financial consequences on attendance underachievement provided to the JFNA Board (and that's true of the failures dating back to the first days of Silverman -- 3 TribeFests and a #ish, among other flops). Surprised?

I know that you can provide other examples.

And, yet, Jerry keeps his job (whatever its been reduced to in this his 8th year) and lay leadership is silent. Surprised?

Wexler

Friday, May 5, 2017

IS JFNA HIDING A DUES ISSUE?

Well, it has come to this...

With continuing disregard flowing top down from 25 Broadway to the federations Continent-wide; with so many questioning JFNA's top-down demands in almost every area; JFNA's constant asks culminating in an $18 million "campaign" for the Ethiopian National Project never approved by the JFNA Board; with secrecy the JFNA coin of the realm; and on and on it should be no surprise that we have now heard that a growing number of federations are either not paying their allocated Dues or are demanding a renegotiation of those Dues or are paying less than full Dues. And, of course, JFNA isn't talking about this budding crisis that is upon it, hoping, as the organizations' leaders usually do, that it just goes away...

Trust me, this would be an even bigger calamity, if it is one already, and one that would have begun much earlier, were it not for the fact that many federations, including a significant number within the Large Cities bury the JFNA Dues within their "overseas allocation," not only hiding the Dues from the inquiring eyes, if there are any, of curious Federation Board members, and, at one and the same time, falsely inflating the amount of their annual allocations to the core budgets of JAFI, JDC and WorldORT. Thus, if Community A claims an allocation to those core budgets of, say, $5 million, and its "buried" Dues amount is $500,000, then....well, you know the hypocrisy. And, in too many places, the community is told that the gross number is allocated to "Overseas" or whatever word(s) the community uses when, in fact, that amount is substantially less, far less.

And, the crisis, if it is not upon JFNA already, would be escalating exponentially if Federations cared. Examples? Let's look at the issue in context  (according to their most recent 990s):

  1. Our largest federation handed over in excess of $5.2 million (that's not a typo) for JFNA. What demands have been made, if any, for any accountability. Does that federation's donors just not give a tinkers' damn how this incredible amount benefits federation's beneficiaries?
  2. There are multiple communities for which JFNA Dues if not the largest allocation to any agency, is in the top five. Does this make any sense if the return on that "investment" to those communities -- yours, or mine -- can't be articulated beyond the grants achieved by JFNA- Washington?
Yes, the same question could be asked of your federation and mine.

I have written before of my strong belief that JFNA Dues -- as with CJF's and UJA's overhead before it -- were paid in an expression of our collective responsibility. Sure, my community, no community, did not receive a direct quid pro quo for our Dues, but I was always comfortable that whatever funds the organization received from us would be of benefit to others, or would help to meet a crisis or a great collective need. That is no longer the case...not the case at all. You tell me what needs are being met beyond the perpetuation of JFNA for its own ends. Just keep on feeding the beast.


As one of you told me: "The only time that I hear from 25 Broadway is when I tell them we are considering not paying our Dues." Another: "When I told them we can't pay the Dues demand, suddenly my lay people are asked to speak at the GA, Co-Chair or serve on a Committee. You know, buy us off with gornisht." The root causes of the unrest are never addressed...never.

One of you recently wrote, in response to our Post S.N.A.F.U.:

"Change will come when federations look at their limited financial resources and tell JFNA that going forward, they will only pay, let's say for example, 75% of their current dues; using the 25% for their local and Israel & Overseas needs.
That is the federations' new-normal' in 2017; why should JFNA get a pass and be allowed to have a budget of $30 million?

Imaging a JFNA with a $20 million budget: What critical services would the federations really lose if $10 million disappeared from the budget (I'm using $10 million as an example....personally I'd look at $15 million)?  

Someone needs to start that ball rolling, and once started, it will gather the momentum that will force the change that is needed.
It will not come from a Board Chair or the CEO, whether it is Silverman or someone else when his current contract expires"
I understand, with all of you, those communities' and their leaders' concerns. It cannot be denied that if the majority of Board members in a given community that is hiding its JFNA Dues in the overseas allocation knew the amount of Dues their federation pays, they might ask the seminal question: "what are we getting for this outrageous amount?" It is a question for which the answer is both all too obvious and all too embarrassing to contemplate. 

