THE JCA’S REPORT CARD – FULL OF EMBARRASSINGLY FAILED GRADES

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A Gallup poll study is hardly necessary to conclude that the performance of the Jewish Community Association (JCA) and the local Jewish Federation before it has made the Greater Phoenix Jewish Community one of the most underperforming Jewish communities in the nation. Even without hard data it would be difficult to find any knowledgeable and engaged Jew in the area who would contradict the premise that the JCA’s fundraising ability as reflected in its annual Campaign for Jewish Needs is embarrassingly meager. And as a result of such shameful results the JCA’s financial support of critically important and unmet community needs has been nothing short of pauperous and misery.

But despite what most knowledgeable people have intuited to be a failed fundraising machine for decades it should not be left to conjecture and assumption to indict the lay and professional leaders of the JCA for their shameful performance as fundraisers. That indictment deserves to be supported by facts and analysis by an irrefutable source… data that the local JCA itself has provided to an authoritative national study published by the North American Jewish Data Bank in cooperation with the JCA’s own umbrella organization, the Jewish Federations of North America.

A November 2013 study Comparisons of Jewish Communities – A Compendium of Tables and Bar Charts was prepared by the very distinguished Dr. Ira Sheskin, Director of the Jewish Demography Project at the University of Miami. The study contains comparative data on virtually every aspect of American Jewish demographics and behaviors in a 36 chapter report. But the one chapter that analyzes the relative fundraising performance of Federation study participants is found in Section 29 Donations to Jewish Federations. And the data is both revealing and chilling regarding the Greater Phoenix Jewish community. Data that the JCA has understandably been eager to keep out of public view. And data that JCA leaders are constantly trying to dodge and excuse as not relevant. When it comes to this data and its implications the JCA has done more spinning of this data than a school full of children with Hanukah dreidels.

According to the introduction of the report: “The compendium is a single source of tables and bar charts designed to provide a comparative context for understanding American Jewish communities. It is intended for local Jewish communities seeking to compare themselves to others as well as for researchers, teachers and students of North American Jewry. In short, it is an invaluable tool that is based on self-reported data by local Federations.”­­

The entire 67-page Section 29 Donations to Jewish Federations can be found online at: https://tinyurl.com/nbp6j77 . Here are just a few highlights, or perhaps it is better to describe them as lowlights from this important benchmark study.

  • Phoenix ranks 48 out of 54 participating communities when measuring the number of households who donated to the local Jewish Federation in the last reporting year. Phoenix reports that only 25% of Jewish households donated to the JCA while eight cities report that between 50% to 61% of their households donated.
  • 71% of Jewish households in the Phoenix area do not contribute to ANY Jewish Federation which explodes the myth that many Phoenix Jews give to Federations in cities where they have a second home or where they emigrated from. Of the 34 communities reporting in this area only two cities (Las Vegas and Seattle) had a worse performance.
  • Of 44 communities reporting the number of Jewish households which do not support ANY Jewish charity, Phoenix reports that 49% of its community falls into the group that do not support any Jewish charity. Only four communities report a worse percentage of support for Jewish charities.
  • Perhaps one of the most shameful statistics is the average gift per total Jewish households in a community to its local Federation campaign. Phoenix ranked 50 out of 53 reporting cities with the average gift per household at an appalling $65. The ten Federations with the largest average household gift to their campaign are: Detroit $968; Tidewater (VA) $778; Charlotte $753; Minneapolis $731; Cleveland $716; Baltimore $617; Pittsburgh $613; Milwaukee $599; Richmond $582; Columbus $561. Tucson reports an average gift per Jewish household of $254.
  • A related piece of data shows the number of households and the total size of the Federation campaign in each community. In this chart Phoenix reports 44,000 households and a campaign total of $2,863,000. The cities with the closest number of households and their campaign totals are: Denver 47,500 households and $6,040,000; San Diego 46,000 households and $6,135,000; Essex-Morris (NJ) 44,500 households and $19,684,000; Baltimore 42,500 households and $26,241,000; Cleveland 38,300 households and $27,411,000; Detroit 30,000 households and $29,051,000; Miami 54,000 households and $21,695,000.
  • Communities with a much smaller number of Jewish households but with relatively remarkable robust annual Federation campaign totals include: Tidewater (VA) 5,400 households and $4,202,000; Charlotte 4,000 households and $3,013,00; Minneapolis 13,850 households and $10,131,000; Pittsburgh 20,900 households and $12,805,000; Milwaukee $10,400 households and $$6,232,000; Richmond 5,000 households and $$2,946,000; Columbus 11,878 households and $$6,658,000; Lehigh Valley (PA) 4,000 households and $2,176,000; St. Paul 4,700 households and $2,278,000; San Antonio 4,500 households and $1,883,000; Cincinnati 12,500 households and $5,111,000; Rochester 10,230 and $4,133,000; St. Louis 24,600 and $9,288,000; Jacksonville 6,700 and $2,327,000; Hartford 14,800 households and $4,684,000; New Haven 11,000 and $2,906,000; Seattle 22,490 households and $4,907,000 and Tucson 13,400 households and $3,400,000.
  • One of the charts in which Phoenix is notably absent measures “Familiarity with the Local Federation”. 37 communities responded with a range of 20% to 60% of local Jewish households reporting that they are not at all aware of the Federation. The fact that Phoenix didn’t report indicates that the local JCA is completely out of touch with what the broader Jewish population in the Valley thinks about the JCA or if they even know it exists.
  • And the last piece of data that speaks volumes about the disastrous market condition of the local JCA is the chart that measures the “Perception of the Local Federation”. In this chart, 34 communities report a range of 93% to 68% of local households that regard their perception of the Federation as Excellent or Good. And once again, the Phoenix JCA did not report leaving one to conclude that they are clueless as to the qualitative perceptions of their local community about their organization.

There is considerably more data available in this study but in no case does Phoenix ever report statistics that are exemplary or commendable. And there are at least 100 other Federation communities which did not even participate in the analysis so it is difficult to say how Phoenix would compare if the report was complete and comprehensive.

What can be concluded from this is that the JCA, and the Federation before it, have been woefully underperforming organizations in the past, they continue to show their inability to motivate and engage the community today and it is highly unlikely that they will be able to engender sufficient trust and confidence to lead Phoenix to become a high performing Jewish community in the future. The only thing that might change the JCA’s failing trajectory is to eliminate it completely, let the dust settle, and convene as a community to take stock in what the best way forward might be to create a vibrant and thriving Jewish community.

IT IS TIME FOR THE JCA BOARD TO ASK FOR STUART WACHS’ RESIGNATION. IN THE ALTERNATIVE, FIRE HIM.

