Wednesday, December 31, 2008
So, let's note the "good" that UJC did in 2008: I-LEAD, Planners Learning Series Conference calls, Endowment & Planned Giving, Flight (the Fisher Foundation's contribution to the development of the Next Generation of Jewish communal leaders) and the continuing excellence of the UJC Washington Office and National Women's Philanthropy. For $37 million that's about what the federations received in value in return. (Actually, there is more...but not much.)
For UJC 2008 effectively began with its annual Board Institute, this one in Newport Beach. You remember: with few lay leaders in attendance, UJC raised the prospect (spectre [?]) of two major Special Campaigns. No vote was ever taken (it's doubtful there was a quorum) but that did not stop UJC's "leaders" from promoting these Special Campaigns for months, assigning staff to them (but giving that staff neither guidance nor support) and, ultimately, this "big idea" went...nowhere.
UJC then moved on to its Budget "process." The Large City Executives effectively preempted that process, demanding that UJC reduce its bloated budget for 2008-2009 by $3.2 million -- from $40.2 million to $37 million. Forced to do so, the Board Chair proudly announced that even had the budget remained flat UJC would have terminated 38 employees. UJC's CEO and Chair effectively claimed the Budget cuts were their idea, but the most gullible of us knew this not to be the case. Picture the Chair and CEO reducing staff but failing to focus UJC on any set of meaningful delimited tasks. Ask the CEO for a Table of Organization...yep, go ahead and ask. When federation leaders have asked for a further UJC budget reduction during this time of economic hardship, they have been met with silence or disdain.
Then came the "asks." Immediately after the budget was approved by the UJC Board in June, Rieger began a series of requests for funding of needs "over and above" the UJC Budget. Picture the Memos to Federation Executives -- for the Israel Advocacy Initiative, UJC's "partnership" with JCPA; for what was then called ACANI, the broad-based organization to fight a nuclear Iran; a mailbox for the victims of the Georgia-Russia War; a mailbox to aid the communities and victims of Hurricane Ike; a request for $5 million for the Ethiopian National Project; and $13.2 mi -- all without UJC governance process ... all failed. These "leaders" seem to believe that all they need do is decide what needs to be funded among the two (or three) of them, snap their fingers, send a Memo, and funds will flow. This is not the way we raise money in our communities; it has never been the way we have raised money nationally. Then, again, these leaders didn't raise any money using the finger snap/Memo method. Critical needs were left unfunded -- beneficiaries, partners, were ultimately told to raise the money themselves. In 2008 UJC discovered a formula for failure...and implemented it.
Oh, there was time in 2008 to decide to advance millions in borrowed funds to enable a move to downtown Manhattan in 2009; and to hire law firms in Israel and New York City at significant cost (and without process even by UJC's rubber stamp Committees) -- for what, exactly? Has anyone seen the work-product or the engagement letters between UJC and these law firms? (Seems like the Chair believes he can throw federation funds around like they were his own.) And there was time, without any internal governance process, to increase the contract for a branding/research "Initiative" from an approved $845,000 to $2 million -- an increase of over 100%, of $1,155,000 with no process! But funds for federation emergency needs, funds for our system's partners and beneficiaries -- uh uh.
And, all year long we celebrated Israel @ 60. UJC recently congratulated Washington's Norm Goldstein, a great lay leader, who chaired this effort without a dollar of budget support from UJC (which did provide excellent staff support). Norm personally raised $100's of thousands for events, personally sought out the support of the Government of Israel and great events were held across the country. UJC participated in none of them -- not a dollar to spare. Unlike Israel at 50 and 55, there were no national missions, no national events.
But...there was a GA in Jerusalem. Great plenaries, terrific ruach, wonderful site visits and very little impact. In the midst of an economic catastrophe impacting its owners, the federations of North America, not a single program...not one...dealt with these impacts. For UJC, at GA08, the reality of "federations08" just didn't sink in. Apparently, UJC's leaders' attitude was "...not our problem. Let us know when you have some best practices." When Madoff admitted his venal criminality impacting federations and donors, UJC chose to "survey" the federations; while others acted, UJC fiddled or stayed the course -- a Strategic Planning process -- no matter how off-course UJC was.
Divagation from the main focus of federations has been the constant for these "leaders." To paraphrase the New York Times film critic, A. O. Scott, "...to use the phrase 'the logic of these leaders' when talking about United Jewish Communities may be to take the 'oxy" out of 'oxymoronic.'" The actions of the CEO and Chair have been unrestrained by the owners and, most typically, their actions have been disgracious.
And, 2008 ended on a typical note for UJC. While Israel was forced to war on Gaza, UJC pondered. Its professionals demanded...demanded...that JDC and JAFI not communicate their responses to the terror even to their own constituencies, but to allow UJC to do so. UJC's answer was to "partner" in a conference call with, among others, the Israeli Ambassador to the United States on Monday of this week as a co-sponsor the Conference of Presidents, and UJC was merely a passenger. (The minor non-profit, The Israel Project, was able to do the same without partners.) On Monday, UJC did release an excellent background paper on the conflict. It is, with the messages of JAFI and JDC, worth reading.
On the positive side the Large City Federations demanded the UJC Budget be cut, the Large Intermediate Executives and Presidents have raised serious questions of the relationship of UJC's budget and dues to federations' needs and goals and the Intermediate Federations at Budget time raised similar serious questions and concerns. Many individual federations have advised UJC that their federation budgets can no longer support UJC dues at a time of growing scarcity. So far, as you would expect, UJC leaders have paid scant attention to engagement with the federations on any issue but dues. But in 2009 they will have no choice.
The Detroit Lions finished the 2008 National Football League season 0-16 -- an unmatched record of futility; UJC, but for its Washington Office and the work cited above, finished '09 without a win as well. Unlike the Lions who were shamed and embarrassed and who terminated their Coach, UJC has declared it to have been just the best year, the "best GA," yada yada yada. At UJC, no one has lost his job or position. It was Sam Cooke who wrote the song "A Change Is Gonna Come;" it's past time my friends. How long we gonna wait? When there is no sense of responsibility at the top of UJC, the owners must step forward.
May 2009 be a year of health and prosperity for each of you and your families, and may it be a year of hope and peace for our People.
Monday, December 29, 2008
Back in the day, people used to joke that UJA's culture was one of "ready, fire, aim" and CJF's: "ready, aim, aim, aim..." Read the UJC materials and you realize that Chair Kanfer and CEO Rieger have imposed a culture of "Not ready..."(see footnote below for other possibilities) They write as if UJC has actually "responded" to the Madoff catastrophe or that UJC is showing leadership in response to the economic crisis when, tragically, UJC has done nothing...nothing...and continues to. For Rieger to state in his View last Friday that UJC should "not let this crisis go to waste" is cynicism even beneath him; for Rieger essentially to argue therein: "this economic crisis isn't as bad as the Holocaust" is just plain beneath contempt. Neither Howard nor Joe get it: we look to the national organization of and for the federations to actually offer leadership, to take risks, to show creativity -- instead, the history of UJC under this twosome has been one of expensive studies no one asked for, bloated budgets, personal agendas, a lack of engagement, a failure to be inclusive and a total disregard of the questions being asked by federation leaders. (The View in question was titled "Response, Clarity and Perspective;" it might better have been called "Obfuscation, Equivocation and Prevarication.") As you sow...
Are you as sick as I am with Kanfer's and Rieger's constant rhetoric about dedicating UJC "to focus our system by growing donors and dollars" while constantly in retreat from those very goals? Look at the record: the Chair of the Center for Jewish Philanthropy resigned because of a lack of support, the Supplemental Giving Chair threatened likewise, top campaign professionals forced into retirement, the budget for "growing donors and dollars" has been slashed, there is no longer a Campaign Executive Committee, the role of the National Campaign Chair has been reduced to a name on the UJC letterhead, and more -- how stupid Kanfer and Rieger believe us to be. Some of their stuff must be written by George Orwell.
Rieger closed last Friday's View (which was more rich than usual with grammatical errors, run-on sentences, editing errors, etc., and even a totally illogical reference to the Holocaust) with a typical call for UJC to do nothing: "Let us maintain perspective, and let that perspective inform our actions. Only with calm determination may we chart the course that will lead us onward to great accomplishments in the days ahead. The Jewish community worldwide is depending on us to do just that." In other words, don't expect anything from us, leave us alone while we plan that FLI -- "not ready...ever" We've got your $37 million, we're not cutting our budget, you cut yours." "Trust us; we know what's best for you." This View certainly summed up the UJC "experience."
What do they say: fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me?"
* Other possiible tag lines for the UJC of today:
~ "Where vision gets built." (Lehman Brothers)
~ "The strength to be there" (AIG)
~ "You can count on us" (IndyMac Bank -- ooops, I think UJC is already using that one)
Sunday, December 28, 2008
We know that our national organization, United Jewish Communities, is effectively leaderless at this critical time. So many federations, impacted by the economy and Madoff's criminality, have turned inward. Until the special campaign in response to the first Intifada our donors had always been inspired by a focused, respected, inspirational national leadership to achievements thought, until those great chapters in modern Jewish history, to be beyond our means. We have always...always...stood tall, been there. But, the response to that first Intifada was inspired by the federations who demanded the leadership of our national organization. Later, the Israel Emergency Campaign that raised $362 million was federation driven -- an emergency campaign where the national organization followed, counting the money, prioritizing its expenditure and calling the IEC off even as the terrorists attacks continued. Now, the same "leaders" who failed to lead that IEC effort confront the potential for a war in which the demands on Diaspora Jewry may again be great.