Some of you who are old enough will remember that until 6+ years ago and, as I recall, for a few years before that, the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles refused to pay the full Dues allocated to that community. Upon Silverman's engagement as JFNA CEO and Jay Sanderson's selection as LA's chief professional, in a secret "negotiation," JFNA caved, LA's Dues were reduced and past due unpaid Dues "settled," and Los Angeles was restored to what passes for a federation in "good standing" at JFNA, but just a few years later, its past Federation Chair, Richard Sandler, was elected JFNA Board Chair. Now, Sandler is facing an apparent Dues revolt -- what does Richard tell those federations that are seeking Dues relief or just refusing to pay: "ignore what we in LA did, we need you to pay full Dues?" Yeah, that should be compelling. (NB, the LA Federation CEO, who negotiated the settlement, has demanded that I "get my facts straight" and has clarified the nature of the settlement that LA entered into -- "I negotiated a 100% pay off over 8 years and we have honored that agreement." In addition Los Angeles has responded to JFNA requests for additional funds over Dues in payments of "hundreds of thousands additional each year." I have not been able to clarify whether that settlement also provided that Los Angeles pay a lesser annual Dues than the $2 million Dues the full amount of which LA had refused to pay until the settlement. Obviously, there are other issues as well.)

Then there is another Large City, one held in high regard by many, which looked at its increased Dues after the Dues formula was revised by JFNA's Board passage of its Dues resolution. That federation merely went to JFNA's then leaders, advised them that the Annual Campaign data on which Dues were based were "wrong," deducted the aggregate of designated gifts from the community's annual campaign statistics submitted to JFNA for the determination of annual Dues, and demanded its Dues be decreased. They were. (It should be noted that that community from that time forward had two annual campaign figures -- the annual campaign totals it submitted to JFNA and those which it proudly announced to its own community.)

For many years -- from the merger up to the Los Angeles "settlement" --  federation Dues issues, when they occurred, were a matter of discussion and negotiation between the communities and the JFNA Financial Relations Committee. I chaired that Committee for many years and was succeeded by Jacksonville's Steve Silverman. The Committee was blessed with an incredibly dedicated professional, Cheryl Lefland, and, for many years, a very committed CFO, Sam Astrof, and an active lay group.  Then, those negotiations, almost always successful, were coopted by JFNA's lay Chair, first Kathy Manning, then her successors and, I presume, by Silverman (Jerry, not Steve). Soon, Cheryl was no longer on the staff -- there is no longer a Financial Relations Committee, there is no longer a designated Federation Relations staff. This has "accomplished" two important goals of JFNA leadership -- secrecy and the continued elimination of lay leadership from the work of JFNA. 

Look, if what I have been told is true, this is a growing albeit undisclosed crisis for JFNA. If federations in number are told they are no longer "members in good standing," JFNA will fall apart. If JFNA is being asked by more and more federations the seminal question: "what is my community receiving in consideration of our Dues payments?" the jig is up; JFNA will be over. In so many instances to date, "membership" has held together for one or two (or both) simple reasons: 

  1. The community has been able to hide its JFNA Dues within the overseas allocation and no federation Board members have perforce raised a question about them; and/or
  2. The negative impact of a failure to pay Dues (no participation in National Women's Philanthropy or the Young Leadership Cabinet, no GA attendance [?!]), loss of membership, has been the compelling factor to continuing full Dues payments.
So, JFNA has not had to produce benefits to the federations to justify/rationalize the continuing Dues payments -- and it hasn't. Beyond the federal grants generated by the exceptional work of JFNA-Washington, what exactly are the "benefits" of membership?  To me and a number of others, JFNA should have been at work over the past decade working damn hard to increase those benefits; instead it has been hard at work building silos, overpaying those at the highest levels of its professional staff with no accountability while it had almost no community FRD function, abandoned the CEO search function and created an almost total void in its Community Consulting area, feathered the nest of its non-performing Israel office, among other areas of non-performance.