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I do not know Stuart Wachs.  I have criticized Stuart Wachs’ stewardship of the JCA based upon empirical analysis of the JCA’s IRS 990s and the IRS 990’s from the previous JCC he ran. I have criticized him for a lack of disclosure and truthfulness about the Solar panel scandal that has rendered the project both costly and useless, for not donating to the JTO, while urging the rest of the community to do so, and for having Joel Kramer, the Chairman of the JCA, call me up to see if I had a hidden agenda in writing about their malfeasance and ineptitude with the JCA’s assets.  Most notable in Joel’s call to me was his assertion that “the masses” could not know about the engineering report I published and that the “masses should not know” because the report was marked confidential. Evidence of managerial ineptitude is not a trade secret, as I pointed out to Joel and Stuart.  I found it notable that Joel, who is a CPA and was the Treasurer before he became the Chairman of the JCA, told me that my numbers are wrong and that the Solar panels would not cost nearly what the report indicated.  However, Stuart wrote to me in a letter (that I published in this blog) that the solar panels will actually cost the community nothing because he re-negotiated the deal, and that there is an “opportunity for savings”.  Joel Kramer has a pretty good reputation in his field, so I am guessing that he is telling me something closer to the truth.  Stuart, who has lied to me in what he has written to me, has exhausted my ability to find him credible. I am aware that giving the benefit of the doubt to Joel Kramer on this subject is akin to trying to decide who was the better sailor: the Captain of the Titanic or his First Mate?

A quick summary for the uninitiated.  In 2010, the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix and the VOSJCC were finally run into a ditch by an inept board of directors who had overseen the building of our own golden calf, which is what I euphemistically call the Ina Levine Jewish Community Campus.  The Campus is routinely utilized by approximately 4% of the Jewish population of the Greater Phoenix area (this year the VOSJCC consumed 30% of the JCA’s funding allocations) and is comprised of a financially unsustainable collection of buildings that house the detritus of a failed Jewish high school, a poorly designed health club, a huge collection of costly and economically inefficient solar panels, the offices of the JCA, and several other Jewish agencies.  The JFED spent millions of dollars propping up the Campus that they built, and the propping up of the Campus contributed very heavily to the destruction of millions of dollars of donations to the JFED.  The inept leaders of the JFED who oversaw the creation of our golden calf got it into their heads that this was the apex of Jewish achievement for the Jewish Community, completely ignoring the fact that two previous JCC’s went out of business here.  They were somehow oblivious to this and undertook this new adventure with other people’s money which ended up in the same position.  So, after 6 years on the board, Bob Silver (who was the board Chair of the JFED in 2010) finally figured out the the Federation had a “structural deficit” as he called it, and decided that the only solution was to shut down both institutions, lay off half of the staff, merge them together under a new name (the Jewish Community Association), and start again.

Unfortunately, the board that oversaw this entire fiasco actually thought they were qualified, apparently based upon their previous lack of stewardship, to go out and hire a new leader for the Jewish Community.  This is how Stuart Wachs ended up darkening the Community’s door.  At this point in the story, it would be an excellent time to review an article that appeared today in ejewishphilanthropy.com entitled I Thought You Said You Wanted To Run Things Like A BusinessThe article is on point, and will take us to the next fiasco.

Stuart Wachs’s entire executive management team that he hired, since he arrived here, has been fired or has resigned, except for Alison Johnston.

1) Anthony Slayen – Vice President of Operations and Innovations – hired by Stu Wachs in August, 2012, fired or resigned in February 2013: 7 months

2) Kimberly Kur – Chief Development Officer – hired by Stuart Wachs in April 2013, fired or resigned in February 2014: 11 months

3) Jennifer Grossman – Vice President of Marketing – hired by Stuart Wachs in August 2012, fired or resigned  in April 2014: 21 months

Not Hired By Stuart:

4) Debbie Siebels – CFO – Seven years at JCC and JCA, abrupt resignation this week.

Executives hired by Stuart Wachs who are still in place as of the date of this article.

5) Alison Johnston – Chief Operating Officer of the Jewish Community Center, hired June of 2013.  This is a curious hire by Stuart because Ms. Johnston was previously at Ballet Arizona, and during her year there as executive director, their revenue decreased from 5.5 million dollars to 3.4 million dollars, a decrease of 38%, and their operating surplus decreased from 2.8 million dollars to $856,000, a decrease of 69%.  Another curiosity is that Ms. Johnston has listed on her CV on LinkedIn that she was the COO of Petsmart Charities Inc. for years spanning 2010 – 2012.  However, there is no mention of her in their IRS 990’s, which by law must list their officers and board directors, and Chief Operating Officer is an important position.  I just don’t think it was her position.  In fact, she was a Senior Director of Operations, which is a different position than the Chief Operations Officer of a $40,000,000 charity.  But she is not the only person to pad their resume, so in the interest of full disclosure, I admit I lied on my LinkedIn CV too and have claimed that I was a tofurkey fabricator at Akbar and Jeff’s Tofu Hut from 1981 – 1985.  I actually was employed as a marketing representative at IBM selling copiers, and I just thought it was less embarrassing to say I was fabricating tofurkey.  I am sorry.  But I do wonder what qualifies Ms. Johnston to run the VOSJCC.

6) Ofer Alphabet – Chief Information & Campus Operations Officer at Jewish Community Association – I have no idea what a Chief Campus Operations Officer does, but he has been there for a month and Stuart knew him from Minneapolis.

If Stuart is such is an accomplished manager and our great hope for the Jewish Community of Phoenix, how is it that every senior officer of the JCC that he hired has quit or been forced to resign? Turnover of that magnitude from his hand picked subordinates is a widely acknowledged sign of terrible management.  I suppose that we will soon learn why Ms. Siebels resigned, and we may have to look no further than the 2013 IRS 990, which is for some reason, not yet available.

I have excerpted the following information from an article by Ralph Heibutzki from a company called Demand Media.

Company Lacks Good Management

An employee’s relationship with his supervisor is often the most decisive factor in assuring his loyalty, according to “Forbes” magazine’s January 2012 article, “Why Your Employees Are Leaving.” Good managers who connect with employees are more likely to retain them, even if they’re making top money. Bad managers don’t communicate regularly with their team members, or express appreciation for their work, which makes them more likely to quit.

Employee Workloads Are Too High

Turnover can serve as a wake-up call to revisit workloads that trigger significant burnout and stress, according to a 2006 survey by the National Council of Crime and Delinquency. The council interviewed 297 former child welfare and juvenile justice workers, to determine why they quit their jobs. Sixty-five percent of the participants identified large caseloads as a factor in their resignation, while an additional 35 percent would have stayed on the job if their workloads had been more manageable.

Jobs Don’t Match Expectations

Thirty-five percent of 19,700 U.S. employees surveyed by the Saratoga Institute quit during the first six months because they don’t like something about the job, management consultant Leigh Branham states in his February 2005 article, “The Seven Hidden Reasons Employees Leave.” This situation results when managers soft sell a job’s less appealing aspects, asserts Branham, writing for the Center for Association Leadership. Once workers discover the truth, however, they’re out the door, which further aggravates a company’s turnover issues.

