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Groundbreaking study of formation of United Jewish Communities

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Tuesday, March 1, 2005

How Jewish Leaders Reinvented Their National Communal System 

Release of groundbreaking study on formation of the United Jewish Communities through the merger of the Council of Jewish Federations, United Jewish Appeal, and United Israel Appeal 

The findings of the new, groundbreaking study on the formation of the United Jewish Communities, the largest 20th century merger within the not for profit sector, were released today by Gerald Bubis, Founding Director of the School of Jewish Communal Service at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) in Los Angeles, and Steven Windmueller, the School's current director, who conducted the study. 

Predictability to Chaos?? How Jewish Leaders Reinvented Their National Communal System reports on the results of hundreds of hours of interviews with nearly 90 volunteer and professional leaders at the national level who were engaged in the merger discussions between the Council of Jewish Federations, United Jewish Appeal and United Israel Appeal, each with essentially different roles in the Jewish community, which together functioned as fund raising, planning, and leadership bodies and monitored how American dollars were spent in Israel by non-governmental agencies. 

Bubis and Windmueller explored the motivations of those representing the three organizations, and the hopes, expectations and goals that led them to engage in and take part in the merger. The respondents shared their frustrations, disappointments, and perceptions about the merger process itself and the result of the process, the United Jewish Communities. 

The study revealed wide differences in expectations on the part of the participants. Some were driven by the desire to create a more efficient, cost-effective national structure to serve American and Oversees Jewry. Others wanted to respond to changing realities facing the Jewish community here and abroad, including changing demographics and concerns resulted in more dollars being kept at the local level to respond to the rising levels of poverty, numbers of elderly, and single parents coupled with concerns to develop more effective Jewish education for young people. Others were concerned about the decreased level of support for servicing these same groups in Israel and throughout the world. Yet others had concluded that American Jewish life required an entirely new kind of national organization, which would deal in a more proactive way to servicing the Jewish communities here and abroad. 

The resistances, accommodations, dynamics, and personality conflicts are recounted through the candid comments of those interviewed. "Winners and Losers" are identified, reflecting those respondents who felt that the process and merger itself broke promises made. 

The authors offer many lessons for the nonprofit sector, regardless of denomination or auspices, including cautions and guidelines for organizations considering merger, including issues of representation, priorities for consideration, and merged structures as they relate within the Jewish and larger community. The study is based upon the experiences of this and many other mergers in the profit sector, as well as the history of how Jews throughout the millennia have structured their communities to best serve them. 

A conference of key participants and academics took place at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York on February 2. The results of this daylong discussion will be shared with the current leaders of United Jewish Communities. 

The study was conducted under the auspices of the Center for Jewish Community Studies in Baltimore and the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, where both Professors Bubis and Windmueller serve as Fellows. The 150-page book is published by the Center for Jewish Communities Studies c/o Baltimore Hebrew University, 5800 Park Heights Avenue, Baltimore, MD 21215. The cost is $15. 

Coverage of the Report in the JTA, February 1, 2005: 

New study on UJC merger prompts reflection and debate By Tom Tugend 
LOS ANGELES, Feb. 1 (JTA) - American Jewish leaders who created the United Jewish Communities umbrella organization out of three separate ones in 1999 are largely frustrated and disappointed by the outcome of their labor, according to a new study released this week. 

The two-year study, "From Predictability to Chaos?? How Jewish Leaders Reinvented Their National Communal System," found that some top leaders of the federation system felt they had missed the chance to form a truly representative and forward-looking voice for American Jewry. 

Among the apparent losers of the merger, according to the study, are Israel and overseas beneficiaries of the federation fund-raising system, as well as rabbinical, intellectual and Zionist segments of the American Jewish community. 

Howard Rieger, who took over as president and CEO of the UJC last September, termed the study "constructive and useful," but questioned some specific points and recommendations. 

UJC and federation leaders from around the country were slated to discuss the study in New York on Wednesday with its two authors, Gerald Bubis and Steven Windmueller, respectively founding director and current director of the School of Jewish Communal Service at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles. 

The study is based on written responses and in-depth interviews with 88 "stakeholders," mostly men and women involved in the merger, augmented by other prominent Jewish personalities. 

As the study describes, attempts to combine the alphabet soup of American Jewish fund-raising and communal institutions date back more than 60 years. It took seven years of discussion to establish the UJC. 

The merger represented the largest 20th-century effort of its kind in the American nonprofit sector, and the "most significant institutional transformation in modern Jewish life," according to the study. 

One major impetus, the study notes, was the desire to streamline the entire federation system and make it more accountable. 

The three constituent organizations in the merger were the Council of Jewish Federations, which focused mainly on serving the needs of some 229 local communities with federations and social welfare funds; the United Jewish Appeal, which oversaw fund raising, mainly through the federation system, for Israel and overseas needs; and the United Israel Appeal, which monitored and distributed funds for Israel by way of the Jewish Agency for Israel and monitored U.S. government allotments for refugee resettlement. 