One of the saddest moments of so many in 2008 arose out of the Israel Overseas/Global Operations determination that an emergency need of $13.2 million for victims of terror in Israel's South required immediate funding. There were, however, no IEC funds remaining -- UJC had failed to conduct a cash collection effort. So the IO/GO Chair sent out an "ask" for $13.2 million to the federations where the effort died and, with so many other "asks" went onto the UJC shelf.
With UJC's leaders having effectively denuded the Development lay leadership (but for National Women's Philanthropy whose leaders clear focus remains the inspiration it always has) the federations, their $37 million dues investment notwithstanding, will have to take on the emergency campaign themselves. This should not have to be the case. Months...months... before economic catastrophe, the Large City Executives "persuaded" UJC to bring together the system's mega-donors and shape a new mega-donor/federation/UJC effort as UJA had done in the 90's (or at least initiated). Rieger was to staff the effort and the results...take a guess. Had those donors been organized and meeting, UJC might have been able to convene them in the midst of crisis. But, instead, Howard and Joe have been very busy with the Strategic Plan for....UJC...while the federations have no central address to which to turn (and when they do turn, most, other than a select group of Large City Executives, get no answers).
At a time of what should be our greatest strength, a time that needs our greatest strength, we must find that strength in ourselves. We have no one home at UJC; it is a moment of our greatest weakness. We confront a national malaise without the leadership who could inspire us to our responsibilities. It is pathetic; it is so sad...and, if the federations would take the action they should, so unnecessary.
P.S. UJC "leaders" were in a frenzy today -- suggesting the IEC be "reinstituted" (forgetting that it was UJC that stopped it), convening conference call among its few experienced campaign leaders (forgetting that so many of them had been forced out or urged out).
Thursday, December 25, 2008
Then, on December 22, like an unwelcome Chanukah present from UJC, a Leadership Briefing -- UJC To Release Findings From Two Significant Surveys. Two summaries wereattached which led the voluble CEO Rieger (does he appear in person at UJC or only on the written page) to bloviate: "The analysis we gain from this research will help grow and sustain our system into the future." I really wonder if Rieger reads this stuff before it goes out because both "Surveys" are, in fact, insignificant and one threatens our system to its foundation. The fact that these would be sent out as if they added systemic value at this time boggles the mind.
One of the Surveys FPY Agency Leadership Stakeholder Survey Preview -- December 2008, endangers even more than UJC's silence the allocations to domestic and overseas agencies based on, get this, discussions and interviews with six pilot communities. Those discussions led to a survey completed by "462 agency leaders from 27 communities..." a "robust" response rate. And here are the incredible conclusions as presented:
1. "FPY Agency Early Insight (what the heck is that? Will there be a "late insight" to follow?) #1: Agencies are Most Influenced by How Cooperatively They Perceive That Federation Raises and Distributes Funds."
2. "FPY Agency Leadership Early Insight #2: Donors Give More When They Feel that Agencies are Doing a Better Job."
3. "FPY Agency Leadership Early Insight #3: "Agencies Value Federation's Help in Times of Trouble."
All one can say is: duh!!What revelations!! What insights!! Is there a federation CEO or Chair who needed this research to support these conclusions? Who needed this stuff particularly at this time? What was the point in sending it out at all, let alone now?
One of my friends, a Federation Chair, wrote to me after reading this Survey: "...peer yardstick -- mediocrity is the king." UJC's epitaph as well. Can't we get some new, invigorated leadership...now?! (The Detroit Lions are, by the way, now 0-15.)
But, FPY isn't all. On Tuesday, there it was, another UJC's Economic Crisis E-Newsletter. The subject this time promised much -- UJC RESPONDS TO FRAUD LOSSES HITTING THE COMMUNITY -- and delivers...nothing. There is a quote from New York UJA's Chair. Jerry Levin about the impacts and, then, UJC speaks...."No one knows yet how serious the system-wide damage will be. Right now, UJC is surveying federation endowment professionals and others to get an accurate read on the system's financial exposure and to determine how to respond." Uh-huh -- let's see if I read this correctly: "UJC RESPONDS..." by "surveying..to determine how to respond." (Is there an organization in Jewish history that is so obsessed with surveying the obvious? Federation to UJC: "Do Jewish children love their mothers?" UJC: "We'll survey that and get back to you in a few months.")
Then, if you're with me, "...some of the programs" for the UJC 2009 Investment Institute (no doubt, the "II," not to be confused with the "FLI" or the "FPY" or Shoo Fly Pie) have been "refocused" so the matters can be discussed in February 2009. In comparison -- direct comparison -- take a look at what the Jewish Funders Network has done since the Madoff scandal broke. Per the JTA, JFN convened a meeting Tuesday in New York of "35 of the country's largest foundations," it "is developing a comprehensive plan to help non-profits hit hard..." by Madoff "that includes bridge funding." UJC "surveys" and, yesterday, Rieger sends out a Memo of its plans, as our national institution to do, essentially, that which it has been doing -- nothing. I don't know, my friends, but UJC has moved from irrelevance to farce and irrelevance at a time of our greatest need for a strong central institution of and for the federations. It's pitiful.
We can do better. The federations conceived of UJC as something so much better. We must insist it be that which we had conceived it to be.
Monday, December 22, 2008
~ UJC's chief professionals suggest that, in light of Madoff and the economic meltdown, that federations consider placing their endowment assets with, e.g., Chicago -- which many of them have done. But UJC? Continues to manage its own rather limited endowment.
~ UJC, on its tiny economic crisis link on the http://www.ujc.org/ website, suggests, among steps federations might take, federation and agency belt-tightening. For UJC...uh uh, nope, not us. (I assume UJC believes simply that the $3.2 million budget cut last June was it -- forgetting that that federation demand had nothing...nothing... to do with the economic crisis and everything to do with bloat and a basic failure to perform.)
~ UJC, as you will recall, over the months since its 2008-2009 Budget was approved, made one "ask" for additional dollars after another -- and every single one of those asks failed. UJC's CEO's idea of fund raising appears to be to send out a Memo (imagine "fund raising by Memo)... and leave it at that. The need to fund the Israel Advocacy Initiative, a joint UJC-JCPA Project -- send a Memo and "raid" the National Alliance Fund for $80,000. No response to the Memo, next thing you know, JCPA is forced into direct fund raising for the IAI. The desperate need to fund the Ethiopian National Project, a Memo from Rieger with no authorization; no response, next thing you know, the ENP is told by UJC to engage in direct fund raising. Hurricane Ike and a $1.7 million need -- open a Mailbox; forward the $80,000 sent by donors, and allocate another $300,000 (+/-) from the Humanitarian Needs set-aside within the UJC Disaster Relief Fund, literally clearing it out. Then UJC asks the Religious Streams for help -- nothing more -- leaving an impacted federation for the first time in our memory holding the bag from a national disaster.
UJC has about $16 million in unrestricted endowment funds What are they being used for, you ask? Ask Mssrs. Rieger and Kanfer. Is this the kind of emrgency fund the principal of which ought to be invaded for emergencies? Are the needs of the IAI or the ENP or Hurricane Ike Relief sufficient emergencies? Are the horrific deficits being suffered by JAFI and JDC sufficiently critical? I know it's hard to pry Joe's and Howard's fingers from their Strategic Plan drafting pencils. impossible to get them to raise their heads from their Blackberries long enough to see there are a series of emergencies upon us...now...and UJC being asked, if not now, when?
Friends, well over one year ago, federations and their lay and professional leaders, who objected to the lack of any perceptible return on their communal dues investement were told by Rieger/Kanfer: "Trust us. Give us one year to prove to you UJC's value. Give us one year..." Well, that year passed long ago; there has been no proof...none. ON WHAT CRITICAL ISSUE CONFRONTING THE FEDERATIONS HAS UJC HAD ANY IMPACT WHATSOEVER? is the tragedy of UJC today. When federations face an economic crisis of epic proportions plus a set of major donors across the country impacted by Madoff's perfidy, what right do these leaders have to call upon us to continue to throw dues into the proverbial black hole? And how do Mssrs. Kanfer/Rieger respond: "Trust us. We trust you." Got that? "Trust us. We trust you."
That's their Chanukah gift: "Trust us. We trust you." Huh? Pretty soon they will quoting us Rudyard Kipling.
Chag Chanukah sameach.
Friday, December 19, 2008
Speaking of which, on December 8, the UJC Board Chair, Joe Kanfer, he of an absolutely phenomenal sense of humor, issued the formal invitation to the UJC Federation Leadership Institute. If you thought the GA Board Meeting in Jerusalem was meaningful, you'll love the Palm Beach Institute in February. Here's the deal: "[T]he FLI (you recall that everything at UJC is gleefully reduced to acronyms) theme is Federation System: Managing through difficult times, positioning for growth." So what if it's a year late and a dollar short, and the crisis magnified in so many places by Madoff's fraud, you would think that UJC will focus its Board/federation leadership on the impacts of the economic crisis from this tag line, wouldn't you? Not so fast.