Opportunities Are Nonexistent

Opportunities for career advancement and growth play a key part in determining how long employees stay with a company. Eighty-five percent of the employees in the Saratoga Institute survey identified career growth as a key reward, but only 49 percent saw companies taking measures to promote it. Managers compound the problems by failing to praise employees who exceed expectations, Branham says. Staff members who feel devalued or unrecognized, in turn, are more likely to find an employer who acknowledges them.

Work Environment Is Stressful

A continual exodus of talent can indicate a stressful, unstable work environment of ever-changing job titles, workloads and supervisors. One reality of this situation is that some people lose their jobs, which doesn’t inspire the survivors to put down roots, according to “Forbes” magazine. This situation also makes itself felt through departmental turf wars that pit employees against each other. Faced with these situations, employees will opt to go elsewhere than stay in an unhealthy atmosphere.

If we want the best results from the JCA, then we must have the best people running that organization.  Unfortunately, Stuart is unable to create a culture of excellence and exceptional performance, and his hand picked executives have either left of their own volition or been terminated.  Stuart either has an inability to hire the right people, an inability to get along with people he hires, or he hires people who are incompetent and he has to fire them.  Stuart wrote to me and told me that it will take 3 – 5 years to turn around the organization he inherited, which might mean another 20 executives rotated through the management suite of the JCA.  In the meantime, the losses will pile up, the Campus will be propped up at the expense of the elderly and infirm, Jewish day school education, and helping kids get to Israel to spend quality time there.  Stuart will continue to collect his enormous salary, and we will be much further on along the road of destruction.  Keep that in mind when you are asked to donate to the JCA.

Rabbi Stephen Kahn’s Commentary On Rabbi Pesach Lerner’s Article In The Jewish News of Phoenix.

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Reprinted by Permission of the Author, Rabbi Stephen Kahn, Congregation Beth Israel, Scottsdale, Arizona

I am grateful to the Jewish News for printing Rabbi Pesach Lerner’s, “J Street Vote Heard Around the World” in last week’s edition. I would frame my response to his article in the context of the letter you received from one of your readers last week which seemingly disapproved of the Jewish News’ content. The writer’s critique stated that the JN is publishing “less meaningful content and more religious content.” I found this letter, along with some of the other critical letters you have printed over the past few months, to be ironic and baseless.

First, since the word “Jewish” is the descriptive word in the name of the paper, I am confused by the idea that “meaningful” and “Jewish” as either diametrically opposed or mutually exclusive.  Second, I believe the role of a community Jewish newspaper is neither to stifle debate nor to present exclusive opinions on the issues with a singular voice. If anything, by publishing pieces like Rabbi Lerner’s editorial concerning the vote by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations decision against admitting JStreet onto the Council, you have presented, without bias, one of the great paradoxes of organized American Jewry which represents one of the most “meaningful” discussions of our time.

Admittedly, I don’t really worry much about the Council of Presidents of American Jewish Organizations. Like many self-serving institutions and organizations in the American Jewish community, the Council is mainly anachronistic, and has no value or significance in my Jewish life and the life of my community. Furthermore, I would argue that most American Jews (at best) don’t know or (at worst) care, that the Council exists at all.

I would also add that I am not personally a JStreet supporter for a variety of reasons that I will not address here. However, while I disagree with JStreet’s principles, I fully accept that their members believe, with conviction, that they have something productive to say about the extraordinarily complex political, religious and sociological struggles of Palestinians and Israelis. However, I will not disparage their Jewishness based on their positions and, in truth I supported their acceptance onto the Council in theory. I also accept that this was not to be, and I agree with Rabbi Lerner when he suggested that JStreet’s leadership “responded [to rejection of the Council] with unbecoming condemnation of that same democratic process [which rejected their application for membership].”

But I don’t believe Rabbi Lerner’s article ultimately had anything to do with the JStreet vote but rather was an attempt to engage in the typical unabashed polemic directed toward the Reform and Conservative movements we have heard before. He uses the Pew survey results, to give his own sociological explanation while drawing on the survey’s results to remind us that all things Reform and Conservative should be painted with the same brush as the unaffiliated, intermarried and Jewishly detached – all of whom are implicitly undermining the future of the American Jewish community. He surmised, “Today, unfortunately, the ‘Jews of no religion’ are the fastest-growing Jewish group; they care little, if anything, about Judaism or Israel. In other words, for Rabbi Lerner, “Jewish of no religion,” and Reform and Conservative Jews are basically one-in-the-same, “both movements are shrinking, unable to predict where and what they will be by the time the next Pew report is issued,” he opines.

Rabbi Lerner’s socio-religious interpretation of the Pew survey as a frame for creating a polemic against non-halakhic (legally observant) Judaism’s role in the downfall of the Jewish community is not only objectionable, but ironically, the exact reason why so many American Jews run – not walk – away from the very Jewish institutions and organizations Rabbi Lerner’s is attempting to protect and defend.

The continuous attack on the bifurcation of American Jewish life which leads to the further separation of Jews based on the ideas of “us” versus, “them;” “pro-Israel,” versus “anti-Israel;” Jews “of no religion,” and Jews who are authentically religious is unconstructive and unrealistic. The future of American Jewry lies in enabling the 94% of Jews surveyed by Pew who claim to be proud of being Jewish the opportunities to engage, connect and feel safe when we draw them closer to the Jewish community.

Like many others in our community, I hope the JN continues to publish articles which offer divergent ideas so, as a community, these “meaningful” issues which speak to our future can be discussed, debated and argued within the pages of our community’s only Jewish newspaper.

Quick Update: Debbie Siebels, Longtime CFO of JCA and JCC Resigns Abruptly After 7 Years

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Unfortunately, I have no more news other than this at the moment, and I have no idea why Ms. Siebels resigned.  I am sure we will find out soon enough.  I read an article last night that is worth a look.  It is called Keeping Quiet About Wrongdoing and it is from The Chronicle of Philanthropy.  It is about what happens at 501c3 organizations when mismanagement and malfeasance is left unchecked.

My contributors and I are working on two substantive articles.  The first article is an analysis comparing the operation of the JCA with the operation of other JFEDS across the country.  This article should be a great gauge of our JCA’s effectiveness. As an aside, I highly recommend this article from ejewishphilanthropy.com, it is a must read if we want the JCA to be a paragon of good management.

The second article is an analysis of the operation of the VOSJCC, a history that will stretch back to 2007 and display an accurate financial picture of the VOSJCC and hopefully open a debate about whether continued support of an institution used by 4% of the Jewish population of Phoenix is warranted.  30% of the JCA’s annual support to the community benefits 4% of the Jewish population through the subsidy to this health club.  We should decide if this money can be put to better use.