Friends, the chickens are coming home to roost and it continues to appear that JFNA's leaders. their heads perpetually in the sand, don't know or don't care or fail to understand the implications of non- or partial-payment of Dues. Because, as sure as I can possibly be, it is lay leadership's failure to demand accountability from the CEO, its failure to exercise its fiduciary responsibilities that include, to use a currently popular phrase, emptying "the swamp" at 25 Broadway, bringing in an interim CEO to serve while a rational search process in undertaken that will assure that the next JFNA CEO at least offers the hope to the federations that an effective and responsive JFNA will emerge.

But, no. For JFNA to have any chance of success, its leaders must take the responsibility for the organization's success. As Bret Stephens pointed out: ""....recognizing failure is the first step on the road to wisdom;" JFNA's Board Chair and its lay leadership can't possibly turn the organization in a successful direction unless they first acknowledges the desperate circumstances they have perpetuated by their refusal to take responsibility.

So, Richard Sandler, it's past time to just sit back and let this group of professionals under this CEO continue to drive JFNA over the precipice. Here are the questions:

  1. How many federations have not paid all or part of their Dues over the past 5 years;
  2. What is the amount of unpaid Dues; and
  3. What steps are being taken to collect the unpaid amounts?
There is also the existential question: does anyone at JFNA understand that, except in instances of "extreme hardship" (as was once the jurisdiction of the now non-existent Financial Relations Committee), under the extant Dues Resolution, a federation that has not paid its full Dues is automatically, without the need for further action, no longer a member of JFNA.

DO SOMETHING!!

Rwexler

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

IS THE QUESTION EVEN NECESSARY?

"Is It Time for Your CEO to Step Down?" was the question posed in an instructive article in ejewishphilanthropy pre-Chanukah last year. http://ejewishphilanthropy.com/is-it-time-for-your-ceotostepdown/utm_source=Dec+19,+2016&utm_campaign=Mon+Dec+19&utm_medium=email Of course, I'm pleased that the question was asked inasmuch as we have been asking the identical question about JFNA's CEO for...well, for a long, long, long time. I believe we know that there is only one answer...only one. But, at JFNA the heads remain deeply buried in thousand...or somewhere.

For in the context of JFNA and Jerry Silverman, the question isn't "Is It Time...?" as it has been "time" almost from Day One; the questions morph instead into: (a)"why hasn't it happened already?" and (b) how can we effect change? While the answers are seemingly simple, at the end of the day one can only conclude that we will see unicorns and pigs flying before we see any changes. 

But we persevere...

In approaching JFNA FY 2017-2018 we see polar extremes -- there are honesty and integrity and the values of our community on the one side -- and then there are self-preservation and self-promotion pulling on the other. And, to date, self-preservation and self-promotion have won this tug-of-war and the federations, JFNA and our values are the losers. Of course, what did a succession of Board Chairs from Kanfer forward to Sandler expect in return for the "rewards" they could and in many instances did dole out? Humiliating deference, fawning respect and constant sucking up -- for which one would receive appointments, higher office aspirations, and, from time-to-time you could join in personal vendettas and blackballing. And, these are/were our organizational superstars.

Yes, when all of these superstars should have been as Chicago's Mayor Rahm Emanuel put it "putting points on the board," they, instead, sopping up the adulation that comes from well-run meetings and reading well-written reports and leaving the mess that JFNA has/had become to "others" -- all "others." These are the JFNA leaders who came into office and quickly moved into and occupied an alternative universe where the skies are azure blue and JFNA is a success. These folks have created an "alternative culture" where even Jerry Silverman has led us with distinction, black is white and down is up.

These lay leaders have asked and ask for nothing of their Chief Executive Officer; and that's exactly what they and we have received. If there has been one constant, it has been that the narrative is always...always...bigger, grossly bigger, than the reality; so there is nowhere to go but to continue on the down, down, down. The only sounds that this leadership hear are those of their own hands clapping while the failures build and build and build in lock step with growing disengagement.

