Failing to ‘Make the Case,’ JFNA’s Big Gamble is Closed Down

titanicEarlier this summer, JFNA’s leadership quietly killed the Global Planning Table (GPT).

You remember the Global Planning Table? Passed in the closing hours of the 2011 Denver GA, with zero public discussion, this federation attempt to build another hierarchical monstrosity was doomed from day one. It was embraced by JFNA’s then board chair, Kathy Manning, as a new power base for herself and JFNA Israel against JDC and The Jewish Agency; backed – for some publicly unexplained reason – by the politburo of large city execs whose hands are camouflaged, yet in reality control, everything JFNA does; and touted by JFNA’s senior professional leadership (Silverman and Caspi) as the system’s savior for overseas work.

Four years, and millions of dollars later, what is there to show for launching JFNA’s Titanic?

Rather than put words in their mouth, we decided to ask JFNA directly and to see how they would respond. So, without further commentary, here is some of what we asked and the unedited version of JFNA’s response. (It’s also JFNA’s only public statement on the demise of the GPT.)

Questions:

  1. What is the total amount spent by JFNA on planning, and executing the GPT from the consultant’s work in 2010 through the end of the most recent fiscal year (June 2015)?
  2. What has been the ROI of this total GPT expenditure to the federation owners of JFNA? Please provide specifics. (Emphasis was provided in original request.)

JFNA’s written response:

Four years ago, JFNA launched the Global Planning Table (GPT). Its primary goals were to:

1) provide a forum for an intensive examination of how to most effectively increase and utilize Federation dollars to address challenges and opportunities facing global Jewry; 2) develop new initiatives to inspire more interest in Israel and overseas giving; 3) create a platform for Federations to evaluate and prioritize allocation recommendations of core, unrestricted dollars to our key overseas partners; and 4) improve information sharing regarding the impact of our overseas investments throughout the system.

The effort did yield important results. However, there were challenges. To that end JFNA has decided to retire the work of the GPT and is working to integrate some of the initiatives that the GPT inspired into existing programs and endeavors.

The GPT process has given more shape to Federation efforts that encourage religious pluralism in Israel. A new initiative – iRep – provides participating Federations, foundations and individual philanthropists with the opportunity to invest in Israeli programs working in this arena. iRep complements our ongoing dialogue with Israeli officials to ensure that all Jews have a place to express their Jewishness in Israel.

A part of JQuest, another GPT program, will be integrated into the work of JFNA’s new Jewish Education and Engagement Office. The new office will identify and share best practices to expand the number of Federations, communities and/or campuses that offer robust opportunities for Jewish young adults. One key aspect of this work will focus on follow through opportunities for returnees from Jewish immersive experiences (e.g., Onward Israel, Entwine, Birthright, etc.).

Lastly, JFNA will work with the Jewish Agency’s Partnership2Gether to advocate for the adoption of a scaled-down version of the GPT-developed Israel Children’s Zone that has been piloted by the Chicago Federation, also called The Israel Children’s Zone. This strategy will allow interested Federations to invest in Israeli communities with which they already have established relationships and will allow for a more organic expansion of programmatic assets already in place.

The significance of the Global Planning Table itself should not be underestimated. Through the GPT, more than 40 Federation lay and professional leaders committed to a multi-year project that required enormous time and effort and engaged in in-depth learning, discussion and debate about the world beyond our borders. There has not been a time in recent Federation history in which a representative group of communities of all sizes sat in one room with the leadership of our overseas partner agencies, together and at the same time.

The GPT discussions inspired new ways to think about how we impact global Jewry, as well as lessons about how to execute similar planning initiatives in the future. We take both results seriously.

*****

As to the first question, as you can see JFNA chose not to provide a written answer. However, the figure of $1.9 million was officially passed to me as the total cost for over four years work! We know JFNA’s senior professional leadership has little use for their lay leadership (a fact helped by the lay leadership themselves who have abdicated pretty much all governance responsibilities), but let’s look at official documents from JFNA’s own board:

  • 2012-2013 – the Budget allocated $2,783,000 to the GPT
  • 2013-2014 – the Budget allocated $2,488,000 to the GPT
  • 2014-2015 – the Budget was revised burying certain expenses in generalities – e.g., “Program expenses” of the IAN, SCN, GPT, Next Gen lumped together at $2,471,000 and FTE similarly lumped in with those other programs with no breakout of the specific GPT expenses

Just 2012-2014 comes in at $5.27 million. That leaves out 2010-2012; 2015-2016; and the obfuscation with 2014-2015. In reality, probably something north of $7 million was spent. Yet, according to JFNA, they only spent $1.9 million, total!?! One can’t help but think JFNA’s leadership acts pretty loose with donor money!

*****

Four years ago I wrote, “While the current method of funding overseas projects may well be broken, the Global Planning Table is not the solution, but rather a ticking time bomb that will negatively effect Jewish giving going forward.”

The Titanic has sunk. And, the “method” of funding overseas projects is still largely broken today. But has JFNA – which has declined to admit they made any mistakes with the GPT, or anything else for that matter – really learned anything? Only time will tell.

P.S. Kudos go to JFNA’s communications professionals who tried to put the best possible spin on yet another JFNA failure by the organization’s own senior leadership.

(to be continued)