Finally, I am going to travel to NY next week and I have appointments with several national leaders on the philanthropic front to learn more about how they can help our JCA be better at serving the needs of the community by being more open and transparent in their decision making.

Thats all for now.

JCA LEADERSHIP DOESN’T GIVE TO JTO – THEIR REPLY TO SOLAR FIASCO: THE MASSES MUST NOT BE TOLD

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UPDATE – STUART WACHS HAS REPLIED TO THIS ARTICLE.  PLEASE SEE STUART’S 2 EMAIL REPLIES TO ME AT THE BOTTOM OF THIS ARTICLE. – MY REPLY TO STUART’S EMAIL WILL BE IN GREEN INK – INLINE WITH HIS EMAIL REPLIES.

Although I am not 100% certain of this, it seems to me that if the Jewish Community wants better results from the JCA, then maybe the community should be focused on a quantitative analysis of the performance of our leaders.  I would think that this is a reasonable and necessary yardstick by which we can measure performance. There is too much at stake for the community to resort to ad hominem attacks that, in the words of Stuart Wachs, the President of the JCA, “do nothing to help.”

Mr. Wachs recently wrote to me, voicing an opinion about my article about the solar panel disaster that the leadership of the JCA did not disclose to the community, which will result in $2,000,000 in excess cost to the JCA (directly contradicting Bob Silver, the Chairman of the JCA at the time, in the two interviews that he gave to the Jewish News. In each interview, Mr. Silver indicated that the solar panel project would cost the community nothing). The blog post can be accessed by clicking here.  Mr. Wachs’ well-reasoned reply to my post is below:

From: Stuart Wachs <swachs@jewishphoenix.org>
Subject: Re: Greetings
Date: April 27, 2014 at 2:30:03 PM MST
To: Mark Greenburg <mark.greenburg@me.com>

Clearly you are not the honest person you portray yourself to be. Even knowing your history of blogs against the organization I took over I responded including a willingness to meet and answer your questions / concerns. Then I see the blog you put out with you doing exactly what you are accusing the JCA of doing. Giving out miss or partial information.

I have dedicated my career to Jewish community and have always been honest, ethical and focused on impact of the community I was serving. Your damaging words do nothing to help and you could not even give me the benefit of the doubt as the new leader of the organization to address your questions as I said I would do.

As Mr. Wachs pointed out in his reply, my article is incorrect because: a) he believes I am dishonest, b) he offered to answer my questions, and c) he is a dedicated servant of the Jewish Community (now with a current salary of more than $240,000 per annum), therefore, there is no solar panel power disaster at the JCA.

In fact, I received a phone call from the JCA’s Board Chairman Joel Kramer today (05/02/14) and he informed me that I was wrong to publish the article about the solar panel problem because the report that was prepared for the board was meant to be confidential.  Mr. Kramer said to me:

Just to let you know, you are a very bright guy, and I’m sure you can think of a number of reasons why things might be confidential and they’re confidential for a reason, and that reason isn’t not to be transparent. That reason isn’t not to be transparent. That reason has to do with other things related to the issues.  And again, I am sure you are a very bright person, but just because things are issued as confidential isn’t intended because it is not intended for the masses because of other reasons, not because the masses can’t, it is because the masses shouldn’t or can’t know now, because what other things are going on, and…..    There is a reason for it, and it does not help publicizing that reason and it does us no good.  There is no benefit to the parties to publicize that…

I was, and still am confused by just about everything that Mr. Kramer told me, and it was very nice for him to compliment my intelligence, and everyone certainly appreciates a compliment. But the one thing I took away from our conversation was his insistence that the reason for the confidentiality of the solar fiasco report was that, as he put it, the masses should not know about this or can’t know now.  When I asked him why, I was just told that there are reasons.  The only possible reason to sit on this information would be if there are pre-litigation settlement discussions (with the parties that induced the JCA leadership to enter into this solar fiasco) and the solar company is afraid of publicizing any settlement paid to the JCA. Nevertheless, the JCA would have to disclose the inbound money from such a settlement on their Form 990, and Mr. Kramer assured me that there was no litigation over this solar panel fiasco, just as he so eloquently put it, the masses must not know.

In analyzing Mr. Wachs’ performance as a dedicated leader, one must start at the health club organization where he worked before arriving at the newly formed JCA. Mr. Wachs previously served as the Executive Director of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Minneapolis.  Although I have not asked anyone who was a member of the search committee which selected the JCA’s new President, I must give the committee the benefit of the doubt, err on the side of caution, and assume that no one on that committee had access to the internet and therefore was unable to access the IRS 990’s of the organization that Mr. Wachs was leading.   Their IRS 990’s are available and online, going back as far as Mr. Wachs’ 7 year tenure in this position.  The data for this chart is available on line and located by clicking here.

SABES

So, for the seven years that Mr. Wachs was at the helm of the Jewish Community Center for Greater Minneapolis, the organization had cumulated deficits of more than $2,000,000.  I did subtract from these figures, a onetime gift of property and equipment from the Jewish Federation of Minneapolis in an amount equal to 2.8 million dollars, in 2007.  For whatever reason, a gift of property and equipment to a non-profit was taken as income, instead of as paid in capital as it would be to a for-profit enterprise, and I suppose that this is correct because since they are not paying taxes and since they have no equity holders, it is immaterial from a tax liability standpoint.  It is not immaterial when masking the performance of a non-profit’s operations.

So, it looks like that after serving as the executive director of the JCC of Greater Minneapolis and presiding over more than $2,000,000 in operating deficits that this qualified Mr. Wachs to become the new president of the JCA of Greater Phoenix.

I am not sure that it is completely true that the best indicator of anyone’s future performance can best be indicated by their past performance, so I think that we should take a look at our JCA today.

I retrieved the 2012 IRS 990 yesterday by visiting the JCA.  They were very courteous and gave me a copy within ten minutes,  It is the first time I visited their offices and their staff was very polite and professional. If my recent memory serves me correctly, the purpose for uniting the JCC and the Federation was to improve the financial performance of both institutions.  Unfortunately, the numbers indicate that this has not yet happened. The chart below shows that the loss, once the JCC and JFED were combined, increased 67% in the first year to more than $967,000 dollars, increasing from a combined loss the year before for the two institutions of $577,480.  I find the chart below to be completely revealing.

JFED LOSS JCA

While the most recent deficit in 2012 of $967,436.00 cannot fairly be attributed to any one person, I do think that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.  I am wondering where are the benefits we are supposed to see from the consolidation of these two organizations.  I have no quantitatively analytic reason to believe Mr. Wachs will be effective in running the JCA. I do know that he just added another $967,000 to his aggregate losses as the President or Executive Director of the non-profit organizations that he has run over the last eight years, losses that aggregate at over $3,000,000 dollars.

