The Federation Files: Much Ado About Nothing [New]
By Dan Brown
“Immortality does not apply to organizations and institutions”
Ralph I. Goldman*
One week ago today, Haaretz published a series of articles by Uri Blau known as “The Federation Files.” A few hours later, under license, eJP republished the lead article, “Special report: What the Jewish Federations do with your money” and linked to the remainder of the series. Reporting for the Haaretz series was supported by a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.
While the exact publication date was unknown until a Tweet the evening before, Federations had almost a years notice Blau was working on this project. At JFNA, and likely at various individual federations, they were besides themselves with worry about what would be revealed. In the end, the series was pretty much a dud (information-wise). Almost all the details came from publicly available tax forms and various Federation professionals around the country were given a pre-publication opportunity to respond. While there were no smoking guns, the articles reinforce the feeling of many that minimal transparency exists in multiple parts of the Federation world.
Overall, Federations do good work. Perhaps this is why some Federations believe they have a sense of entitlement and do not need to account for their actions (multiple nasty, unprofessional emails from Federation CEOs to this writer when we’ve published any negative article on Federations are the basis for this statement). But this is 2017, not 1967, and organizational transparency has moved to a whole new level. Just saying “trust me” no longer makes the grade. Federations, and they are not alone in this, need to meaningfully up their game. At the end of the day we are all stewards of donor money and need to act accordingly.
A core part of eJP’s mission is to “create dialogue and advance the conversation.” The statement appears on every page of our website and every newsletter we distribute. It is for this reason we’ve published various controversial pieces over the years and why we will continue to do so in the future. Open rates and article readership numbers confirm we’ve made the correct decision. It is also why the Jewish world needs stronger independent media resources who are willing to challenge the status quo.
As to Federations specifically, not so long ago an influential communal professional publicly stated we cannot let Federations fail because over the years we’ve invested billions of dollars in building them up. There are many reasons we need Federations (see Steven Windmueller’s article also published today). But that doesn’t give them, or JFNA, a pass on good governance – including transparency. Saying we need to continue to support them because of previous investments – last century thinking.
*Ralph I. Goldman, z”l, was one of the true giants in the Jewish communal field. The quote above was included in a paper distributed in 1981! Although written several decades ago, it is noteworthy how much of Goldman’s comments are so relevant to the Jewish communal field in the 21st century.
Dan Brown is the founder of eJewishPhilanthropy.com
The opinions expressed above should not be regarded as statements of the views of other eJewish Philanthropy contributors, its advisors or funders.