Friends, I and many of you can shout "Rise Up" as loud and as constant as we do with no affect. It is not the fact that JFNA under its current leadership, lay and professional, haven't the courage of their convictions; it is instead that it is an organization and a leadership with no convictions whatsoever. The next generation of leaders will look back and ask why the lay leadership of today did not hold its professional leadership  and themselves accountable in any way. And we will have no answer.

So it is that here in mid-2017 JFNA lay leadership faces a binary choice -- between continued failure and any chance for success. JFNA can only get the wind at its back by putting in place a new Interim CEO for a defined and limited term to begin the process of reconstruction in a true lay-professional partnership while a search for a new CEO takes place. Change can't happen in any other way. Friends, there is no risk in doing so: the true risk is in saying nothing and doing nothing.

Michelangelo is credited with writing: "The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it; but that it is too low and we reach it." In the JFNA of today we have achieved the lowest of lows; our aim in neither high nor low, it is a place without any aim at all.

I despair that this leadership will ever find its voice. I recall at a very precarious time in the merger process, when UIA was strongly resisting the very concept, I convened a meeting of federation lay leaders. There was a presentation of the status and a relatively long discussion at the end of which the Board Chair of New York UJA-Federation stood up and asked: "Look, Richard, tell us what we need to do to move forward." It is my belief that the lesson of that meeting almost 20 years ago is equally persuasive today: the best of leaders are looking for leadership; and today's leaders can provide it If they are willing to do so.

The biggest "if" of all.

Rwexler

Saturday, April 29, 2017

WISH I'D WRITTEN THAT!!

Almost always, you have offered Comments that have been far more insightful than my Posts themselves. I am never surprised by your insights and only wish that circumstances permitted you to attach your names to what you have written.

Some examples:

~ In response to the Post questioning both the consultant cadre amassed by JFNA Jerry along with the growing number of off-site offices, No Way to Run A Business, you wrote: 
"If there was anything close to professional management going on at JFNA, someone would realize that there is a need for basic staff oversight and supervision. Having senior staff be visitors in their own organization's main office will never work.
Allowing senior staff to work remotely on a regular basis is bad business unless their work itself is remotely located.
The Washington Office being located in Washington makes sense but all the rest is nonsense.
The real role of Israel and Overseas is advocay in North Anerica where our Federations are - not in Israel. Allowing this inflated operation to continue to be run beneath the radar, far away from any serious supervision or oversight, is simply bad business and also perpetuates the mistaken ideology that "we know better" and "we are better" than those Israelis and those Israeli institutions. We are both throwing away valuable resources and being counterproductive at the same time.
Great business model!"
"Bad business," indeed!

~ Then, in response to an observation about JCCA's work, came this:
"JCCA has long ago started "eating Federation's lunch" in many ways. Their consulting services are part of the dues structure--they are onsite, effective, and bring their expertise to the field.

Their Mission department does a great job, and in many cases, coordinates P2K and Sister City programming into their missions.

JCCs get a call from their consultant on a regular basis...even if nothing is wrong...just a "how are you doing? What's new? Attaboy! Is there anything we can do for you."

With the continued national trend of combining both organizations under one CEO and one board (there are 30 different iterations of this across the country), one wouldn't be surprised at a casual discussion amongst EDs at a national JCC gathering,"I can see the day, not so long in the future, where WE run the JCC with a community campaign."

I used to think this was "JCC talk." Not so much any more."
~ Reacting to our Post Hiding Behind "Civility" one of you wrote:
"It's a shame, as Masha Gessen wrote today in the New YorkTimes, that the Chairman of Board of Trustees of OUR national organization is urging all of us not "to act in accordance with moral values" but to shrink from them in the face of any dissent. My community is proud to join those who have spoken out. We didn't take a political position but one consistent with the values that have made federations great. Sandler by his demand for silence is contributing to the diminishment of the federations values he was elected to protect and enhance. #Sad"
~ Then there was this insightful Comment to our "Insanity" Post:
"Special emergency campaigns for Israel are an important source of extra income for JFNA's I&O operations, providing funding for additional staff and for pet projects to enhace its own ongoing direct operations portfolio.
The "emergency" label enables them to take large amounts off the top for their own "emergency" use, whether that is what the donors intended or what the funds were supposed to be used for or not - mostly not.
Some would say that this is fine, althogh others might call it misuse of funds or highway robbery.
At the very least it is disregard of donor intent."
 