One of the most interesting aspects of the phone call I had with Mr. Kramer was when I asked him what the purpose of his call to me was.   Mr. Kramer indicated that Mr. Wachs had showed him a response that he was prepared to send to me, and that after speaking with Stuart Wachs, Mr. Kramer said to Stuart that he wanted to know,

What is Mark’s purpose in all of this?  Because I am not sure an exchange is worthwhile for any party until we understand the purpose of his blogs and his writings.  Is there an end game, is there an intention, is there a purpose, or just a desire to write.

When I told Mr. Kramer I did not understand his question, specifically what he meant by what was the purpose of my blog, he said,

You are posting blogs, and the purpose of the blog is to what?

I am still at a loss about this question because I think that their question is irrelevant.  However, I do not think the reason that they asked the question is irrelevant because it demonstrates a paranoia in their thinking as if I must have a hidden agenda in writing the blog.  Rather than dealing with the issues I have raised regarding transparency, accountability and sound financial management or addressing the fact that I am asserting that their stewardship of these sacred Jewish assets can be quantified as abysmal, they seem to focus on me, thinking that if they just uncover my secret SMERSH membership card, that all of this mess will blow away.

My last questions to Mr. Kramer – Stuart and the JTO

It is reasonable that people have differences of opinion about whether the JTO is good or bad.  Years ago I supported the JTO, took advantage of the 1 for 1 tax credit, and took the deduction.  After discovering an issue with the governance of the JTO, I stopped giving, voiced my concerns publicly, and the JTO changed their governance policies.  I still believe that they have a short distance to travel before they are 100% Simon Pure and Lily White, and the fact that there are board members of the JTO whose children are benefitting from JTO scholarships raises a few eyebrows, but they are a paragon of virtue and financial disclosure compared to the JCA.  Also, and by law, they must pay out in scholarships 90% of the money they raise.  So if one supports the JTO, it is clear that by and large they are doing the job they are supposed to be doing and Linda Zell should be commended on that point.

I have been given a brief tour of the JTO’s donor list, and from what I have seen, Stuart Wachs did not give to the JTO in 2012 or 2013, and I have asked him why, and I know he has seen my email (because Mr. Kramer told me that he saw Stuart’s reply and that is why he was calling me, to find my “purpose”).  I still do not have his answer, and we as a community are entitled to know why.   This is especially relevant because Mr. Wachs just published a Commentary in the Jewish News, (in response to criticism about the fact that 46 cents of every allocable dollar that is donated to the JCA is wasted by expenses, expenses that will most likely be hidden from “the masses” that Mr. Kramer spoke to me about), and Wachs implored “the masses” to support the JTO.  Because it is clear from Mr. Kramer that he and Stuart are not members of “the masses”, the JTO deduction would obviously not apply to Stuart Wachs and his $240,000 salary.

Do you remember that great scene in A Few Good Men when Jack Nicholson explodes at Tom Cruise?  If you don’t remember the scene, it is worth watching and you can see it by clicking here.  This is your JCA.

My final comment is this.  Mr. Kramer explained to me that Stuart is a very busy executive and in a dismissive way indicated that it takes too much time to write a response to what I have written.  I explained that I had no desire to pull Mr. Wachs away from his obligations in training for this weekend’s marathon, and Mr. Kramer scolded me for being sarcastic.  I am sorry if I offended Mr. Kramer, but as a member of “the masses”, my etiquette, education and the manner in which I conduct myself obviously needs improvement.  I promise to get to work on that.

THE FIRST EMAIL REPLY TO THIS ARTICLE FROM STUART WACHS

From: Stuart Wachs
Sent: Saturday, May 3, 2014 5:38 AM
To: ‘Mark Greenburg’
Cc: Joel Kramer
Subject: RE: Good evening

Mark

There is in fact a number of things that are inaccurate in your blogs and in your email. That is the problem when you take partial pieces of information and make the assertions which you made.

– I do contribute to the JTO to the highest tax credit level. I do not believe that this is accurate and I will not be able to retract this until I see cancelled checks or credit card receipts for the two years in question.
– The Solar project will not cost the Association or community anything. When I arrived here I discovered a problem with the current structure and we worked closely with the Solar company for many months to restructure the arrangement so that it will not have any negative impact on the organization or community Why would Mr. Kramer call me yesterday and wax on eloquently about the fact that the masses are not to be told about this problem because it does the parties no good, if there is no problem?  I do not believe this assertion, but I am more than willing to sit down with you and have you explain this to me, and if I am wrong, I will also print that I am wrong.
– In your most recent blog you attacked my record at the Minneapolis JCC. If you called any of their board leadership or the Minneapolis Federation leadership they will tell you I was applauded for turning around the organization from a mission, engagement and financial perspectives. If you go directly to guidestar and look at the financial performance my last three years the 990’s show a net operating results 2009 – ($114,000), 2010 – $119,000, 2011 – $263,000. The search committee did do extensive checking and referencing on me.
– As for operating results of the VOS JCC, Federation and now Association. Both of these organizations have had a number of years of poor financial performance. I agree, the operations of the JFED and the JCC were disgraceful and I applaud your candor in this admission.  Why are the board members who oversaw this disgraceful performance still on the board?  Is it that they do not understand what you have written here about the past performance?  What can they possibly add that will be helpful to you in your attempt at turning this devastated agency around?  How does their expertise in wasting the community’s assets help you do your job?  I was brought in to help turn them around as I have been successful at doing at previous agencies. A turn around does not happen in one or two years, can take significant initial investment and we are making some positive progress. Or measurement will be over the next 3 to 5 years in net operating results, campaign achievements, engagement and impacts on our community.
– I would be happy to walk through our financials and our financial modeling. While your comment about charity review and others looking for a 10% “overhead” is not at all accurate, as a matter of fact they (who is “they”) came out a few years ago in a public statement that overhead is not an accurate way to measure a not-for-profit. Our operating budget includes much more then overhead however as we add resources to grow campaign and impact the community, our campaign growth will greatly outpace any expense growth and the percentage of our operating budget to campaign will decrease. It is important to also understand that the Association raises other dollars and has other earned income outside of the campaign so simply taking the operating expenses as a percentage of the campaign total is not an accurate measure.

Your latest blog was again done in an inaccurate and attacking way now directed at Joel Kramer and myself. This is not correct and I have very accurate notes of my conversation with Joel Kramer from the call he placed to me.  I completed classes in court stenography when I was 16 at the Ohio Valley Business College as a way to cope with my very slow and illegible hand writing and I take very accurate notes.  If Mr. Kramer was not forthcoming to you about what he said to me on the phone, I will be happy to print out a complete transcript of the conversation.We are both very dedicated to making the Association have a growing impact on our community. My reputation and commitment over my career and since I have arrived here stands its own. Given the fact that we have never met and you have never engaged in a conversation with me or asked me any questions you seem to have a lot of opinions about who I am and how I and the Association operate.

