Revitalizing the Federation System

excerpts from Howard Rieger’s presentation at the Federation Leadership Institute earlier this week:

Our situation is further complicated by our ambivalence to spend money to make money. Sunday we heard the first results of our branding study, supported by a research and development fund included in this year’s budget – a provision attacked by some, who wanted to discredit a UJC proposal to seek data to inform our future direction. Where would be today if those critics had won and those who advocated for data collection to inform strategy had lost? No facts. No data to help drive decision-making.

Meanwhile, we are stuck in a competitive paralysis as we watch our mobile donor base shrink up before our eyes. Communities of origin are loathe to relinquish a donor who moves – that one I know from personal experience – and the unidentified masses who migrate frequently end up in growth communities that lack the tools or the capacity to identify them and reach out effectively. As we sit and ponder our narrow interests, we’ve gone from almost 900,000 to now under 500,000 contributors. We must invest in opportunities to bring new people on board, but a timid response is more likely to be our answer, if business as usual prevails.

Think about the “controversy” that erupted in advance of this FLI, about why we, the Federations of North America, should debate a recommendation on our convening a global planning table. A table that has shown real value-added during two Israel Emergency Campaigns, when we assessed needs and formulated priorities with our partners. Why is this seen by some as controversial? JAFI and JDC have not even been able to agree between themselves as to how to divide the core funds we provide to them, yet, we somehow arouse controversy by even thinking about adopting these proven procedures that have served JAFI and JDC well in moments of crisis, to allow us to operate with clearer accountability on an ongoing basis.

The world has changed, and we have to adapt. Our only choice is whether to respond wisely or whether to let the fear of controversy deflect us from our mission of wise and prudent stewardship of our community’s central philanthropic trust. In this, as in all the urgent decisions that have confronted us here, the biggest challenge facing our federation system is to find the courage and the wisdom to put aside our petty and fractious tendencies in the service of a noble vision. I believe that the tone of these meetings gives us renewed hope that this is achievable. But only if we come to agreement on a dues formula that will be adhered to and a governance system that we trust to represent us well.  Without that, what we have accomplished here will evaporate in the light of day.