~ Although not on the subject of JFNA's abandonment of its responsibility to Jewish professional development, the subject of the Post, one of you wrote this insightful analysis:

Community is still a core of Jewish life. But federation isn't the only community. There are many communities. I'd go further and suggest there is no such thing as THE Jewish community. Each Jewish Community consists of multiple Jewish communities within it. To the degree one conflates Jewish organization with Jewish community, many Jews any don't belong to any. Some belong to several. 


When there is a singular concern that is sufficiently compelling, perhaps Jews will speak with a singular voice. When there are obvious and consensus existential threats to Jews, perhaps notions of Jews en mass caring for Jews will rewaken. But for now most folks know the real deal. They know American Jewry is not under existential threat. They know that while there are threats facing European Jewry, it mostly exists in relative comfort. And they know that the state of Israel is strong and if anything being pulled apart by internal squabbling.


Simply put, the condition that united jewish communities generations ago and compelled joint fundraising and joint action are not present. And while I get the sentimentality attached to those important decades of a relatively united front, these conditions can't be contrived. 


All this is not to excuse horrible organizational governance, management, leadership. If we want to run top notch organizations competing and winning in a world in which time and money are more competitive than ever, we need to invest in exceptional professional and lay recruitment, onboarding, professional development and working conditions.
JFNA is lost because we still don't know what we want from it. Without precision and clarity around its role and what its role means programmatically, its effectiveness is and will be elusive. Frankly, the conditions I describe above are present within the so-called collective organizations -- federations and JFNA. No consensus and therefore no direction and no collective action. Everybody doing their own thing. And that's within the system! 


~ And this amazing, ridiculous truth:
"http://www.haaretz.com/us-news/.premium-1.773985

Hypocrisy alert! Sandler endorses Friedman nomination while claiming JFNA is apolitical."
 
~ Finally, a great communal professional, now the CEO of the Dallas Jewish Community Foundation wrote this:

"COWARDS
There is a line from the famous work “Man of la Mancha”, that goes “If life itself seems lunatic who knows where madness really lies.” That quote keeps running through my head as I read the news. 
*According to the latest FBI tracking, there were more Jewish hate crime victims than victims of all other religious groups combined.
*“...On college campuses, anti-Semitism is spiking at an alarming rate coast to coast,” said Kenneth L. Marcus, president of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights under Law.
*We are watching a fifth wave of bomb threats against Jewish Community Centers across the country along with Jewish schools and institutions. At least seventy bomb threats have been received in the past few weeks.
*Jewish cemeteries have been desecrated with hundreds of gravestones being toppled and broken.
*Swastikas being carved into cars and painted on walls of homes and institutions.
*Yad Vashem, the international memorial to the Holocaust in Israel, has asked Amazon to stop selling books denying the Holocaust.
Our mentor, Elie Wiesel, taught us that the opposite of love is not hate; the opposite of love is INDIFFERENCE. Where is the outcry from our friends and neighbors? Where is the response from our elected leaders? Where is the religious outrage from faith leaders? Unfortunately, we have seen this all before and the lessons seem to be forgotten.
The Jewish Community has a long and proud record of standing up for human rights for all. When a mosque was burned down in Texas it was the Jewish leadership that gave the keys of the synagogue to the Muslim community to share.  That’s what makes this all the more difficult. Where is the outcry from our friends and neighbors? Where is the demand from our nation’s leadership for action?
We watched with painful joy, the isolated example of the Muslim community in St.Louis, helping to repair a Jewish cemetery that was vandalized, and their good work will never be forgotten. But that example is the exception. 
The Jewish Community will not be scared and bullied ever again. Our JCCs will remain open, our schools will not close, and we will not be silent, but it sure would be nice to see others standing with us. Let the haters know they have no place in our society. Show them they have no support. Let the voices of hatred be shouted out by the voices of freedom and democracy.
Abraham Lincoln admonished us, “to sin by silence... makes cowards of men.” Now we will see who the cowards are."
And, JFNA? Its leaders can comment on political appointees, the President himself, but on these vial matters, not only are they silent, they urge us to "sha, sha" as well.