You also mentioned you have a number of documents form a “leak”. First of all we want to let you know that if those are not pubic documents and are clearly marked confidential that unless you officially received them from us, which you have not, they cannot be read and distributed. Your focus on this issue of confidentiality and  Joel’s focus on the same issue during our phone call of yesterday and your instruction to me is absurd.  Your concern about keeping secrets, rather than being open and transparent to the community in your actions and deeds, is the entire focus of the blog. Your assertion that because a document is marked confidential means that it is a trade secret, or proprietary, would be laughed out of court. Documents that demonstrate ineptitude of management are not protected by any laws I am aware of, and if you are claiming some type of privilege, there is none.  In fact, the better argument would be: The non-disclosure of the problem highlighted in the report is a type of fraud that was perpetrated on community members who willingly donated to the JCA without knowing the true extent of the financial situation that has engulfed the JCA.  If you are claiming that documentation of  JCA and prior JFED financial ineptitude are somehow protected or proprietary, you should first sue the IRS for forcing you to make your Form 990s public.  We are however willing when we meet to address your questions and also request the return of any confidential and proprietary.  I am happy to meet with you.  I will not keep any details of the meeting confidential, so you must know that in advance.  I asked Joel Kramer yesterday in our phone call how the bad debt of the JCA increased in 2012 to $674,000 from about $110,000 the prior year.  Joel informed me he is a CPA.  He is listed as the Treasurer of the JCA on your tax return.  He informed me that he did not know the answer to my question. So, if this is an example of  what disclosure will look like and what information will be revealed to me in the meeting you are proposing, you should be prepared to be reading about it here.

Please let us know if you are willing to sit down with us so that we can make sure you have a complete picture and we can answer your questions and address your concerns.

Stuart Wachs, President & CEO
Jewish Community Association

THE SECOND REPLY TO THIS ARTICLE FROM STUART WACHS – More comments below.

From: Stuart Wachs <swachs@jewishphoenix.org>
Subject: RE: Good evening
Date: May 3, 2014 at 6:28:21 AM MST
To: Mark Greenburg <mark.greenburg@me.com
Cc: “Joel Kramer”

Mark

I also just took a little time to look at the figures you are using to paint the financial picture of my time in Minneapolis. First off the years you would need to use are 2005 – 2001. I was not running the JCC in 2004. If I used your numbers for those years and added in the 990 numbers for 2011 it would be (884,000) not (2,000,000). (this was with your own selection to adjust the one ear and remove the one time gift of equipment and property from the federation. It is impossible to try understand real operating gains/losses from a 990 in non-profits for a number of reasons including how GAP requires certain expenses and revenues to be recorded this does not always reflect operations. If I accepted this statement as accurate, which I don’t, then this is even more of a reason for you to be more open and transparent, not less.  Why not make your books and records, after provisions for donor privacy are made, open to the public?  Why not make your audited financial statements open for review, as many responsible 501c3’s do?  Why not answer some of the following questions that everyone should know?

1) Exactly how much does it cost to run the JCC?  The community needs to know that because our assets are going into supporting the JCC, and now that the two entities are combined, how does one know what is a JCC expense and what is a JCA expense?  

2) Is part of the bad debt expense a write-off of JCC rent?  

3) Has a study ever been done about the long term viability of the campus?  Do you know whether or not you are just beating your head against a wall and trying to salvage a JCC operation and a campus that might not ever be able to be operated without a deficit being created?   As the leader of the JCA, now responsible for this sacred trust, do you ask these questions?  I would suggest that the JCC will never be able to be operated efficiently because it is not important to the Jewish Community of Greater Phoenix.  It should not be about applauding you for narrowing a loss, (as you have said was something you accomplished in your previous job), but whether we should continue supporting money-draining and possibly anachronistic institutions that might never be able to operate without a deficit?  

4) Would it not be more intelligent to spend the precious assets of the Jewish Community by supporting Jewish Education and reducing private school tuition for the community’s children, or an increase in aid to help get more kids to spend time in Israel, or more support for the aged and elderly?

You were hired by a board that destroyed the JFED and built an unsustainable campus and JCC that I am guessing can not be operated profitably.  Instead of being tasked with doing what is correct for the Community, you have been tasked with doing something arbitrary, which is to try and make the people responsible for this mess look presentable by saving their campus. Just as you chose to remove the one time transfer of property there are a number of expenses in some years that do not reflect operations for example how depreciation is reflected, some expense related to the property transfer your removed and others in other years. Even a well informed and knowledgeable board needs the auditors to walk through a 990 and explain the variances to operations and why numbers are reported that way.

On the surface from the way you presented numbers look at the miraculous improvement from 2004 to 2005. While I would like to say I improved operations by over one million dollars in my first year, which is what your numbers show, that is not accurate. What I can tell you is that I led a very successful financial turnaround for an agency with a 15 plus year history of major operating deficits to during my 7 years here we had all but one year at break even or better based on true operating results.

Stuart Wachs, President & CEO
Jewish Community Association

8 Million Dollar Solar Scandal and Cover-up by JCA

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In 2012, the Levine Campus embarked on a great solar power project that was created under the leadership of Bob Silver, the President of the Federation, during a tumultuous period when our leaders finally succeeded in running the Jewish Federation into the ditch. This was certainly not Mr. Silver’s fault alone, but according to the explanation given at the time, the leadership of the Federation just figured out, after many years on the Board, that the Federation had a “structural deficit”. There is a very detailed analysis on this blog in an earlier post entitled: Smarter Jews Needed, Or Maybe We Just Need A Few Decent Ones. A Salute to the Federation’s New Donors.

I questioned the qualifications of the leadership of the Jewish Federation and the ineptitude of their Board of Directors.  I singled out Bob Silver at the time and wrote:

Bob Silver should also step down at once. He has served on the Board since 2002, and if he is just now, in January of 2011, discovering that the Federation has a structural deficit, then I question what he has been doing as a member of the Board for the last 9 years. See article from Jewish News. Additionally, Mr. Silver was quoted as saying that they have done a very poor job in engaging the community. So, the next question that begs to be asked is why is Mr. Silver, a Board member for the last nine years during which this disaster was unfolding, now tasked with solving the problem? What specific skill does he now possess that has been dormant for the last decade? For that matter, the following board members, who have also served for the last nine years, should also step down:

Ann Zinman, Lanny Lahr, Joel Bernick, David Weiner, Sandra Scheinbein, and Barry Zemel (Zemel served since 2005)

In the January 13, 2012 issue of the Jewish News, we were treated to a story entitled Going green, which highlighted a a new solar panel project for the Levine Campus.  Mr. Silver was quoted in the article:

“This no-cost approach to ‘go green’ was perfect,” said Silver in the release. “We knew this would make a huge impact economically for the campus. It demonstrates to the 25,000 people that walk through our doors each month that it is the right thing to do financially and environmentally.”