Not so fast because if one reads on in the 8 December Kanfer Memo, you discover that the Institute as planned will have little if anything to do with the crisis, with the federations' needs, and everything to do with Kanfer's and his CEO's perception of "what's good for the federations." "[W]e will tackle a number of critical issues, including UJC's roles, governance and the approaches we take to the major challenges we face. We will also have an opportunity to review the results of market research we are conducting to help the system build a stronger continental federation brand." Important stuff? Not so much.
Then, Kanfer's Memo was followed by a double-barreled attempt at UJC humor -- a UJC Communications announcement Strategic Plan Group Nears Final Recommendations and last Friday's Howard's View. Where's the humor you ask? Well, it turns out that UJC's Strategic Planning Working Group is chaired by (trumpets please)...UJC Board of Trustees Chair Joe Kanfer. The insularity of the current leaders has never been more in evidence. The Work Group of 38 "representing all city-size communities" excludes lay leaders (and, in some instances, lead professionals) from critical (and by that I mean "vital") federations, many of whose leaders' requests to participate in this process were summarily ignored. (Then, in that font of great humor, the weekly Howard's View [December 12], Rieger, among other things, reports that the Strategic Planning Work Group is populated by 36, not 38. But we already know from the various estimates of GA attendance, Howard can't count.)
The Work Group met in NYC last week as they "near final recommendations." Then, we will have the chance to discuss them. Try as they will UJC's tiny group of leaders can't convince me of the relevance of a Strategic Plan at this critical time of the federations' greatest needs that they are paying anything but lip service to the federations themselves. These leaders have their own agenda, their own prescription of what's "best for the federations," and they are going to pursue that agenda even while the system is at risk. No joke there.
The capper? Kanfer is quoted: "The discussion marked a crucial point for the strategic planning process, in that the work group achieved consensus around some complex and critical issues that will help our continental collective system." BUT WE'RE NOT TELLING YOU WHAT THEY ARE! WE COULD, BUT WE WON'T. No Joe doesn't think we have the intelligence to comprehend these "complex and critical issues" on which consensus was built unless better minds -- a "steering committee comprised of the sub-group chairs" -- visited us and explained them to us. Oh, "if we only had a brain..." And if UJC's leaders "had a brain," would they not immediately refocus the FLI on the crisis facing federations today -- on the impacts of the economy coupled with the impacts of Madoff's perfidy. But...no...we are on one path and we're sticking to it no matter how irrelevant. (During the UJC Executive Committee meeting this week, Rieger, into the fourth and final year of his failed Presidency suggested that UJC "collect" federation information on the individual instances of Madoff investments in the communities. When ask "what for," Rieger, as could be expected, had no answer.)
For humor, one needs only to read Howard's View each week, a veritable treasure trove of unintended comedy. In addition to the idiocy cited above, last Friday Howard again cited, among the UJC "Economic Initiatives" at GA08, "...the plenary on economic implications for Israel and its supporters with bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer and ...Benjamin Netanyahu" as if that Plenary had anything to do with our federations. Howard, Howard, Howard...THIS HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH THE CRISIS THE FEDERATIONS FACE TODAY. I repeat, THAT PLENARY HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH THE CRISIS THE FEDERATIONS FACE TODAY. In fact, nothing...nothing... at the GA had anything to do with the economic impacts our federations are confronting.
I have observed before that this sorry leadership emulates Nero fiddling while Rome burns. And the music just gets louder while the flames grow closer and Kanfer and Rieger are heard to shout: "Let them eat cake." Add the massive fraud perpetrated by Bernard Madoff to the economic tsunami and one can only ask where, oh where has UJC been, when will it focus on federations' needs as opposed to what these leaders perceive federations need -- there is, as you know, a great gulf between the two.
Got to love them. But, the joke's on us.
Shabbat shalom, chevra.
Monday, December 15, 2008
Some background. In the past, under a succession of CFO's of UJA and, then, UJC, we organized a lay-professional partnership in the year-end cash collection effort. The process was simple: the UJC Financial pros would call communities to inquire as to the federation's cash projections (to assure that December projections were consistent with allocations, previous projections, etc.). If a federation was non-responsive to the UJC professionals, the Financial Relations Chair (up to a point in time that was me [or, before and after me, Norm Tilles of Rhode Island, or Alan Shulman of Palm Beach] Today it is Jacksonville's Steve Silverman, a great lay leader poorly used by the Board Chair and CEO). We would get the name of the federation Chair and we would call lay leader talking to lay leader. Frequently, we would call on members of the Financial Relations Committee to call a community in their region -- e.g., Jerry Yanowitz in the West, Conrad Giles, Midwest, etc. Sometimes a City-size Chair like Kathy Manning back in the day. Often, not surprisingly, the federation lay leader we would call would not be aware of a cash issue...but they always followed through. Our results were uniformly good -- even excellent. And our calls went to every federation regardless of size. We didn't wait for the community to call the national organization; we were proactive. For a brief period, Sam Astrof, UJC's COO/CFO followed the same established protocol. Not any more.
Sam with his professionals in the cash effort, Pam Zaltsman and Cheryl Lefland were totally commited to the success of the federations' cash effort -- this was their sacred calling. They know and knew how critical the cash they collected was to those of our prople most in need. Someone directed them to change a lay-professional process that was working.
For the process was changed by some undisclosed fiat; cash collections were henceforth to be strictly "professionalized." The results, as they say, speak for themselves. In 2007, when a community was non-responsive to the Finance Department's professionals calls, if to a Large City, the CEO was charged with responsibility. At the end of 2007, JAFI's and JDC'S cash receipts from UJC's collections fell millions...millions... under UJC's own projections. Case in point: one Large Federation in the East was not responsive to UJC's staff's calls; Rieger called the Executive whose apparent response was: "we're doing the best we can. Tell your staff to leave us alone." Rieger reported back to the staff to stop calling that community. The result, that federation's cash payments were $2.7 million below UJC's projections. There were explanations -- reasons that were not disclosed to UJC (in fairness to that federation, its chief professional may have explained the circumstances to Rieger in December 2007 who never discloed the circumstances) until lay leader inquiries in mid-2008. Could a lay leader's engagement have made a difference in December 2007? Doubtful in this instance but, most certainly, projections to JAFI and JDC and those "partners" expectations would have been changed.
Sure, Michael Gelman, UJC's Treasurer, made some calls in 2007. Generally they were uninformed and without the structure that had been built over time. The wheel was remade...and then, as with all things UJC it seems, fell off the truck. Cash concerns were expressed in passing at the GA08 Board meeting. And it is clear that UJC is making a concerted effort here in December to emphasize cash collections: an important system-wide conference call and an, attempt, described below, to engage UJC lay leaders with communities in the cash effort. Is it too little, too late? The results will, as they say, speak for themselves.
In mid-2007, I had urged the Board Chair and CEO and CFO, in writing, to reinstitute the lay cash collections process that had been so successful at the same time that I urged a lay driven cash collections process for IEC collections after learning that UJC hadn't any data on the full extent of the IEC Campaign. I was ignored as always. (Strange, but this leadership's attitude seems to be "if it's broken, don't fix it.") Post GA08, UJC set forth its Cash Collections process in the midst of the economic crisis -- once again a professional process the prior year's results notwithstanding. One of our system's best Executives wrote UJC's leaders urging a lay driven collections process, envisioning a system as potentially impactful as I outlined above. The UJC Chair couldn't have responded more quickly, positively or, for him, enthusiastically -- "Howard will implement" or words like that. And, then...not so much.
On December 4, Sam Astrof sent his Memo as UJC COO/CFO to Federation CEO's and CFO's (but, curiously given its content, not to the UJC Board): Financial Matters to Consider During These Turbulent Times (ahhh, that's what we're in -- "turbulent times"). Some excellent suggestions until the ultimate Point 7: Cash Mobilization:
"UJC is ready to assist federations with collecting year end cash pledges by offering UJC lay
leadership. i.e., UJC Board Members as well as appropriate leadership from our partner
agencies to contact donors and meet with federation lay leadership or federation boards. If
you would like to avail your federation of this service, please contact..."
Quite a "service." Sure, in the past I would be asked to call a UJC lay leader to request their help in their community. We did engage where a federation responded and believed it would be helpful. UJC's new "Rube Goldberg-like" process -- "call us, we won't call you" -- was as far from that Large City Executive's proposal for a cash collection methodology as it was from any hope for success. UJC was given a template by a major federation leader that offered the possibility of a successful cash season at a most difficult time -- instead of just implementing the recommendation that it had been given, UJC felt it necessary to tweak it, to change it, to substitute its own cockamamie formula for failure for one that might have achieved success. (Picture this conversation: UJC lay leader: "I want to call _____. your largest contributor, and collect his pledge for you." Federation CEO: "Are you nuts?" "Bang" -- the sound of the telephone hitting the cradle. UJC leader: "Hello? Hello?") That's UJC in a nutshell.
