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?
Friday, November 7, 2008
On Tuesday, November 4, Howard Rieger wrote the UJC Executive Committee with a "Branding Initiative Update." He offered a little -- very little -- background, but in a section on "Budget," he wrote:
"Approximately $1.28 million of the original $1.5 million R&D fund has been
expended to date for the survey part of the initiative by R&R Partners. Any
balance remaining will be added, if necessary, to the $500,000 included in
the current budget to launch the results of the survey." (emphasis added)
I am incredulous that the CEO of a Jewish organization would engage in this kind of sophistry; but, in the case of UJC, I shouldn't be, I should know better.
First, I repeat, the only UJC authorized expenditure for this "Branding Initiative" was $845,000 -- no further application of funds from the so-called "R&D fund" was to be permitted without the prior review and approval of the UJC Budget & Finance Committee (or Executive Committee) -- and no such authorization has ever been sought let alone approved. (UJC has explained to me that the Executive Committee has been periodically "informed" of the progress of the Initiative and its expanding nature. Those updates never took place while I served on the Executive Committee [you will recall I was Howard's "guest" before my disinvitation] and colleagues have told me that if the Executive Committee had been advised at all on the subject before my Post and Rieger's sudden Memo this week, it must been sotto voce or at such a high pitch it could only be heard by dogs .) Yesterday, November 6, the UJC Budget & Finance Committee was informed for the first time of these expenditures -- "informed" being the operative word. This wouldn't happen in my federation or yours -- but, at UJC, absolute power corrupts absolutely. This leadership chooses to treat the federations' budgeted dollars, approved through UJC governance processes, as their money to do with as they please. With their hands caught in the cookie jar, suddenly UJC reacts with advisories without process, This is but one reason that an ever-longer list of federations have advised UJC that they will no longer, in whole or in part, pay the dues demanded by the UJC Budget. There is no accountability, friends.
Then, there is the conversion of $500,000 in the current UJC Budget by the stroke of a pen, buried in this Memorandum to the Executive Committee, from its intended, approved application to something called the "launch (of) the results of the survey." What is contemplated by a "launch," why does that cost $500,000, who approved that, and what UJC governance body has approved the potential expansion of the R&R Partners contract first from $845,000 then to $1,500,000 and, potentially, to $2,000,000....$2,000,000!!!???
Contemplate this -- there are no necessary and required funds for crisis-driven disaster relief, none to support the efforts of our partners' heroic work in the midst and aftermath of the Georgian-Russian War, none to support the Israel & Overseas request for funds for victims of terror in the South of Israel, a purge of, now, more than 40 caring and committed employees, no reduction in UJC's Budget during the most severe economic crisis to hit us in America since the Great Depression, and on and on. But, up to $2,000,000 for a Branding Initiative? Does any of this make any sense to you? Could it? Should it? Could, should any of this Initiative been cut back to pay for any of the approved UJC priorities, or the emergencies created by, e.g., Hurricane Ike or terrorist attacks in the South or a nuclear-acquisitive Iran?
How much longer will we be the enablers before the walls come tumbling down?
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
Much as I often find him beneath contempt, seeing Reverend Jesse Jackson reduced to tears overwhelmed by the emotion of the moment in Grant Park last night evoked our country's history, the emergence of the Civil Rights Movement and ts ultimate triumph; listening to Congressman John Lewis speak to the meaning of President-Elect Obama's election was a history lesson through which men and women of my generation and many of yours have lived. And watching the Obama Family last night and over these past 21 months has been a celebration of the best that America can be.
Today, I can honestly state, as can each of you, that to have lived through this moment in American history is a gift; I am grateful to have lived to experience it.
Monday, November 3, 2008
- If any of you have been advised as to the date of UJC governance approval of the expenditure of $655,000 of your money by UJC as discussed in my October 27 Post --Accountability? - Don't Be Silly -- would you let me know? As Howard has told colleagues that he reads this Blog with his morning coffee, his response would be most welcome.
- Last Wednesday one of my favorites on the Comics page of the Chicago Tribune, Dilbert, had a strip most appropriate: the CEO and some cronies are sitting around a table playing cards: "Some people see me as a loser who achieves nothing. In reality I am a winner who knows how to set realistic goals." His buddy replies: "So you're sort of a genius." The boss replies: "And yet my only goal was to have a pulse." Hmmmm.
- On this last day before the election, if you haven't seen it, there is an instant classic on-line: http://il.youtube.com/watch?v=ieKbhQuKJyM Don't miss it!!
- You probably don't recall but in a Post on the GA, now only days away, months ago I mistakenly reported that each Registrant would be charged an additional $6 for housekeeping. I was wrong -- that charge is for "porterage" -- apparently tips for the Hotel bellman. Who among us isn't going to tip the person who shlepps our bags to our hotel rooms? Then, I discovered that, unlike prior GA's, our Hotel room rates were not negotiated as "non-commissionable" as in the bad old days when they were non-commissionable -- thus, UJC's hotel vendor is getting a commission on each room of who knows how much adding to each registrant's cost significantly -- 4,000 registrants(!!). But, who cares? It's not our business!!
- The excellent Executive Search Consultant, DRG, and its President, David Edell, publish a Monthly "Lessons on Leading Non-Profits" that typically are filled with wisdom. In light of UJC's "Search" for a successor CEO, I commend all of our attention to the July 2008 edition. Therein DRG "reminds us that 'people don't leave their jobs, they leave their bosses'" in an article "What Corporate America Can Learn From Physicians: It's All in How You Treat People." Therein the authors offer "five tips:" 1. Be empathetic; 2. Be fair and consistent; 3. Listen with an Open Mind; 4. Take action and follow up; and 5. Create a sense of psychological safety. In light of the on-going management failings, the past "purges" of long-time, valued, caring professionals, and the continuing malaise at UJC, the Search Committee needs to assure that the next "generation" of UJC's top professional leadership has the right stuff.
Vote early and often.