First, there are not 25,000 unique visitors to the Levine Campus each month. That would equal 1/3rd of the Jewish population of the greater Phoenix metropolitan area.  It is closer to 3,000 unique visitors, but that is for another day.  Second, we were treated to another article when this no-cost solar project was completed, entitled Campus completes greening.  The article highlights include:

The green initiative kicked off about 18 months ago with a campus recycling program. In January, a solar panel thermal system was installed by Arizona Solar Concepts. The panels, located on the campus roof, are expected to provide energy to more than 70 percent of the facility’s thermal hot-water heaters, according to a VOSJCC press release. The system is scheduled to turn on at the end of the month, said Dae Williams, campus facilities director.

The next phase of the project, through Green Choice Solar, involved installing about 400 solar canopy parking spaces in the campus parking lot. In addition to providing covered parking for campus visitors and employees, the panels are expected to meet 90 percent of the campus’ energy needs and are anticipated to save 11 percent in APS costs, according to the release.

The renovations were done at no cost to the community, Bob Silver, association board chair, told Jewish News at the start of the project (“Going green,” Jewish News, Jan. 13, 2012). The vendors took advantage of tax credits, government programs and rebates run through the utility companies.

Here is what we were not told.  Instead of saving the JCA more than $6.6 million dollars in energy costs over a 25 year period, it will now actually cost the JCA more than $2,000,000 in higher energy costs.  In the first year alone, this so called “no cost” solution of solar panels that the leadership of the JCA was happy to publicize actually cost the JCA more than $120,000 in higher energy costs.  I have a copy of the report that was commissioned by the board of directors of the JCA and prepared by Energy Management Advisors, LLC.  Download the report by clicking  ILJCC Solar Installation Situation.

This is everything that is wrong with the JCA.  Instead of being truthful and informing the Jewish Community that they made a serious mistake by investing in the solar project and that there will be an 8 million dollar swing in the benefit projection, which will ultimately cost the JCA more than $2,000,000 over 25 years and has already contributed to a cost increase in their energy bills of $125,000 in the first year, they have told the community nothing.  I would say that higher energy bills of $125,000 per year contradicts the “no cost to the community” statements made by Mr. Silver.

I think it could be argued that the Jewish News has not done the job they are capable of doing and has done a disservice to the community by sitting on this story.  As a community newspaper, they must walk a fine line between appealing to advertisers and informing us all what is going on.  If the story was important enough for the Jewish News to run two stories on the wonderful greening of the Levine Campus, it was important enough to tell us that the whole project has been a financial disaster, not the “zero cost to the community” wonder that they have written about. The very community the Jewish News is supposed to serve is being trampled under foot by JCA management and the Jewish News appears complicit through the sin of omission.  The Jewish News of Phoenix sat on relevant news of this disaster that would clearly make people question or change their giving strategy after being pressured by the JCA.  They must decide whether or not they will a be a newspaper that informs the community of the issues facing the Jewish Community or a newspaper that focuses on appeasing advertisers. It stands to reason that people have given to the JCA not knowing what the Jewish News knew about this fiasco and more money will most likely be unnecessarily squandered.  This is unfortunate.

Circling back to the subject matter of my last post, this is one reason that 46% of every dollar you give to the JCA goes up in the smoke required to run the JCA.  Gross financial mismanagement, a lack of transparency and accountability, and the sins of commissions and omissions. If the JCA was a public company, these omissions would spark lawsuits and most likely an SEC investigation.  To ask the Jewish community to donate to the JCA, when their leadership is not truthful about their managerial errors and the true state of their projects to protect our future, is an outrage and a moral failing from people we are supposed to be able to trust.  The JCA is nothing more than a financial organization that can not tell the truth to people from whom they want to raise money.

PS – At the rate I am being sent information, I might have to quit my day job.

An apology and the unfortunate truth about the JCA’s 2013 Campaign and its 2014 Allocations

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When I first started this blog, it was in response to the outrageous behavior of the Jewish Tuition Organization and the manner in which they allocated money.  The blog ebbed and flowed with the vicissitudes of the mismanagement of our Jewish leaders, reaching an apex with the poorly thought out and hastily announced merger of what was left of the Jess Schwartz Academy and Pardes Jewish Day School.  My attention then drifted to the behavior of the Jewish Federation and their relentless and pernicious mismanagement of the future of the Jewish Community, highlighting the interlocking directorate that existed between the JCC and the Jewish Federation.  Now that those two poorly governed entities have merged, it will be a bit easier to shine a very bright light on what continues to be a threat to the existence of Phoenix’s Jewish Community, or at least their financial assets.  My apology is for an over reliance on invective and sarcasm which diminished the impact of my message.  The blog could have been more effective, could have really helped bring about change, and I squandered an opportunity to highlight the malfeasance of what is now the JCA, and things have gotten worse.  I will not make the same error twice.

This blog had a great following once, with readership hovering around 10,000 visits per month, and I am committed to publishing the same critical analysis with less sarcasm, less invective and opening the blog for people to contribute their own articles, anonymously or with attribution.  So without further delay, here is my first story of the “new” and “improved” blog.

The Unfortunate Truth about the JCA’s 2013 Campaign and its 2014 Allocations

I have been trying to get a copy of the JCA’s IRS 990′s to really learn what has been happening there, and they are not available on either Guidestar or Charity Navigator, so I am relying on information on the allocations by the JCA that were recently published by the Jewish News article on March 26 entitled “ $1.3M Allocated to Local Programs.” and on a Commentary published in the Jewish News on April 16 entitled “Community should increase help for Jewish day schools” both of which included data on the JCA’s 2013 annual fundraising campaign and their 2014 allocations.

ANALYSIS OF THE JCA’S 2013 CAMPAIGN AND ITS 2014 ALLOCATIONS

The JCA reported in the March 27, 2014 Jewish News that its 2013 campaign raised $3.2 million.  Of this amount, $338,208 was donor designated and thus not available for allocation by the JCA.  It should be noted that many of the donors who make designated gifts are “double dipping” by making a restricted gift to the JCA and getting donor credit for that contribution while at the same time channeling support to the Jewish causes of their choice.  Through this plan these donors are in essence getting credit or kavod from two organizations for the same gift.

It is my understanding  that approximately $500,000 of the JCA campaign total comes from  endowment funds created at the Jewish Community Foundation by donors interested in providing a perpetual income stream to the JCA.  While reported as a part of the total campaign, this amount is received by the JCA automatically each year from the Foundation resulting in no development efforts or expenses to be expended by the JCA.  This means that the actual money raised in the campaign through the current efforts of staff and volunteers is approximately $500,000 less than the amount reported.