While praising the dedication and good intentions of the organizational leaders, "the study reveals a tale of unclear expectations, unshared visions, mixed motivations and multi-layered power games," the authors say in the report. 

"It is a work in progress," Bubis and Windmueller write in the report. 

Toting up perceived "winners" and "losers" in the merger, the study cites local federations as coming out on top, with executives of large city federations, in particular, ending up "owning the system." 

The biggest loser appears to be Israel, which is likely to lose an even bigger share of American Jewry's financial support with the ascendancy of locally oriented federations. 

After the 1967 war some 70 percent of the total pie went to Israel and overseas needs and 30 percent went to U.S. communities. Today the proportions are nearly reversed, according to UJC officials. 

Rieger said that in 2004, out of a total of some $855 million raised, 31 percent, or $266.4 million, went to Israel and overseas needs. 

The dollar flow to the Jewish state is likely to be reduced further by many large donors' desire to set up their own channels of philanthropy, including through the Jewish Funders Network, and the tendency of a new generation of Jewish philanthropists to give to general secular causes, such as universities and hospitals. 

Some of the most acerbic comments by the study respondents, who are not identified by name, is reserved for the new UJC structure itself, which, some say, "was preordained to fail" and "produced anarchy in the name of unity." 

However, Windmueller, in an interview, noted that the study represents "a snapshot in time," dealing with the functionality of the UJC structure, rather than its recent performance and reforms. 

The study concludes with 11 recommendations to the UJC leadership. They include: 

* Restore the traditional role of rabbis and intellectuals, now largely excluded, as one of the pillars of communal governance; 

* Provide opportunities to discuss and react to Israel's policies and encourage full airing of diverse opinions on the challenges facing Jewish life in this country, now often suppressed in the name of unity; 

* Expand the "old boys" network of the wealthy in Jewish life by including more women and young people; 

* Appoint an ombudsperson to examine and report on the stewardship of UJC funds; 

* Underwrite and use think tanks; 

* Restore the household "brand" name of UJA in one form or another; and 

* Balance the division of power between lay and professional leadership. 

Rieger, as head of UJC, noted that the interviews underlying the study concluded in December 2003, and since then UJC had stabilized itself and moved forward. 

"I think today, the evaluations would be a bit more optimistic," he said. 

Indeed, Windmueller said in an interview, "My sense is that UJC has moved significantly from where we were in 1999 to taking steps already to try to address aspects and elements of what it needs to do to be more responsive." 

Responding to suggestions that Jewish leaders should have made fundamental changes and created a more representative body, Rieger said that the overriding purpose was to "align national and local, and domestic and overseas needs. We never meant to create a representative assembly for American Jewry." 

Rieger objected to classifying "winners" and "losers" in the merger talks, observing that "communal work is not a zero sum game." 

And responding to the study's recommendation to appoint an ombudsperson for UJC, Rieger strongly defended his organization's existing financial controls. 

"Our fiduciary oversight is bulletproof. It's the strongest thing we got," he said. 

Asked whether he was upset or outraged by some of the study's pointed criticisms, Rieger responded, "That's not my style. We can always learn something from inquiries, but I am more inclined to look toward the future, and I think there's a lot more potential in the Jewish world." 

John Fishel, president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, said that on the whole American Jewry had benefitted from the creation of UJC, although the merging of different organizational cultures left a number of problems yet unresolved. 

"In general, the system is now more coherent and unified, and the duplication of effort has been minimized," he said. 

Fishel noted that the study had been conducted by two academicians, who tend to have a different perspective than "the people in the trenches," day by day. 

"That doesn't mean that one is right and the other wrong, but they look at things differently," he said. 

"From Predictability to Chaos??" was published by the Center for Jewish Community Studies in Baltimore, an affiliate of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. Primary financial support came from Boston Hebrew College, Hebrew Union College, the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and various foundations and individuals. 

'A Tale Of Unclear Expectations' 
Report faults UJC for failing to meet many needs of federations, community leaders. 
Debra Nussbaum Cohen - Staff Writer 
Howard Rieger, president and CEO of UJC: Says idea of changing the name of the Jewish umbrella group has merit. 

An independent analysis of United Jewish Communities' first five years of existence, authored by two experts in American Jewish organizations, finds serious problems with the ways the umbrella and headquarters agency for 153 local Jewish federations does business. 

The report, titled "Predictability to Chaos? How Jewish Leaders Reinvented Their National Communal System," includes a list of provocative recommendations intended to improve - some might say fix - one of the largest philanthropic networks in the United States. 

United Jewish Communities was created in 1999 by merging United Jewish Appeal, United Israel Appeal and the Council of Jewish Federations -- after seven years of planning, negotiations and rancor between leaders in each of the organizations. The first two organizations raised money for Jews in Israel and distressed countries and the third dealt more with domestic issues and fund raising. 