Now, I have learned, UJC will role out a new Cash Collection process today. I can't conceive how it will be so helpful to federations and UJC's partners to read about it with two weeks...two weeks... left in the calendar year -- the year-end on which JAFI and JDC are so dependent. (Apparently, this "new...process" consists of a Memo from Rieger to Federation Executives "advising" them that unnamed "UJC leaders" will be calling their federation Chairs to thank them for their cash efforts and offer assistance. See paragraph immediately above.)
My head hurts...but at least I know where it is. I have a suspicion I know where UJC's head is as well.
Sunday, December 14, 2008
All that our enterprise is about is trust. Investors blindly trusted Madoff and they entrusted the apparent returns on their investment to their philanthropy. Our communities and our foundations trusted in the continuity of support as those who invested with this now admitted criminal trusted in the annual profits they received year after year. Our federation system has been built on trust -- trust is the bedrock on which our communities have been built. When the great federation endowments were built, speculative investments were unheard of -- returns on investment may have been small but they appeared to be secure. As fortunes grew an imperative seemed to emerge that demanded more speculation to build returns more quickly.
Now we once again will find our strength in Torah, in the Maimonedisian principles that have guided our philanthropy and in the values and inspiration that have built our communal institutions. And we will find the new leaders in whom we can trust and who will guide us on our way to new strength and renewed trust.
The results today, as they say, speak for themselves. It is all so terribly sad.
Thursday, December 11, 2008
"WHAT MAKES BOARDS UNIQUE?
1. A Board only exists when it is meeting.
2. A board is an entity not a collection of individuals.
3. The authority of the Board derives from the whole, not from any individual Board member."
"WHAT IS THE 'FIDUCIARY DUTY OF THE BOARD?"
1. The Duty of OBEDIENCE
2. The Duty of CARE
3. The Duty of LOYALTY"
(Each "Duty" above is to the institution, not fealty to a transient set of leaders.)
After pointing out that "[V]olumes of research suggest that a diverse group of independent Directors with access to good information will consistently make better decisions about big picture issues...," the experts frame the question: Then why in many cases don't they?
"ONE REASON IS LACK OF UNDERSTANDING OF THE FUNCTIONAL RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN BOARD, THE BOARD CHAIR, THE EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE, OPERATING COMMITTEES AND THEIR CHAIRS."
"1. The Board has ultimate authority.
2. The Chair is accountable to the Board.
3. The CEO reports to the Board.
4. All committees and their Chairs report to and are accountable to the Board.
5. The Executive Committee reports to and is accountable to the Board."
"Consequently," these experts in non-profit governance write, "Boards must expect and emphasize competence and accountability in all Board Members and leaders."
(An aside, at UJC there has been a fundamental and egregious breakdown in all areas of authority. The UJC Board has essentially abandoned its responsibilities to a Chair and CEO who demonstrate no sense of responsibility to their Board.)
"BOARDS AS TEAMS: Real teams don't emerge unless individuals on them take risks involving conflict, trust, inter-dependence and hard work."
1. Have good fights -- Team harmony is in most cases apathy
2. Focus on facts or tasks
3. Multiply alternatives
4. Create common goals
5. Have great processes for problem solving and religiously follow them
6. Balance power structure
7. Seek consensus with qualifications
8. Use humor
Now, UJC's "leaders" will read 1-9 and conclude "we're doing all of this; what's Wexler's problem?" Folks, you're doing none of them.
The authors continue:
"BOARD CHAIR RESPONSIBILITIES
1. Serve as Advisor to CEO
2. Serve (as) Advisor to Committee Chair
3. Serve as Board's Representative both internally and externally
4. Chairs Board's Executive Committee
5. Perform other tasks necessary for ensuring high levels of Board performance"
Then, the final admonition: "YOU, our Board as an Entity, are responsible for the leadership and success of (UJC)"
No one reading this and serving on UJC's Board can any longer avoid the fiduciary responsibility that comes with the position. You never could. Understand and challenge. Engage and demand.
Monday, December 8, 2008
Each of you who was there has your own sense of the success of GA08 (or the lack thereof) but I want to focus on the congratulatory note in the View. Apparently lacking any other trustworthy source, the CEO quotes, who else, his Board Chair. Joe Kanfer, Chair of the UJC Board of Trustees, said this was "a truly great GA" that not only inspired people, but was staged despite major budget restraints...These guys will never learn that you can't propel yourself forward by patting yourself on the back.
At the GA08 we convened a Board meeting of United Israel Appeal. It was a dinner meeting to transact some business, install Bruce Arbit as the new Chair of UIA/UJC, honor the leaders responsible for the historic effort to achieve and sustain the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Grant and bid me adieu after my two terms as Chair. We were honored by the United States Ambassador to Israel and by the presence of over 300 of our UIA family, friends, federation lay and professional leaders, and staff. (OK, so there were 140 guests but, in the spirit of UJC's "count" of GA "attendees," isn't a guy entitled to a bit of gross overstatement?)
There was a beautiful tone to the evening -- one of celebration of common cause. I was not only gratified by the turn-out, and the presence of those with whom I have shared so much, but as well with the fact that Kathy Manning attended after, I have been told, she and other UJC Officers were "directed" by the Board Chair to stay away. (The fact that Kanfer did so -- thereby refusing to honor Bruce, to whom he and Rieger have promised their unequivocal support -- is merely a further demonstration of the institutional pettiness with which UJC has been led these past two years.)
At the onset of my UIA Chairmanship, I. too, was expressly promised UJC's lay and professional leaders' support. More critically, I asked for assurance that UIA would be consulted on all matters related to the Jewish Agency for Israel, UIA's "exclusive agent" for purposes of our system's allocations to JAFI. No sooner was the 2006 Los Angeles GA over, no sooner was "the ink dry" on this "agreement," than Rieger and Kanfer were off attempting to preempt UIA's JAFI role time and again. In March 2007, on the cusp of the issuance of the infamous Organizational Strategy Howard called me to offer a "head's up," as he called it, and advised me of the intended marginalization of the annual campaign within the new structure. I objected -- strongly -- not knowing until I read the Strategy that UIA's roles were intended to be delimited as well. No consultation, no discussion -- just dictation. And when I objected, the process of "wexlerization" began -- a process that continued through the UIA Dinner meeting at GA08.
All of us recognize today, as I did for two years, that UJC's Chair and CEO have chosen a secrecy strategy worthy of the Kremlin under Stalin and his henchmen. The attempted actions directed at UIA were merely the harbinger of actions to come that affect us all. As bad, the actions taken in the shadows, have painted a picture of an UJC out of touch and out of control.
It's time for major change imposed from ownership upon leadership. Long past time.
Friday, December 5, 2008
What does this have to do with UJC you ask? Well, this past Holiday, CBS Investigative Reporter, Arman Ketayan, born in Detroit, analyzed the plight of the Lions and Detroit, in words that resonated "UJC" to me. Let me paraphrase: "To the downright despair of so many...(UJC is) the spitting image of Detroit: poor design, faulty engineering, bad parts and the wrong (men) behind the wheel...an assembly line of problems." What Ketayan suggested for the Detroit Lions basically follows what I and others have suggested as potential cures for UJC -- change the bad parts to good and put the right women or men "behind the wheel" immediately.
In the Detroit Lions' case, there is a paucity of talent; in UJC's case, the problems that exist are not for lack of talent. At UJC there exist a wonderful group of dedicated professionals. They are encumbered by the lack of leadership -- lay and professional. In football, the plays are called in from the coaching staff and are executed by the pros on the field; at UJC, the plays are constantly being changed -- even as one play is being executed, the "leaders" are reversing themselves and heading in a different direction. Few can appreciate how these constantly changing directions can destroy the professionals' morale.
Bottom line, Arman Ketayan demanded that the Detroit Lions' owners -- not surprisingly, the Ford Family -- sell a team that has been pathetic for almost a decade. In the instance of UJC, it's time for the owners to take charge, to demand evidence of UJC's value for the money/dues paid it year-in and year-out. Slowly, led not by those paying the most dues, but by those for whom the "Fair Share dues" have become so painful, so unsupportable, those demands are being made. "What are we getting for our dues, for $37 million in dues" is a demand for proof -- and UJC "leaders" can't/won't respond. They no longer have a response if they ever did. UJC's mantra now of "Wait 'till February 2009" is like another pathetic sports team -- Chicago's Cubs -- whose pathetic "wait 'till next year" doesn't resonate after a century of futility.
Detroit Lions/UJC -- today, one and the same.
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
As a not insignificant number of other federations have demanded dues relief, the UJC Officers appear to have decided among themselves to preempt the Financial Relations Committee and, as in all things, go it alone... a mistake, bad mistake.
A major Midwest Large City federation advised UJC leaders three years ago that it would no longer pay full dues -- it was demanding a reduction of over $1 million, as I recall. UJC made its "usual" forays into the community -- even to the irrational unprofessional direct approach of the President and CEO to Federation lay leaders without consultation with the Federation CEO. A meeting was held in NYC among Federation and UJC lay leaders in December 2006 (a meeting resisted for weeks by the UJC President who wished no further lay leader involvement) -- to no avail. UJC, as a sop to the community, gave it seats on the Budget & Finance Committee and, at least temporarily, on the UJC Executive Committee -- to no avail. Sooooo, Treasurer Michael Gelman, with some assistance from another of the Large City Executives, entered the fray.
