JNF selects UJA executive to fill its top professional position

NEW YORK, July 15 (JTA) — It looks like a United Jewish Appeal executive will be moving to the top professional post at the Jewish National Fund of America. After a prolonged search process, sources said JNF’s new president, Ronald Lauder, and the search committee have decided on Russell Robinson as the new executive vice president. JNF would not confirm any selection as official, saying details would be finalized later this week. Robinson, who is based in Los Angeles, is currently the associate vice president for fund raising for UJA, where he has worked for about 17 years. One colleague who asked not to be named said Robinson is known for being “aggressive, very, very committed to Israel and an excellent fund-raiser.” With his contract expected to be signed in the coming days, Robinson is slated to replace Samuel Cohen, the longtime executive vice president who recently took an early retirement after heading the organization for two decades.
The move is part of a broader reform plan designed to restore confidence in the non-profit charitable organization following disclosures last November of fiscal management problems. The disclosures hurt subsequent fund-raising at the agency known best for tree-planting in Israel, according to some regional presidents. The reforms included shifting Cohen to a newly created post of senior executive vice president, while a search was launched for his replacement. Cohen was associated in the minds of some of the regional leaders with the problematic practices. Lauder was said to have slowed the search for his replacement so he could rely on Cohen’s experience and influence the choice of his replacement.
The selection of the high-profile philanthropist and cosmetics heir as president was also an effort by JNF to restore luster to the badly tarnished organization. Last fall’s revelations showed no malfeasance by JNF. But it revealed that a surprisingly small portion of money raised by the charity for land reclamation in Israel actually gets to Israel. A large portion stays in the United States for Zionist education and promotion of the JNF enterprise. The agency has been working on ways to increase the flow of money to Israel.

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