Sunday, July 2, 2017


The "new normal" (and it's not so "new," is it?) at JFNA is dysfunction morphing into total dysfunction while its top lay and professional leaders ignore it, pretend all is well while the tiny cabal of lay sycophants refuse to acknowledge that the Emperors wears no clothes. And in the midst of the June JFNA Board meeting, the Board Chair and the one Vice Chair jumped into the mess with both feet summoning Large City Federation leadership to ask them what JFNA's priorities, mission and programs should be while the JFNA Board approved a $30+ million Budget that was allegedly built upon priorities and mission incorporated in vital programs...clearly, it was not.

All you can do is scream WTF as loudly as possible. Institutional insanity reigns.

Look, I know that Richard Sandler didn't seek the position of Board Chair (as so many others did/are) but he did accept it. The fact that he did accept it imposed upon him the responsibility to actually lead. He is a smart person infused with Jewish and communal values. It's passed time for him to acknowledge JFNA's dysfunction and take the actions necessary to effect change or he, like his predecessors, will just suffer failure in silence for the balance of his terms and then leave the mess for the next Board Chair -- this "wash, rinse" cycle of shame has begun to remind me of the Vietnam War: you know, "declare victory and walk away." This is not leadership; it is the exact opposite.

A few months ago, we Posted  "A Mid Year (Lack Of) Progress Report" in which we observed:
"The most often asked question on these pages has been and is: how long will the leaders and Board at JFNA continue to endure an organization in stasis...or worse? The answer appears to remain: until the first to occur of JFNA's dissolution or perpetuity."
I wrote those words in March; now JFNA has published its Year-End Progress Report -- one that would best be titled "2016-2017 JFNA Kicks the Can Down the Road Report" and, sad to report, that document is but a sad recitation of another year wasted. In fact, reading between the lines of this work of fiction, one can only read "failure" on page after page. I hardly know where to begin but let's start with the sloppiness of the "cut and paste" approach in the document that produced this intro:
"The Statement of Goals and specific performance objectives below were approved as part of JFNA’s annual budget in June 2016. Following is a restatement of the goals and objectives with reporting on mid-year progress by JFNA and a reflection on changes and learnings* from the past 6 months that affect how we may look at budget and program priorities for the coming year." (emphasis added)
If you understand this gibberish, please explain it to me. 

But I digress.

The Year-End "Progress Report" proved to be no better and in many ways worse than the Mid-Year. Let me just touch on a few:

  • Consulting. An ambitious plan to infuse a severely diminished federation Consulting effort under the Marketing and Communications Department has been abandoned, delegated to the FRD silo which itself implemented a consulting effort this past year with modest success -- "modest" only because the effort was led by a small team of excellent, superb even, part-time consultants. Only 22 "community visits" were reported for last year (which does not mean 22 communities were "visited -- worse, only 18 federations received "research support"). Now the Senior FRD Consultant (who seems to be the show runner for this effort, not the JFNA Senior Vice-President FRD) has hired two more part-time consultants beefing up the effort but still inadequate to the need to service so many communities with needs. Further, while the initial consultant hires -- Chicago's Rachel Weiss and Metro West's David Saginaw -- both have a broad federation leadership background beyond FRD, neither the Senior FRD Consultant nor the Sr. V-P FRD have any direct federation experience: so who at JFNA will be guiding a broader federation consulting effort beyond FRD? That's a rhetorical question. And if one examines the 2017-2018 JFNA Budget, the increased resources for a more comprehensive and intensive Consulting effort are just not there. It's all just words; kick the can down the road and hope no one remembers.
  • The Network. The Year End Progress Report suggests that the Network had a successful year. It did not. While $4.97 Million was raised from the Network " annual, supplemental and special/emergency campaigns in 2016," the 2017-2018 JFNA Budget revealed that this amount represented a drop from $5.2 Million in the prior Fiscal Year and $1 Million less than the $6 million goal -- a shortfall of 17%.Remarkably this is: (1) less than the Network raised when it was created in the 1990s with a staff of 1 (the incredible fund raiser and creative force, Russell Robinson) and his lay partner, Marty Stein, z'l, our great friends.  Unmentioned is the shocking amount that JFNA steals from the Network for its own Budget -- $1,765,000 -- or 35.5% of funds raised (and dramatically, shockingly, higher if one only measures the $1.765M against actual Network annual campaign numbers [as is the computation for JFNA Federation Dues]). The Network has a fine Chair, perhaps she would want to look into this egregious overcharge. Finally, has anyone examined how much of the "funds raised" were actually raised by JAFI, JDC and WorldORT for which the Network is taking "credit"? This is truly a disgraceful failure and has been ever since the Network's homegrown leadership were cast away in a JFNA-engineered co option.
  • The IAN. Typical of JFNA's method of dealing with failure is embodied in the following remarkable quote:  "JFNA’s place at the highest echelons of the policy debate/discussion/decision-making table is essential to ensuring that Federations’ interests and positions are represented in Washington, Jerusalem, within the Jewish beltway, and in discussions with our partner agencies. IAN will continue its focus on combating the BDS movement through proactive outreach to specific target audiences and community training. With slight staffing reductions reflecting the emergence of other priorities, this area remains basically unchanged." I think we would all conclude from this gibberish that JFNA is reducing its commitment to the IAN which was already woefully underfunded, and picking the IAN's pocket while conflating the IAN's critical work with being at various "decision-making tables" where, in fact, JFNA appears for photo-ops and little else. There is just no explanation for this; and no debate as to priorities. And, now, the IAN will engage in direct fund raising in the communities.
  • "Executive turnover". One thing JFNA has, beyond presenting fiction as fact, is the ability to ignore the sad reality it has created. Thus, in this Year-End thing, it can state: "Executive turnover continues to accelerate, highlighting the issue of the Federation professional talent pipeline, especially at the executive level. 58% of executives are in their positions less than 5 years; 76% among the Large Intermediate Federations. 9 Federations are operating with Interim CEOs and we have 7 known transitions in the next 12 months." Was this presented as a "tsk, tsk, tsk, how sad"? Because JFNA is doing nothing about this professional crisis having abandoned the CEO recruitment process.
  • The GA. Last year, although unmentioned in the Report, the Budget appropriated a $250,000 infusion into the GA, for purposes unknown. We still are not provided with any...any...accounting of how those funds were spent but we do know this: lay attendance at the 2016 GA was down and the GA continued down its well-paved road toward being a subsidized convention for insiders and the professional cadre and a bunch of vendors selling their wares to, well, almost nobody.
Look, there's more of this b.s. The Report is full of it. But to JFNA's small leadership cabal "where never is heard a discouraging word and the skies are not cloudy all day."

At this iteration of JFNA, criticism is intolerable and every day is Groundhog Day. 


* "Learnings" is a noun that does not exist

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