And, allegedly, another "deal" -- one even more bizarre that that "reached" with South Palm Beach. Under this one, the Federation in question would be permitted to reduce its previously reported Annual Campaign totals so as to bring that Federation's obligation for annual Fair Share Dues down to an agreed upon maximum. (Fair share dues are determined by a federation's annual campaign divided by the aggregate of all American federations' annual campaigns.) Great negotiation -- UJC permits a"fiction" that effectively reduces this federation's annual campaign totals to reduce its dues thereby increasing the dues obligations of all other federations.
To satisfy one important federation, without consultation, in disregard of UJC's obligations to all federations, my federation and yours will pay an even greater dues amount...and this makes sense? This helps to build a system? This is "Fair Share?" Let's all make deals -- UJC will have to hire a new professional just to keep track of the deals!!
Friday, November 28, 2008
~ Making Deals -- The saga of UJC leaders' Fair Share Dues deals without authorization continues.
~ UJC and the Detroit Lions -- Comparisons abound. See if you agree. For those of our readers who either don't understand professional football or could care less about the sport, a brief primer will be provided.
~ Lawyers, lawyers, lawyers -- UJC engages law firms in Israel and New York. Why? How much is being spent without authorization? And, again...why? Whose interests are being served?
~ The Federations -- Taking Control? -- At long last, the federations, in growing numbers, are telling UJC's "leaders" "stop wasting our money" asking them "while we cut our budgets and staff, why does UJC continue to act like it's business as usual?" And, what has been this leadership's response to its federation owners, if any?
~ The UIA, UJC and the Jewish Agency for Israel -- A post-Chairmanship perspective on institutional relationships and how a know-nothing UJC lay leadership can wreak havoc on an historic partnership. A cautionary tale for the UJC Search and Nominating Committees.
Many of you have taken the time to write with your own reflections on GA08. Most, if not all, expressed their sadness with the "wasted opportunity," the failure to focus on the United States economy in any public way. Others assured me that these matters were discussed within the Executives/Presidents meetings -- and discussed forcibly with UJC there. Others wrote me as did one FOB: "...as a veteran of every GA since (the 70's) I agree with everything you have said. It is sad. The sessions were more a of a chore than a means of exciting us and recharging the batteries as they used to." I have every hope that with a change of leaders next year's GA in Washington can provide us with inspiration, passion and meaning.
Unfortunately, it is once again "wait 'till next year."
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
UJC has convinced itself that the positive 2009 FRD reflected in the Greenberg Event in New York and the Crown Dinner in Chicago, the fact that over 200 attended Detroit's Hermelin Event and over 1100 at Chicago's Vanguard Event show that our system will struggle but overcome. It's great to publicize the successes, but to ignore the realities? Yet, it is the D.C. federation's decision to impose a one week "unpaid leave" for its entire staff over Pesach, the Jewish Agency's $45 million growing deficit, the leaders of Birthright personally borrowing to meet the organization's obligations to the kids who have already signed up for the upcoming "Voyages of Discovery," and the federations around the country who have reorganized to focus on feeding and sustaining Jews in growing need who require our system's attention -- these suggest that our system could essentially be overwhelmed. With UJC having done nothing beyond "serial asks," the IAI has been essentially financially abandoned forcing JCPA to make its own ask (and, if the IAI is in fact a "partnership" between JCPA and UJC, why has UJC left its side of the IAI Co-Chairmanship vacant for over one year?); the ENP, without sufficient funds, encouraged to independently fund raise; "asks" are made without authorization or follow-up; etc., etc.
Worst, for the first time in our organizational history, JAFI and JDC lack the advocacy support of the national organization of the federation system. Any suggestions that UJC itself significantly reduce its budget; that its professional leader reduce his compensation (see the article in The New York Times this past Sunday on what many University Presidents are doing as an example); that UJC focus all of its efforts short term on assisting the federation owners meet the challenges of this fiscal crisis -- all are met with...silence. UJC's leaders continue to operate in the bubble they have constructed to protect themselves against any ideas but their own. It's past time for them to go.
The federations themselves must immediately organize a national Summit --- Jewish Federations - Meeting the Impacts of the Economic Melt-down. All federations would be invited (and, as in the instance of prior conference calls among the largest foundations and Large Cities and Large Intermediate federations, UJC would be invited to attend as well -- their professionals can take notes). The Co-Chairs could be Stanley Gold and Morris Offit and the LCE would provide the professional support. Leading economists, foundation leaders like Jeff Solomon and Chip Edelsberg, Jewish leaders in finance (including Gold, Offit, Crown, Sarver, Bloomberg, John Pritzker, Larry Summers), federations already in the execution stage of emergency plans -- e.g., Chicago, Washington, New York, LA. Rochester, Palm Beach, NY, Houston -- would be among the presenters. William Daroff, UJC's chief Washington professional, would organize panels of Washington political and thought leaders. This two-day meeting must be convened immediately in Washington; enough time has been wasted. If federation leaders today conclude that they must devote all of their attention to the economic crisis and haven't the time or energy to confront simultaneously the $37 million problem that is UJC, we will have the organization we deserve, not the one we need.
Now, of course, this Summit should be UJC's responsibility and would be, if there was a UJC. For ten months UJC had the opportunity and responsibility to plan for this most serious of eventualities. it did nothing. UJC, sadly, has failed to act as the system's convener and out of that failure, has abandoned its most serious of obligations. Sure, we come together to learn of UJC's "leaders'" "big ideas" but we have learned that they have almost nothing to do with federations. Further, these "leaders" have evidenced an absolute inability to get their ideas executed because they have wholly failed failed to involve federations' leadership in their formation. As long as the current Chair and CEO remain in place, oblivious as they appear to be, so totally focused on a Marketing/Branding Initiative and a faux Strategic Plan respectively, the federations must go it alone -- but let's go it alone together.
Friends, a Happy Thanksgiving to you and your families.
Friday, November 21, 2008
JDC-Israel has long engaged Israeli non-profits in leveraging its American supporters' (including federations) investment in vital, creative and innovative social service projects. The Jewish Agency for Israel has been remarkably energized over the past five years by the service on its Board and Executive of a group of Israeli philanthropists who are engaged and becoming more and more invested in the Agency's programs, its governance, its present and future. Rather than joining forces with JAFI and JDC in their efforts by encouraging North American federations' and donors' investments in their big ideas, this leadership has decided to compete at the worst of times while giving lip service to the "partners." Another UJC "big idea" of no value.
First, encouraged by its then Board Chair's, Bobby Goldberg's, affinity for Zionism 2000, an Israeli philanthropic effort led by Ronnie Doueck, and Goldberg's burgeoning antipathy for JAFI, UJC increased its involvement in Sheatufim, an Israeli non-profit partnership dedicated to the vital purpose of building Israel's civil society. While UJC may have reallocated a meager amount of its budget or overseas funds, to date the sole "contribution" UJC appears to have made to Sheatufim was the appearance of three of its "leaders" at a 2008 Conference as featured speakers or panelists -- Rieger, Kanfer and Young, of course. At one and the same time, in the midst of the economic crisis that is upon us, hitting JAFI and JDC so very hard along with our federations, with no consultation with Federation lay or professional leaders, UJC Israel has embarked, almost in secret as so many things are at UJC, on a program cleverly titled 10 by 10. (UJC, if nothing else is great, just great...at titles. [I am told that 10 by 10 is already a title in use in the United States.])
In a nutshell (into which it ought to be restuffed), 10 by 10 seeks ten Israeli philanthropists to contribute $50,000 each to be matched by ten North American Jewish philanthropists who would similarly invest in a "blind pool," with some direction by the contributors. If UJC were successful, there would be the munificent sum of $1 million to be distributed for unnamed charitable purposes in Israel. Forget the underfunded work of JDC-Israel, disregard the involvement of Israeli philanthropists in the woefully underfunded work of JAFI, we at UJC, who can't even focus let alone impact on federation priorities in North America, will now compete with its "partners" because, even as I doubt UJC could raise $1 million, were it "successful" (and how does one measure "success" when it comes at a cost to one's "partners"), UJC would certainly use 10 by 10 as a platform for its intent to compete with JAFI and JDC on the ground in Israel. What a "big idea."
At UJC, there is what is called the IO/GO Council -- a group of about 12 experienced federation lay leaders created out of the destroyed "silo" of what was the Israel Overseas Pillar (where about 44 federation lay leaders were engaged and dismissed out of hand) whose purported primary role was to guide the work of UJC Israel. There was no meeting of the IO/GO Council at the GA (how silly of me to think that with GA08 in Israel, the Council bearing "Israel" in its name might meet). It is rumored that IO/GO is now without a Chair. In fact, I'm betting that those federation leaders have never heard of 10 by 10 -- I am willing to wager that its (former or present) Chair, the ubiquitous Toni Young, knows all about it as do Kanfer and Rieger. What they clearly don't know is how to process, discuss and expose new ideas with the federations which own UJC; they don't know (or have forgotten) how to raise money; and they don't know or care about the duplication, overlap and confusion they will cause with those they call their "partners" but treat as supplicants and competitors. Let the sunshine in?? Not these guys.