Jewish federations raise money for international, domestic and local needs. They focus on issues ranging from providing food and other basic supplies to impoverished Jews in the former Soviet Union and Israel to funding old-age homes and synagogue outreach programs in their local communities. 

According to a statement issued by UJC this week, Jewish federations' annual campaigns last year raised a total of $821 million, up from $770 million in 2003. The 2005 campaign has already raised $368 million, according to the document. 

Over the last few years, many Jewish federations have struggled with various fund raising campaigns that have remained essentially flat, and with the challenge of attracting young donors rather than continue to rely heavily on bequests and the beneficence of older givers. 

After listening to widespread discontent from top federation players, longtime Jewish communal scholars Gerald Bubis and Steven Windmueller decided to take a closer look. They interviewed 88 people who had been involved with the merger.

What they found, according to the study released this week, is "a tale of unclear expectations, unshared visions, mixed motivations and multi-layered power games." 

In another section, the report says, "The end result was a new organization which met few if anyone's expectations. Many described it as 'a work in progress,' yet serious questions remain regarding its status. One of our respondents stated 'Nobody got it right. We simply were not able to do it at this time.'" 

In the end, the authors say that those who guided the merger were well-intentioned, but that the result is fundamentally flawed. Areas of concern include who has power in UJC and whose voices are being heard, the relationship of federations to UJC and even the very name of the organization. 

"As citizens we felt this analysis needed to be done, to be useful. We want to put a tool out that could be helpful," Bubis said. "It's a labor of love directed to people who also love their labors." 

Both Bubis and Windmueller are based at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles, where Windmueller currently directs of the School of Jewish Communal Service, and Bubis is the founding director. Both are also affiliated with the Center for Jewish Community Studies, which is part of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. Those organizations, along with a handful of private foundations and individuals, provided the approximately $50,000 to fund and distribute the study. 

The first recommendation they make in the report is that United Jewish Communities change its name back to United Jewish Appeal, which has "brand recognition," or at the least that all Jewish federations incorporate the initials UJA into their name as a few do currently. 

Howard Rieger, who since September has been president and CEO of UJC, says that the idea has merit. "My choice from Day One was not to call it UJC," he said in an interview. He feared that people would say " 'What's that? I never heard of it.'" 

He believes that "we should call ourselves the same thing," each federation using the same name. "It's not a bad idea to co-brand at that level. We're working on co-branding our annual campaign and some of the public relations and marketing we do," he said. "In a mobile world, it's a good idea. People move from point A and point B, and it's a good idea for them not to feel like they don't know what they're going to find." 

But at the end of the day, he says, "I worry a lot less about what we're called than what we do." 

Another of the study's recommendations is that UJC radically restructure the federation system along a franchise model, like that employed by the non-profit Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. That group shares uniformity across its chapters with a logo and marketing materials. In addition to steering potential volunteers to their local chapters, the national headquarters holds chapters to fund raising and other standards. 

Rieger vetoed that idea as something that wouldn't work. "We're not Wendy's or McDonald's," he said. "There needs to be that element of individuality. There's an issue of individual autonomy. I don't think anyone nationally should think they own Phoenix or Pittsburgh or wherever." 

Another of the study's central critiques relates to who runs UJC. According to the study's authors, UJC is currently built on a capitalist, corporate "top-down" approach to leadership. Absent from the governing boards are rabbis, intellectuals, artists and writers, making decision-making processes not as representative as they should be. 

"There's been an unintentionally radical departure from how Jews have always governed themselves," Bubis said. In Israel and in European and South American Jewish communities, academics, intellectuals and rabbis are at the leadership table. 

"Here, there's a marked imbalance. The power of the dollar-giver is not in balance with those who receive the dollars," he said. 

Says Windmueller, "It removes opportunity for there to be discourse and quality of debate." 

According to Rieger, academics have been underutilized, but it's difficult to get them to commit to the committee and consensus-driven way that UJC works. UJC has a Rabbinic Cabinet, but "could we do a better job? Yeah, we probably could," Rieger said. 

The top-down, corporate leadership model began to take hold in Jewish non-profits in the 1990s "because it allows professional leadership to manage the agenda and marginalize the voices that represent the Jewish grassroots," Windmueller said. "We want to come back to something more traditionally Jewish" in which there are three groups involved in governance: rabbis and intellectuals, professional leadership and laypeople. 

At a meeting on Wednesday, about two dozen Jewish organizational leaders were slated to discuss the report at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, in the West Village. The gathering was closed to the press. 

The study is also being mailed to 1,200 executives and top volunteers at a range of Jewish organizations nationwide. 

"In the course of this process, much learning occurred and more will be needed in order for UJC to emerge as an institution that can ultimately serve the Jewish people in this new century," the report concludes. "The baby has been born. How it will be raised, and what awaits us, depends on the parenting it will receive in the decade ahead." 

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