Hot Off the Press – The UJC FLI Strategic Recommendations

Here’s the unabridged version from the UJC on the recently concluded Florida meetings:

The UJC Federation Leadership Institute (FLI) concluded Tuesday, reaching broad consensus on key strategic recommendations that will enable UJC to help the Jewish federation system better address major challenges facing the Jewish community.

Some 200 participants from 70 communities across the UJC/Federation system convened Feb. 8-10 in a series of discussions on how UJC and federations can better address a shifting Jewish population, a declining donor base and the challenge of engaging the next generation of Jews. Strategies focused broadly on UJC roles and priorities; UJC/Federation governance principles; and the UJC/Federation Israel & Overseas agenda.

Participants, from all city sizes from California to Massachusetts to Canada, widely hailed the FLI has an important event that would help UJC and the federation system meet new challenges a decade after UJC was created from the merger of the United Jewish Appeal and the Council of Jewish Federations.

“This is the first time in 10 years that I have felt optimistic that we’re going in the right direction and that we’ll be able to achieve the goals and aspirations we’ve set out,” said Shoshanna Cardin, a longtime and widely respected national lay leader, of Baltimore. “For me, to feel optimistic is big.”

John Ruskay, executive vice-president and CEO of UJA/Jewish Federation of New York, called the FLI “very positive. To have an opportunity to reflect on the major strategic challenges facing us is rare,” he said.

Steve Nasatir, president of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago/Jewish United Fund, said of the FLI, “this kind of pulling together is important.”

“I came away with new ideas, opportunities, resources and directions,” added Alison Lebovitz, president of the Jewish Federation of Chattanooga. “FLI made an impression on me in a very tangible way. We are truly the federations of North America. I don’t just represent Chattanooga, I’m an ambassador for the Jewish people worldwide.”

FLI participants reached a broad consensus on key strategy recommendations.  A Strategic Planning Work Group of 29 federation professionals and lay leaders produced the recommendations over the past eight months, with extensive federation involvement.

Among the recommendations:

  • Adapt UJC’s current operating mission and vision, and roles and priorities, with some rewording;
  • Pursue major initiatives or “big ideas,” but due to the economic downturn no budget was added;
  • Adopt revised governance operating principles;
  • Draft a dues compliance and membership privilege policy that takes into account cases of hardship;
  • Address improved governance effectiveness;
  • Pursue the concept of a federation-based global planning table, with the Jewish Agency for Israel and American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee remaining as the main overseas partners, while exploring new coordination between UJC, JAFI and JDC and examining supplemental projects with JAFI, JDC and other philanthropic parties;

FLI participants also broadly agreed on ways UJC can strengthen the UJC/Federation system. Among recommendations were continued sharing of best practices; reinforcing basics such as revitalizing the Annual Campaign; better defining UJC’s added value services; recruiting and retaining professional and volunteer leaders; and pursuing a branding strategy to strengthen the continental federation system.

Immediately following the FLI, the UJC Board of Trustees, at its winter meeting, formally adopted the restated governance principles, with a committee to draft proposed new governance guidelines and refine the dues approach.

During the FLI, Adam Smolyar, UJC’s senior vice-president for strategic Marketing and Communications, who had presented initial results of a UJC/Federation brand survey at the FLI on Sunday, outlined key steps for strengthening the Jewish Federation system brand.

A strong brand means “a clear focus on a compelling idea that attracts donors,” Smolyar said.

That idea must be communicated consistently in everything an organization does, he added.