They just don't know or care.
Thursday, November 20, 2008
It seems clear to me that what has been missing at UJC is an educated system-view of the federation system -- a comprehensive coherent system-view -- that would guide UJC in the development of its plans, budgets, policies and programs. Instead we have had the system viewed through the prism of a domineering Board Chair who not only lacked an understanding of how federations work when he was elected, he still doesn't have it two years later -- or he is basically disinterested in how federations work (which has led Joe Kanfer to act without apparently caring about what federations want). When one is so lacking in a clear understanding of federations claims, by virtue of his "election" and nothing more, that he "speaks for the federations," our system is in terrible trouble.
Even though I have differed with Kathy Manning on many issues, I have felt that she still does not sense or understand that as Chair of the UJC Executive, she is a co-equal of the Board Chair, not subservient to him. And that is too bad because Kathy has demonstrated that she is sensitive to the issues that are of concern to federations. As all of us know, she is articulate, she knows the right questions to ask and possesses the intelligence, grace, sense of humor and commitment so vital to leadership. It's still not too late...or, maybe it is.
UJC under its present CEO and Board Chair doesn't relate to its federation owners and, therefor, has disqualified itself from speaking for them. That would not be the case if there were any evidence that this leadership duo really cares about them. With which federations have the Board Chair and CEO directly engaged over matters other than dues (and excluding City-size group gropes)? On more than a "fly-in," spend two hours speaking on what's on their minds, "fly-out" basis? Yours? Mine? Our system's beneficiaries used to rely on the national organization to convey their message to the federations; today, at a time the federations own the system, the beneficiaries are forced to "go direct," no more able to rely on UJC to be their advocate let alone "partner." The result is the systemic disarray we are experiencing at a time we...all of us...require a system that unites us with purpose to confront the economic realities that impact us and all that we are committed to do.
For me and for those of our readers who attended GA08, enough time has now passed for some perspective (all of 24 hours). It was kind of a "best of times, worst of times" three days.
- As I have noted in earlier Posts the Plenaries at this GA were "old school" in so many ways and, thereby, inspiring and filled with spirit -- two things that UJC so sorely lacks. Yet, the lack of a "scholar-in-residence" to articulate the Jewish content of the theme and then to summarize (and, no matter how hard Howard Rieger may have tried, he is no Arnie Eisen, not close) pulling the disparate aspects of the GA together under the theme "One People, One Destiny" (As an aside, wasn't the theme of the 50th Anniversary Jerusalem GA "One People, One Heart?") was truly missed...again.
- Once Jerusalem became the site of the GA, the only possible venue for the over-estimated number of Registrants was Binyanei Ha'ooma -- and what a terrible venue it was -- labyrinthian with a maze to traverse to any event and one flight of stairs after another to climb. It was truly a venue that almost had a sign posted "disabled not invited." At the UJC Board meeting a Resolution on the Disabled passed without comment; in practice the disabled attendees were offered no assistance, literally shutting them out of Plenaries -- or any event above the first level. With all of the site visits UJC staff paid to Jerusalem in planning this GA, did no one notice that special attention would have to be paid in this venue to the needs of the disabled? Rhetorical question. I know there are elevators in the Convention Center...somewhere.
- At the Closing Plenary a UJC senior professional castigated me with a modicum of friendship for not attending the Board and Delegate Assembly Meeting -- told me it was my fiduciary duty to be there notwithstanding that voting is done on a bloc basis. I felt guilty for a nano-second until Friends of the Blog (my "FOB's") told me the meeting was just the same faces making the same reports, with no spirit, no passion and the result -- further disengagement, the same "talking heads" as always.
- Speaking of FOB's, I loved seeing and being with old friends from so many shared experiences -- GA's past, Missions, UJA, CJF, NCSJ and federations I have visited. So many came up to me to tell me "I read your Blog...love it...don't stop." As all of them know, as all of you know, this Blog will stop when UJC starts... to perform.
- And, then there are the "numbers." While I considered it funny in a perverse sort of way, UJC's constantly changing "count" was also serious in a way. With claims of 5,479 Attendees at last "count," plus NextGen, plus Sponsors, etc. UJC's "counters" went beyond mere overstatement to a new stratosphere. Look, Ussiskin Hall where the Plenaries were held holds 3,000...max. Back out the "800" NextGen and we're down to 2,200. Back down another few hundred staff and you're at 1,800 Registrants...max. Remember, I'm from Chicago; we invented overstating crowd estimates. Whoever counts for UJC has learned the "Chicago-way" quite well. The tab for GA08 will soon be forthcoming; then all of us will know the real numbers. I hope they are UJC's numbers, not mine.
- Finally, the day of Site visits was fantastic. I heard only gratitude for the work of JAFI and JDC. It was a well-planned, well thought-out day for whioch all need to be congratulated/
All in all, a mixed bag. But nothing...nothing...on the crisis that confronts our federations and our beneficiaries and our partners. That's the saddest commentary of all.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
In a JTA interview Rieger attacked "...unnamed sources who bash us..." and, then, yesterday, at a horrific meeting between Rieger, Kanfer and the Large City Chairs and Executives he attacked, among others, "...anonymous naysayers" blaming them for UJC's failings. So, as my name is attached to this Blog, I have chosen to consider Howard's statements as an "endorsement" even as I know that was certainly not his intent.
At that vital event, I have been told, the lay and professional leaders (those present and by phone) of the largest of UJC's owners were attacked by Kanfer in strident tones for the drop-off in donors in addition to Rieger blaming "anonymous naysayers" for what may have gone wrong at UJC, not that he would ever agree that anything has. The meeting was characterized by shouting and a strong negative tone. Some leaders questioned whether the national system can survive the decisions of a few federations today which appear to be walking away from collective action and collective allocations to pursue their own designated allocations. When the communities most need a united system to deal with the economic issues confronting all of us, we have a system deconstructing from both the top down and the bottom up. It's a tragedy.
What is needed now -- not tomorrow, now -- is the equivalent of an Emergency Unity Governance of UJC. An overlay on the current governance of a coalition of federation leaders who will steer this ship during these emergency times focusing all of UJC... all... on the areas of greatest needs. This new governance would remain in place for the duration of the economic crisis and would be chaired by a new face and professionally staffed by a charismatic chief executives capable of bringing together all the creativity of our system in a unified and unifying way.
At the Large City Chairs and Executives meeting the leaders of the largest communities experienced first hand the resistance of the current UJC lay and professional leadership to accountability and responsibility. They have kept the system in the dark for too long, it's past time for some light to be shed and shed immediately. We all know that things other than mushrooms grow better if exposed to the light...well, not all of us know.
As the GA came to a close, a Plenary dedicated to Israel's financial picture was highlighted by Stanley Fischer's, the Governor of the Bank of Israel, brilliant if daunting presentation followed by Bibi Netanyahu's strong presentation of his entire political platform. The Netanyahu presentation (over 40 minutes' worth) sent the Plenary timetable into overtime before a "surprise guest," a "magician of the mind," entertained.
Less than one hour later, at the Closing Plenary, we heard from Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni whose message of tikkun olam was both heartfelt and a dramatic contrast to the former PM. After Livni spoke there was the beginning of the Closing Plenary exodus from the Hall which was too bad for those departing early for they missed Howard Rieger's stirring address focused on collective responsibility and Howard's dreams for our system's future.
And so GA08 came to a close with Joe Kanfer changing the number once again -- 4579 Attendees. WOW!!
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
The Plenaries over the first 24 hours have been "old school" capped by one on the Israel Defense Forces that was incredibly powerful and beautiful, poignant and painful.
Today a Jerusalem Post reporter asked me some incisive questions about this GA. He had attended last year's (and maybe others before that) and questioned what is the driving theme of GA08. I had no answer -- it's essentially focused on everything and nothing. I hate to say it, it lacks focus just as UJC lacks focus. Sad.
After I wrote the Post on the GA before the GA opened, in which I not only lamented the present, but reflected on the "bad old days" where the GA was the annual high point on the Jewish communal calendar, I heard from so many of you. You shared your memories with me as well.
One of those great friends who wrote, was one who matured from a successful role as a Young UJA professional to federation professional leadership to his current position as one of the lead capital campaign fund raisers in North America. What he wrote was so incisive and filled with love that I reprint it here:
"Those were the days my friend and we thought they would never end.
Not sure if you remembered a conversation we had coming back from downstate Illinois one late night after a young leadership gathering. We discussed this very thing. Would we ever lose being a volunteer driven organization? Would the untested individuals (of) inherited wealth be able to take over and do it well? Would we be able to survive as a People in North America if the monolith became so one-sided that minority thought and opinions would not be allowed?
Long nights and drives produced excellent conversations. And, man, knowing how the system works, you must be close to persona non-existo.
Those who know you support you. Thanks for speaking for those of us who have worried about (what has been happening), for those who have no voice and those waiting to be asked."