~ And, finally, the brilliant President and CEO of the Jewish Funders Network, Anders Spokoiny, addressed that vibrant organization's International Conference, and challenged all of us. His theme -- El Silence es Salud -- Silence is Health. The speech deserves to be read in full; and the great ejewishphilanthropy has made it possible to do so.http://ejewishphilanthropy.com/el-silencio-es-salud/  

A brief, very brief excerpt:
"Federation leaders have to go to work every day worrying about who will get offended today; who will call them to threaten withdrawing donations for the position they take, or the position they don’t take. The less they say altogether, the fewer donors will be offended. El silencio es salud.
But silence is not actually healthy. Silence is what cemeteries are known for. Silence is what the generals wanted; silence is what the Soviet Union wanted.
A silent Jewish community is not a vibrant one. The Jews were never a silent people, and the Jewish communities that we remember from history, and that we see today, as our models for thriving and lively communities are those in which speaking up is seen as healthy, and, most importantly, in which listening is seen as healthy. Speaking up, and listening, are now more important than ever."
Please read the speech in its entirety -- it is a challenge worthy of a CEO of a vibrant organization. Then...compare and contrast.


Rwexler

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

MEASURING IMPORTANCE

I have been pondering the question of how we can measure the importance of our communities' Continental instrument, The question arose in my fertile mind in response the frequent "highlights" on the JFNA homepage, "headlines" in the captive FedWorld rag, and in the Twitterworld of meetings our professional and lay leaders have attended. Like this one:
"Leaders of national Jewish organizations, including JFNA and SCN, met with U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to discuss federal law enforcement’s support for Jewish institutions."
JFNA was there. It appeared that the meeting was very brief inasmuch it was to discuss the bomb threats against Jewish institutions -- threats that had ceased when the FBI secured the arrest in Israel of the alleged Jewish Israeli teenage culprit over one week before this meeting. Maybe the meeting was to allow our organizational leadership to thank the Attorney General...or maybe not. 

This was not the first meeting on this subject. I recall a meeting weeks earlier with FBI Director Comey that provided CEO Jerry with a photo op at one end (the one closest to the camera) of a conference table. It was a meeting designed to thank the Director for the FBI's hard work. Jerry just had to be there.

Maybe, at a time like this -- well, like the last 7+ years, actually -- when the organization is a mess, providing neither direction nor service to its federation owners, at least nothing approaching $30 million, not near $30 million, wouldn't you think that our leaders would be focused on assuring the federations that JFNA can respond to our needs in substantive ways. And, yet, without any sense of embarrassment, they substitute "public appearances," drafting papers "From the Desk of...," and, of course photo ops for that substance.

Oh, and Jerry has time to serve on the Board of LeadingEdge's CEO OnBoarding thing even as and after the JFNA he allegedly leads totally abandon...CEO on-boarding; he has time to fly to D.C. just to be marked "present" at meetings that could just as well, surely better, be attended by the lead pro at JFNA-Washington, or, as luck would have it, the lay Chair of JFNA-Washington's legislative effort, a highly respected D.C. lawyer. The waste is matched only by the lack of judgment. 

Apparently JFNA's leaders measure the importance of the organization not by its work, not by its service to the federations but by how times JFNA is mentioned in JTA or The Forward or the Jerusalem Post, et al. Perhaps this is why Board Chair Sandler issued his own statement on pending federal legislation in The Hill (JFNA doesn't seem to care how obscure or niche the publication is -- psssst, Richard, if you want, this Blog, certainly the  most obscure of publications, would be pleased to publish anything you write at any time [and you won't have to identify your position at JFNA, everyone who reads this knows exactly whom you are].) 

For Richard Sandler and Jerry Silverman, when it comes to Statements, do as we say not as we do. But what they do is the best evidence that the organization hasn't a clue what it (or they) should be/could be doing.

Wexler