Budget issues may dominate conversation at GA

The Jewish Federations of North America's General Assembly kicks of in Denver; funding shake-up set to hit Jewish Agency, Joint.

November 7, 2011 00:04
3 minute read.
Jerry Silverman

Jerry Silverman 311. (photo credit: Courtesy Jewish Federation)


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The Jewish Federations of North America’s (JFNA) General Assembly opened on Sunday amid questions of how much funding the Jewish federations will continue to provide to the Jewish Agency for Israel and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.

JFNA – the umbrella group for the network of Jewish federations – is set to introduce a proposal that would significantly change how it funds the two groups that it collectively gave $135 million in 2010.

Budget issues to loom large at mile-high General Assembly

According to the plan, whose general outline was agreed on by all three parties last November, the current 75:25 percent split dividing federation money between the Jewish Agency and Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), respectively, will cease to exist as of next year.

Instead, a new Global Planning Table will deliver a funding recommendation to JFNA’s Board of Trustees based on need and merit.

The Jewish federations raised $921m. in 2010, of which $275m. went overseas, including the $135m. split between JDC and JAFI.

“The GPT will work to determine priorities, strategies and action in order to make the greatest impact where needed most,” according to a JFNA executive summary prepared for the General Assembly. “Through this initiative we have the opportunity and capacity to tackle the principal challenges of the Jewish people worldwide.”

While the plan says funding of the federations’ historic partner organizations will continue to be central to the Global Planning Table, it also opens a door for competition from other groups.

So far the Jewish Agency and JDC have both endorsed the plan.

“The most important thing at the GA will be at its end when the JFNA trustees meet to decide on the Global Planning Committee,” JDC Chief Executive Officer Steven Schwager said in an interview with The Jerusalem Post during a recent visit to Israel. “It’s the end of a 10-year trip for us during which we’ve been advocating that funding should be allocated on a needs basis.”

“We support the effort to reengage communities that moved away or have not been very involved in overseas issues that the federation system deals with,” said Haviv Rettig Gur, the Jewish Agency’s spokesman. “We are hopeful this effort can bring more communities and more players to the table. We have shared some comments and concerns that with our federation partners about implementation of the GPT.”

But opposition has been brewing underneath the surface, with some outside commentators saying JFNA’s Global Planning Committee plan is bad for the Jews. “The ‘GPT Plan,’ as drafted and revised, presents such a convoluted piece of gibberish, it’s not fit to wrap fish in,” wrote Richard Wexler, who headed several Jewish organizations and was one of the architects of the JFNA, in his blog.

Wexler, and a few others, have argued against the idea, saying it adds bureaucracy and confusion, and that JFNA is in no better state to determine how to spend overseas funds than the federations that raise the money.

“If, and when, the GPT is utilized as a tool for decisionmaking it may be that some of the donor families that have been the ‘die-hard’ supporters of the campaigns for decades will threaten to walk away because decisions are being made by federations that do not represent their values or commitments to the overseas partners,” wrote Stephen G. Donshik in an op-ed that appeared on ejewishphilanthropy.com.

Joanne Moore, the senior vice president of global planning for JFNA and a key figure behind the Global Planning Committee proposal, disagrees. She rejected claims that her plan was cumbersome or might be opposed by federations.

“Initially, the process may feel slow,” she said in an interview over the phone from Denver. “Over time there will be a constant reviewing process of the priorities so it will become an annual process of review and tweaking. I understand the observation. I think we need to do our initial homework, and once that is done it can be done rather swiftly.”

Moore defended the Global Planning Committee, saying reform was necessary to give federations and philanthropists more of a say in how their money is spent.

“This is a really unique and important opportunity to create a dynamic new way of thinking about how we address global needs in a way of engaging donors and philanthropists who haven’t had that opportunity,” she said.

Either way, the Global Planning Committee plan is bound to be one of the most heatedly debated topics at the GA, which until recently seemed due to be relative free of controversy.

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