Love you guys,
Monday, November 17, 2008
Howard Rieger was welcomed to UJC's Presidency four years ago with enthusiasm and high hopes. The first signs of problems occurred a few months later when, after agreement with federation executives on a special campaign's priorities, Rieger and his then Chair, Bobby Goldberg, rolled out Operation Promise without any priorities -- a $160 million effort in chaos as the priorities established by UJC and federation professionals were erased without prior consultation on the very day Operation Promise was to be approved by the federations . The Campaign would flounder on the shoals of an ill-informed, ill-considered decision by two people, no more no less -- accepted by a rubber-stamp ownership that would stamp again and again to the point where it was felt it could easily be ignored. It was just the beginning.
At the Toronto GA that followed, UJC committed itself to focus on the Next Generation. But for the Development Department's new programming, UJC ignored this new-found commitment that was seemingly forgotten as UJC moved on. Interrupted with the success of the Cabinets' Tel Aviv 1 and the UJC-led collective effort in response to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, UJC proceeded toward the 2006 Los Angeles General Assembly in disarray. Without consultation with a dynamic National GA Chair, Atlanta's Linda Selig, the CEO with his incoming Chairs, Joe Kanfer and Kathy Manning, agreed with Chicago to a total refocus of the Assembly toward Israel, reeling under the affects of the Intifada and the Hezbollah attacks. After Rieger unilaterally and inappropriately rejected a compromise that would have retained a single gala event during the GA, Selig resigned, replaced by...Kanfer and Manning. The GA was a success, the focus right...and, then, UJC immediately left Israel in its rear-view mirror; the process leading to the success...sad.
Slowly it became clear that UJC leadership was a closed shop. Secrecy and exclusion became the operational mentality as Rieger and Kanfer clamped down on expanding their leadership cadre beyond the few who they trusted. The impacts were beginning to be felt in 2007-2008 in important but negative ways: criticism from within or without meant ostracism and worse, UJC professionals who pushed back were forced out in a series of thoughtless purges and new ideas would be limited to the few within the "circle of trust" who either raised them or applauded loudly those of Kanfer/Rieger. Certainly the voices of two or three Large City Executives were heard, but, Rieger, through either pleading or temporizing often coopted them into the belief that "all is well at UJC -- we just have some kvetches who hate everything we do." They were right and everyone else was wrong -- sort of a megalomania writ large. The impact -- there was no understanding at 111 Eighth Avenue that more and more federations were paying UJC less and less attention.
The IEC was the federations' success. UJC prioritized the allocation of IEC funds raised by the federations but otherwise contributed little leadership in the $362 million raised in the federations' donors' outpouring of concern and caring for Israel under attack. Unlike prior national campaigns where the national organization led (see, e.g., Gerry Nagel's, z'l, history of the incredible UJA-driven Operation Exodus), the IEC saw UJC playing a small cheerleaders' role. But UJC did do one thing, it unilaterally ended this Special Campaign while terror bombs continued to rain down on Sderot and the South. This was not leadership as we had come to know it.
These UJC leaders decided that 2007 would be dominated by purges, the cleansing of its professional leadership under the guise of "tearing down the silos" and "changing the culture" in the development and implementation of a dictated "Organizational Strategy" that would take UJC...nowhere. Senior professional women seemed to be targeted in a particularly uncaring, inhumane manner unbecoming the federations' national organization, unbecoming any Jewish organization. With Manning and Kanfer Chairing the 2007 Nashville GA, the focus was on UJC's own navel, the Israel concerns in the same rear-view mirror as was the NextGen. It was a GA where UJC's leaders decided UJC would talk about itself...and talk and talk. Soon, however, UJC would again change its focus.
Like a patient with bipolar depression without the necessary medication, UJC leaders appeared to be subject to violent swings from one focus to another. In 2007 the Organizational Strategy was to be the answer to all questions, just a few months later later...not so much. (Of course, it wasn't very much at the time with an emerging organizational chart that reflected UJC's continuing inability to delimit its focus to the areas of federations' greatest needs.) I keep the Organizational Strategy on my desk and, after multiple readings, I have come to the inevitable conclusion that Howard Rieger is the victim here of a dictatorial Board Chair who believed (and has succeeded in imposing) his dictates override all else.
The critical $1.5 million "Research and Development Fund" contemplated by the Organizational Strategy and articulated therein was to be applied to some well thought-out if bare bones outlined goals --none of which contemplated being spent in whole or in part on a "Marketing/Branding Initiative." The goals of the original Strategy, ultimately approved by the UJC Board potentially would have been of direct benefit to the federations; instead, it appears that Kanfer demanded the $1.5 million (now up to $2 million) be diverted to his folly. UJC being devoid of any lay leaders who might have pushed back, the federations are now the victim of Mr. Kanfer's apparent mantra: "Let them eat cake." Rieger, who had unprofessionally filibustered the Nominating Committee in support of Kanfer's nomination as Chair, now became Kanfer's penultimate victim. (The ultimate victim in all of this, of course, has been the federation system.)
Here were the goals of the "R & D Fund" as set forth in the 2007 Organizational Strategy:
"In order to convert UJC's strategic goals into actionable outcomes, the budget includes a $1.5 million Research and Development Fund for New Strategies to provide seed funding for conceptual development, planning and implementation in conjunction with the six strategic platforms..." (emphasis added)
These six strategy areas were: "... expanding UJC's continental community development/capacity building; building a total resource development model for UJC and the federations; rebuilding our donor base; enhancing Jewish peoplehood and identity; improving stakeholder relationships; and generating big ideas..."
This was good stuff -- and into the Dumpster that is the current history of United Jewish Communities it went. Yes, the ink was not even dry of this iteration of UJC strategic planning when Kanfer apparently ordered it abandoned to throw what would ultimately be $2,000,000 at a Las Vegas marketing and branding research Firm with no prior experience with or understanding of our system. (As Kanfer and Rieger viewed the past through the prism of their own distance from and disdain for it, they didn't bother to ask at least Joel Tauber about the millions wasted on the Delta Consulting engagement at UJC's infancy.)
And, while UJC was allowing essentially a well-intentioned Subcommittee to unilaterally legislate an increase in the budget for the Marketing and Branding Initiative from the $850,000 (more or less) approved by the Executive Committee to $2,000,000, UJC was not only ignoring its governance, it was ignoring its responsibilities. In early 2008 the Large City Executives (with their own hired professional) wrote a devastating analysis of UJC's direction (or lack thereof) -- Refining UJC's Vision. Even when the Budget & Finance Chair asked that it be distributed, Rieger and Kanfer refused, ultimately rewriting it, redacting out its criticism and distributing the totally revised document under its original title. (Strange but true.) And, in 2008, without any recognition that 155 federations had adopted UJC's Vision and Mission at the time of the Merger, the UJC crew rewrote it, published it in a Howard's View and ignored its governance requirements in so doing. And, sad to say, few noticed and fewer cared. UJC was in disarray, deconstructing itself while convincing itself that all was well.
And all the while in 2009 the dark curtain of economic collapse fell on the federations, the CEO was issuing serial "asks" of millions of dollars from the federations for high priority needs. Consistent with the history of the current leadership, one after another they came, like a torrent, none vetted through UJC's governance -- the top was raining its requests down on the owners. This was done without vetting, without priority, without any plan. (And if the CEO wasn't doing so, "asks" came from strange quarters -- e.g., under Delaware's Toni Young, the Israel-Overseas Chair's Work Group vetted a need for $13.2 million in direct aid the Sderot Victims of Terror. Allegedly no money was left from the IEC so she made a plea to the federations for funding. How did that go? Nobody has followed up.)
The economic crisis that has hit all federations like Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans should have been a matter with which UJC was prepared from the earliest warning signs. But UJC couldn't stir itself to action. There were a variety of reasons. First, although Jewish communal thought leaders were issuing serial warnings of the impacts a financial crisis would have, the Large City Executives essentially agreed that no one was to utter the "r" ("recesson") word -- as if their very denial could stem the tide. Rieger being one with them could not resist them. (Contrast this with the same collective group's complaints about the Jewish Agency's alleged invidious influence with the Government of Israel to cause the then Prime Minister to argue, in the midst of all evidence to the contrary, "there is no hunger issue in Israel." Oh, well.)
Second, the logical area within UJC to plan, offer assistance and intervene at a time their mobilization was critical, had been stripped of its most seasoned professional leadership and its lay leadership (the Chairs of Campaign and Planned Giving) were serving only in response to personal pleas from the lead professionals to do so. Rieger and Kanfer, Manning and Gelman, in tearing down the fictional UJC "silos," had gutted the very organizational leadership necessary to respond to an FRD crisis. For the UJC "community capacity builders" who had been handed FRD responsibility, well, they would go about "business as usual" until the crisis had begun to overwhelm the communities' ability to respond -- and, then and only then, did they hang out their sign "we're from UJC and we want to help" which consisted of asking the federations "how can we help" and issuing periodic "Economic Crisis e-Letters" and web links.
Here, upon UJC's 9th Yom Huledet, we find an organization into which the federations have invested over $400,000,000 since its birth groping for direction, flip-flopping and caught up in a malaise it has brought upon itself. Promise of focus on the NextGen in 2006-2007, flipping to an "Organizational Strategy" in 2007, rewriting UJC's Vision and Mission with no governance authority to do so, commencing a new Strategic Plan in 2008 (its third in four years) -- each time starting anew. At the end of the day, the UJC we see today, sadly, is just not working. It is not getting better. Confidence has been eroded.
