Internal Gridlock Stalls Federation Giving Reform

Scant Progress in Fixing System for Dividing Up Overseas Funds

By Nathan Guttman

Published August 31, 2012, issue of September 07, 2012.
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Despite promises to overhaul the way American Jews direct their contributions for causes in Israel and overseas, the Jewish Federations of North America is struggling to change the system.

An ambitious reform plan approved last year recently suffered a setback with the resignation of Joanne Moore, the top professional in charge of its implementation. With no agreement yet on a new funding mechanism, the federation system has retreated to its old formula of allocating money, at least for another year.

The reform plan, known as the Global Planning Table, was supposed to resolve difficulties in dividing the millions of dollars raised by Jewish federations across the country between the Jewish Agency for Israel and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. The two groups have been at loggerheads over their respective shares of a steadily shrinking pie.

The dispute has also highlighted the tensions affecting local federations when it comes to giving for causes outside their communities; strains between recipients in Israel and American contributors, and challenges stemming from the growing reluctance among community members to donate to a general, undesignated cash pool.

In an August 20 letter to members of JFNA’s board of trustees, Jerry Silverman, the group’s president and CEO, informed lay leaders that Moore, the senior vice president of global planning, had resigned from her position as the chief professional in charge of transforming the federations’ allocation system. “We look forward to seeing and supporting the continued success of the Global Planning Table, as we build our community for the 21st century,” Silverman wrote.

But insiders in the federation system said the resignation was a result of the difficulty that Moore faced in getting the reform under way. Moore, a successful international aid expert, was brought on board to help JFNA, the umbrella organization representing 157 federations and 400 communities, tackle one of the key problems that has plagued the organization since its inception — the tug of war between JAFI and JDC over their share of the overseas funding budget.

The two organizations, commonly referred to by JFNA as “our historic partners,” have traditionally been in charge of channeling dollars raised in federations across the United States and Canada into cost-effective services and programs in Israel, the Former Soviet Union and other Jewish communities in Europe, Africa and Latin America. The money was divided based on a long-established formula that gave JAFI, whose primary tasks were in Israel, 75% of the funds and JDC only 25% for its work on non-Israel goals. Changes throughout the years have put this formula in question as JDC, which had increased its work in Israel and other destinations, argued for a greater share.

After struggling with the problem for more than a decade, JFNA, at its General Assembly last November, adopted the Global Planning Table — a system that was designed to reshape communal overseas giving based on needs, not on rigid historic formulas. Moore was brought into JFNA specifically to implement the GPT, which includes a complex structure of committees.


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