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Uja, CJF Now Considering ‘partnership,’ Not Merger

A new proposal has surfaced to join the United Jewish Appeal with the Council of Jewish Federations through a common board and executive committee, while maintaining separate staffs and chief executives.

The draft “partnership” plan, which emerged from a meeting last week in Chicago, is expected to garner more support than a more far-reaching and controversial plan to merge the CJF and UJA with the United Israel Appeal.

That plan essentially was shelved after opposition reached a peak at the May CJF quarterly meetings in Washington. Critics charged that the initiative was too radical and fast-paced and did not reflect broad communal consultation. They also feared that allocations to Israel and other overseas Jewish communities would be placed at risk.

The effort to restructure the American Jewish community’s central fund-raising entities was undertaken about two years ago to invigorate flagging annual fund- raising campaigns and render the fund-raising apparatus more efficient and effective.

These campaigns, which yield about $720 million annually, already are run jointly by federations and the UJA. Federations decide how much money to keep at home for local programs and funnel the overseas allocation to the UJA for distribution.

But some of the fund-raising functions have been blurred in recent years, with the CJF getting into venues historically in the purview of the UJA, such as development, planned giving and endowment. This, some say, has led to duplication, waste and confusion.

A key provision in the latest proposal aims to remedy this by assigning the UJA the responsibility for “all fund-raising activities,” and the CJF, the umbrella body for local federations, responsibility for serving federations and communities through domestic programs.

It is clear that the strategy and sensitivity surrounding the latest proposal reflects the lessons learned in the collapse of its predecessor. Its authors stress that it is a “concept,” rather than a “plan,” for a “working partnership,” rather than a “merger” or even a “consolidation.”

And, in an evident effort to avoid charges that players are being steamrolled or shut out of the planning process, the authors of the “concept” are aggressively seeking input from a cross section of representatives from both the UJA and federation world.

Also, the proposal focuses conspicuously on the single modest change in governance and steers clear of any reference to an incremental approach toward a more far-reaching restructuring plan.

The current lay structures of the UJA and the CJF would continue to exist and would jointly appoint the new “superboard” and executive committee of the “partnership.”

One of the thorniest challenges of the earlier plan was how to ensure that a sufficient level of overseas allocations would be maintained by federations, which are struggling to meet intensifying local needs with scarcer dollars.

Federations, which prize their autonomy in making allocations decisions, balked at various efforts to win specific overseas funding commitments from them.

The new proposal does not take this on directly. Rather, it calls for the two chief executives to report to a joint lay “superboard” of directors and a joint executive committee, each of which would be made up equally of federation representatives and representatives of the UJA.

That balance of power is expected to help reassure advocates of overseas allocations that they will have a fair platform, said Joel Tauber, co-chair of the committee charged with the restructuring task.

“UJA felt secure that it had 50 percent representation for overseas needs,” said Tauber, adding, “We will rely on the good intentions of federations to maintain or increase their allocations overseas as the campaign increases.” “We are hoping that a united effort will do more to increase allocations overall,” he said.

The money raised for overseas programs by the “partnership” would still be distributed to the United Israel Appeal and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. The UIA provides funding to the Jewish Agency for Israel, while the JDC provides humanitarian aid to Jewish communities around the globe.

Winning the confidence of these two agencies that overseas needs will get their fair share may be critical to the plan’s success.

Because the two bodies are technically the owners of the UJA, they ostensibly would have to sign off on whatever legal partnership is entered into by the UJA and the CJF.

Shoshana Cardin, who chairs the UIA, has already welcomed the plan as a “logical, positive move.” “It is sort of like a trial marriage,” where “nobody loses,” she said. “It is an excellent way to develop close working relationships, combine areas that have been duplicative and save money on administrative operations.”

Cardin, an ardent advocate for Israel, said it would be the responsibility for the system as a whole to meet its overseas obligations. “It will be incumbent on everyone — both 50 percents — to advocate for overseas needs. The federations will have to recognize that the donors to the campaigns believe 50 percent is going to Israel and overseas needs anyway, and we have the data” to prove it, she said.

The architects of the new proposal also believe that it will be more popular than its predecessor, because there will be fewer parties to the agreement and all the fine-print details will be worked out later by the new executive committee and board, Tauber said.

A group of about 50 to 60 UJA officers and past chairmen discussed the draft plan in Chicago shortly after it was first aired, he said.

And plans call for consultations with presidents and executives of the federations and the CJF executive committee before the next CJF quarterly meetings in September, when the full restructuring committee will meet again.

“What we learn will be taken back to the full restructuring committee” and later incorporated into a final plan, said Tauber.

The CJF executive committee is slated to discuss the proposal at its regularly scheduled meeting next week in Chicago.

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