When I read Howard Rieger's interview in the JTA last week on the cusp of the GA, I was reminded of Senator McCain's quote as everything collapsed around him: "The fundamentals of our economy are strong." I look at the sad defense of investing $2 million in a Research and Branding Initiative without authoriztion for more than $850,000 and I understand. I know why Kanfer and Rieger are so fixated on this "Initiative" and another strategic plan -- a desperation to show that they are doing something and that they have accomplished something by the time they are gone. But desperation rarely produces results.
The November 10 New Yorker has a magnificent post-election cover --a long, long dark tunnel with a bright blue light shining at its end. That symbolizes for me and for so many of you that we must get through the tunnel that this leadership has created to the light; a light that will be captured and constructed by new top lay and professional leadership starting on or before UJC's 10th Birthday. While, unfortunately, we haven't a moment to spare, and our very institutions are at risk today, we have no choice but to plan to begin again with new leadership to bring our national organization to the glory we had envisioned for it. I know we can be better; for a $400 million investment we damn well should be better. The time for patience with this tiny leadership group is...over. This UJC version of the Seinfeld Show will go off the air not with a bang but a whimper.
Sunday, November 16, 2008
Yes, I scoffed at UJC's pre-GA published claim of 4,000 registrants in a Post in early October. After all, UJC staff had reported to its Executive Committee that a $500,000 GA deficit was anticipated. Then, I read in a pre-GA Jerusalem Post report that 2,500 registrants were expected and in an interview with Howard Rieger in the JTA that the number would be 3,000. So, I was convinced that UJC had absolutely no idea how many would be registered for the GA but its spokespersons couldn't remember what number they had made up for which interview. I hope it's 4,000; heck, I hope it's 3,000. We'll know soon enough.
I remember the days well when CJF ran this big show. I remember when there was a GA Planning Committee (back in the pre-Rieger/Kanfer era) made up of federation lay and professional leaders who actually understood what their constituents wanted of a GA.
I remember when the GA was a "can't miss" event. I remember when CJF CEO's ran the event but did not speak at it (that was true through the years that Steve Solender and Steve Hoffman helmed UJC as well) but the greatest of modern Jewish scholars did. I remember an era when American political leaders never failed to attend. Those were the days when the GA was effectively sold out -- SRO. We now call those the "bad old days" of "silos" and cultural differences and multiple organizations. (And I even remember that the horrible Philadelphia GA that I chaired had more substance to it relevant to the federation agenda than the one starting here today.)
Then I learned from friends that many Israelis who had planned to attend the GA were not coming this year because UJC in its wisdom was charging $300 per Israeli registrant and students in Israel weren't coming because their cost was $300 per student registrant. I knew a number of federations had cut back on staff going to the GA because of the cost. So, I assumed that the registrant numbers would be cut to include a small group of UJC officers, a bunch of federation CEO's and those of us from North America who had registered and prepaid our hotel and air before the economy collapsed. Maybe they'll paper the house with Howard's and Joe's relatives and friends of their families. So, maybe the deficit will be $1 million and the UJC CEO will send out a "bail us out ask" of the federations as an even higher priority than the Ethiopian National Project. (Don't get me started!)
Learning to Share.
My wife in her decades as a pre-school teacher and then a pre-school director always told me stories of teaching the children under her care to share, just as she taught our children. By the time the kids matriculated to kindergarten, they understood the value of sharing. In looking at the GA08 Program, I realized that some folks never learn. Here are the Plenaries and their Chairs:
~ A Vision of Israel's Future -- Kathy Manning
~ Faces of the IDF -- Michael Gelman
~ Stanley Fischer and Bibi Netanyhu -- Toni Young (in addition to her role Moderating two Panels/Breakouts)
~ Closing Plenary -- Joe Kanfer (and featuring, among others, an address from Howard Rieger
Come on, kids, share those goodies. In my federation experience, at UJA, on Missions, at GA's we passed out leadership roles to others recognizing that they were our future. Not these guys. Back to pre-school.
Learn to be Flexible.
Yes, GA08 is in our beloved Israel. And, apparently still a mystery of UJC, the world-wide economic crisis is impacting our donors and campaigns and communities and People beyond measure. When Israel was confronting the pain and loss of the Terrorists' War amd facing the Iranian Nuclear threat, though the GA was in Los Angeles, at the insistence of my federation and others, the entire program was reoriented to focus on Israel. This year, there is a program on Disturbing Economic Trends in the FSU and another The Impact of a Turbulent Economy on Israeli Society but, Israeli newspaper stories to the contrary notwithstanding, not one Plenary, not one Breakout on the impacts of the economic crisis on our communities, our beneficiaries, ourselves.
Why? Isn't the GA, wherever it is held, about federation, community, People? What could be more critical at this moment in our communities, our federations than how to remain vital in the face of the worst economic devastation since the Depression? To ignore this reality at the annual gathering of our system is incomprehensible.
Finally, A Suggestion.
Never list all of those employed at UJC in one place. (When you see the Program, you'll get my drift.
Have a fun and meaningful GA. I wouldn't miss it.
Thursday, November 13, 2008
In the course of Joe Kanfer's failed attempts to "persuade" me to resign my Chairmanship of United Israel Appeal this past Winter and Spring out of his anger, pique and rage at my criticism of the lack of leadership at UJC on, among other places, the Posts on this Blog, Joe contacted many of the individual UIA officers with a litany of allegations against me made up out of whole cloth. Even after he was provided proof that he was spreading falsehoods, he persisted and even embellished his fables. One of the most egregious was the preposterous allegation that I, as UJC's Financial Relations Chair had made "sweetheart" deals without authorization writing off millions of dollars in UJC dues and unpaid allocations. When I confronted Joe on this canard, he responded with silence. Now comes the irony as it is Kanfer busy unilaterally and without consultation cutting a deal with a federation that, if implemented, will put UJC's entire Fair Share Dues system and, thereby, UJC itself, at risk.
For years first the UJA and then the Council of Jewish Federations faced allocations and dues issues with the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach. That federation, deep in debt in the early 90's, and with no endowment, though a fund raising machine, was an "operating federation" with responsibility for running its beautiful campus and operating the day schools and community center. Agreements with the national organizations were made and broken. Starting with a lay administration led by Herb Gimelstob, the federation eliminated its debt and committed to an overseas allocation that would grow with its campaign, but not to national dues. When Bill Bernstein joined the SPB federation as its chief professional officer, paired with leaders like Gimelstob, Larry Altschul, Etta Zimmerman, Rani Garfinkle and others, there was real hope for the national system's partnership with South Palm Beach. A Hurricane intervened.
In the aftermath of Katrina, Boca Raton and environs were hit by Hurricane Wilmal, impacting on the federation campus and communal facilities. UJC's leaders perceived the Federation as capable of solving its own financial problems arising from the damage... and said so publicly and privately. South Palm asked for dues relief, a deferral or reduction, in various proffers, each of which was rejected by UJC's Financial Relations Committee. The Committee perceived the "hardship case" necessary as a pre-condition to Dues relief as not having been made. As a number of local leaders struggled to find the means to remain a UJC member in good standing, an equal number, including some who had led the effort to relieve South Palm Beach of its debt burden, argued that UJC dues offered the community little if anything of value -- the federation was internally conflicted. Instead of attempting to build bridges to a broad cross-section of South Palm Beach leaders to enable an understanding of the collective value of UJC Dues, UJC's lay and professional leaders -- Rieger, Kanfer, Manning and Gelman -- never hesitated, in public or private, to condemn and insult South Palm Beach's professional and lay leaders in the harshest and, often, ugliest of terms.
Earlier this year, UJC's Financial Relations Committee rejected yet another SPB "hardship request." The federation seemed doomed to non-member status -- it would lose the only value UJC appeared to offer: Young Leadership Cabinet, Women's Philanthropy. Lion of Judah, JDC, UIA and JAFI Board membership (if UJC could impose its will on those entities) and UJC Board and Committee participation for its failure to make Dues payments. Bernstein, the CEO, would lose his status as the then leader of the Large City Executives. Bill Bernstein and his Chair continued discussions of compromise, excluding Rieger, the Financial Relations staff and the Financial Relations Committee itself. Bernstein and Stewart Harris, SPB's Chair, believed they had struck a Dues deal...with Kanfer.
Federation leaders have told me that it was recently reported in an open meeting to the SPB Federation Board that "Kanfer guaranteed" UJC support of a deal pursuant to which South Palm Beach would pay its Dues going forward and UJC would "loan back" a significant percentage of the dues "at interest" to the federation. Viewing the "deal" in isolation, not bad; unfortunately for this "deal," UJC is responsible for protecting our system. If SPB is perceived as having suffered no "hardship" making it ineligible for Dues relief, yet gets this "deal," why wouldn't any and every federation in the current economic environment want the same? Of course, they would. So, the UJC Chair, in trying to keep a single federation in the system, surely a noble goal, unilaterally and without consultation "guarantees" a "deal" that would endanger the stability of the entire system.
As Kanfer swings UJC and its professional staff in one direction, then another, in pursuit of goals that he perceives of value even if the system does not, he is offered another year. Ironic, huh?