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Cjf, UJA Partnership Plan Gathers Steam at Quarterly

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A partnership plan that would join the United Jewish Appeal with the Council of Jewish Federations gathered steam during the CJF’s quarterly meeting this week in Chicago.

As evidence, the two bodies immediately will begin looking for office space to share, they will “merge back-office operations wherever possible” and they will “look at redeployment of personnel where duplication appears to exist,” said Dr. Conrad Giles, the CJF’s president-designate.

In a telephone interview from Chicago, Giles said the CJF’s executive committee Tuesday unanimously approved a plan that outlines a joint board and executive committee for the two bodies, which would maintain separate chief executive officers.

The CJF is the umbrella organization for local federations, which run an annual joint campaign with the UJA that raises about $720 million.

Each federation decides how much of its share to keep at home to meet local needs and funnels the rest to the UJA for distribution to Israel and elsewhere overseas.

The new partnership idea replaced an earlier plan to merge the two entities along with the United Israel Appeal, which funnels campaign money to the Jewish Agency for Israel.

The merger plan was rejected in the spring in part for being too radical and not reflecting broad enough consultation with the communities.

Both proposals were authored by a national committee that has been studying the restructuring of the Jewish fund-raising establishment for nearly three years.

The committee aimed to devise a system that would be more efficient and responsive to the changing needs of the Jewish community.

That committee disbanded over the weekend in Chicago after officially recommending the new partnership plan.

The new plan’s most conspicuous feature is the absence of details, which are being left to the two entities to craft, after which the organizations’ two boards must give their final approval.

The new plan is expected ultimately to result in a full merger, but adopts a more gradual approach than the original proposal.

The new plan also reflects a sensitivity to some of the UJA’s concerns with the earlier approach that its ability to advocate for overseas needs could not be assured and that federations’ increasing emphasis on keeping the money at home would dominate.

The new plan offers a “comfort level” to the UJA that the defunct plan did not, said Joel Tauber, co-chairman of the restructuring committee and honorary national chairman of the UJA, whose board of trustees approved the partnership idea in Chicago.

Half of both the newly proposed joint board and executive committee would be made up of federation representatives; the other half would be filled with UJA- appointed representatives.

But nothing is firm and fast.

“If they don’t like it,” said Tauber, “UJA can call the partnership off at any time” and “stay in business” as is.

Under the old plan, some in the UJA had felt they were “giving up ownership” of the system because after four years, 50 percent of the governing board would be directly elected by the federations and the rest theoretically “could have ended up being federation people” as well, Tauber said.

But the details of the new configuration and its workings deliberately have been left in the air.

“The committee has now placed the ball in the courts of the two organizations,” said Giles. “The plan will serve as a road map and will undoubtedly undergo modification.”

The endeavor, according to Giles, will be guided by the bottom line that “to be maximally efficient, we can’t afford two addresses in the national system.”

The gradual approach to a unified system, he said, will allow for “a sense of trust to develop between all the parties.”

But conflicts remain to be ironed out.

For one, there is disagreement over where a strategic plan for the system should fit into the partnership process. That was most evident in a meeting during the quarterly of big-city federation representatives, who triggered the restructuring initiative in the first place.

The day before the meeting of the CJF executive, the big-city group split in a 9-5 vote, with the majority choosing to form a partnership first and then to devise a strategic plan to inform and guide the new entity, according to officials involved.

The dissenters, including executives from Boston, Cleveland, Atlanta and Los Angeles, argued that serious self-study, or a strategic plan, should occur at the same time as the partnership is being forged.

For his part, Giles believes that “there is consensus on the need for a strategic plan, just a difference in timing.”

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