The 2013 campaign of $3.2 million less the designated gifts resulted in $2,861,792 of allocable support over which the JCA has full grant-making discretion. From the allocable amount of $2,861,792 the JCA allocated $250,000 to Israel or 8.7% of the total allocable amount.

After the $250,000 allocated to Israel there was $2,611,792 available for the support of local causes in the Greater Phoenix Jewish Community.  This $2,611,792 was allocated as follows:

ALLOCATION % OF LOCAL ALLOCABLE DOLLARS PURPOSE
$99,000 3.80% Jewish Day School Education
($165/student)
$525,000 20.10% Valley of the Sun JCC
$78,000 2.90% Bureau of Jewish Education
$33,000 1.20% Council of Jewish with Special
Needs
$80,000 3% Hillel at ASU
$259,000 9.90% Jewish Family and Children’s
Service
$81,000 3.10% East Valley Jewish Community
Center
$3,000 0.10% Arizona Jewish Historical
Society
$1,000 0.03% Chabad ASU
$6,500 0.20% Friendship Circle
$3,500 0.10% Jewish Student Union
$7,000 0.20% Phoenix Jewish Film Festival
$5,000 0.10% Jewish Arizonans on Campus
$15,000 0.50% Jewish Free Loan
$5,500 0.10% Jewish Genetic Diseases Center
$5,000 0.10% Kivel
$7,500 0.20% Smile on Seniors
$22,500 0.80% Valley Beit Midrash
$5,000 0.10% BBYO
$50,000 1.90% Israel Center
$9,000 0.30% Israeli Camp Counsellors

Of the total allocable dollars available for JCA grants, approx. 54.2% was allocated and approx. 45.8% was retained by the JCA for its own operating costs, overhead and undisclosed programs.

COMMENTARY

I could wax on forever about the wisdom of propping up the campus and the JCC, and whether it is prudent to be spending JCA dollars to do that, but here is what it boils down to.  Give a dollar to the JCA and about half winds up benefitting Jewish charitable causes.  Presuming that donors are OK with the agencies getting allocations and the way in which the pie is divided, the idea that your dollar is diminished by so much and has such minimal impact begs the question about whether the JCA is the most effective way of supporting the community.  Another way of saying this is that it costs more than $1,196,200.73 dollars for the JCA to operate or to raise $1.6 million dollars.  Generally speaking, Charity Navigator or Guidestar would rate this performance as failing.  General and administrative expenses greater than 10% would raise eyebrows, so general and administrative expenses of 45.8% for every dollar donated means that there is only a possibility of 54.2 percent of the money you donate ever getting to the organizations who need it.  If you donated the money directly to the organizations you wanted to support, your money would go twice as far.

Consider the donor who has a Donor Advised Fund  at the  Jewish Community Foundation.  Their dollar contributed to their fund actually grew by more than 19% last year through prudent investment management.  So they now have $1.20 to give and that $1.20 can be granted to  any charitable organization where the donor feels the need is greatest.

So it boils down to effectiveness, efficiency and impact and when you look at it that way, giving to the JCA is just not a smart business decision for donors who really want to make a difference.

PS – Special thanks to my research and accounting colleagues who did the heavy lifting here – MG

You have to work out which ditch you are prepared to die in.

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I attended the “70th Annual Meeting of the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix and the Inaugural Meeting of the Jewish Community Association of Greater Phoenix.” I am 48 years old and I would say that I was on the younger side of those attending. Well dressed Jews, listening to speech after speech from well meaning volunteers and donors, either discussing how important the Federation has been in their life, or how important the Campus is to the sustenance of the Jewish Community. I could not help think that the scene was probably akin to the atmosphere in the lounge of the Titanic as that vessel cleared the English Channel. Well heeled people, listening to their friends being congratulated, smug in their place and position as leaders, people of substance. Lot’s of inside jokes about this or that board member, introducing one another as neighbors, and not a person under 30 in the room to appreciate this wonderful evening.

There is an old joke about the two greatest lies ever told. The first lie is: “the check is in the mail”, and the second lie should be, “the Levine Campus is the Center of Jewish Universe of the Phoenix Metropolitan Area.” Joel Kramer’s discussion of the JCA’s new $12,000,000 Endowment scheme, of which he is the Chairman, euphemistically entitled “Fulfilling the Promise”, was as riveting as watching a three card monty game, and mercifully, just as short. But Joel, like all people in charge of perpetrating a confidence game, came through with just a few morsels of information so that those in attendance and beyond could contemplate their next opportunity to stoke the Titanic’s boilers, basking in the glow of admiration from their fellow lemmings.

Joel asserted with confidence that the Campus was the greatest achievement of the Jewish Federation of Phoenix, and that the new “Fulfilling the Promise” Ponzi Scheme/Endowment would be the greatest achievement of the Jewish Community Association. And then he dropped the bomb: 25,000 people visit the Campus every month. There are about 83,000 Jews in Phoenix, and at first blush that seems like a pretty huge number, and would appear, if you had a very solid third grade education, that more than 30% of the Jewish population is visiting the Campus. But, since I am a very proud graduate of high school, which were the best eight years of my life, I think that we are really not talking about unique visitors, and I am going to say that with membership hovering in the neighborhood of 3,000 members, that this number represents about 833 people per day. Since health club members, day school attendees, and others who use the Campus are pretty habitual users, I am going to basically give the JCA the benefit of the doubt and agree that there are 1,600 people who use that facility each month, and that accounts for the total number of visitors to the facility. I am probably being very generous here. However, given my generosity, even if we doubled that to 3,200 unique habitual visitors to the facility each month, and that they come to the facility month after month, we are still only talking about 3,200/83,0000 people. I would be surprised if more than 3.8% of the Jewish population makes use of the Campus.

So, if 25,000 aggregate visits from 3,200 different people make that facility the center of the Phoenix Jewish Universe, then I am going to guess that Chompie’s delicatessen plays an even more important role in Phoenix’s Jewish community. This is because between their three locations, they must be getting more than 700 Jews a day through their doors. I also believe there is a higher possibility that they are unique visitors, because if you ate deli every day, you’d be dead.

When I began attending boarding school, I was 11 years old and someone at the school had the bright idea of housing the middle school boarders in the dorm that housed the Seniors, thinking the seniors would be more mature, more compassionate, and would haze us less. There was actually a Senior named Adolph who lived in my dorm, and no shock there, he was a pretty big Jew hater. He took a special delight in kicking my ass every day of the week, and he hazed me like crazy. But the thing about Adolf was that I could always see him coming. I mean, for the love of Christ, if you name your kid Adolf and he is American, you are most likely going to have an affinity for snappy brown uniforms, red armbands, shattering the windows of store fronts, and passing these passions on to your kids. But in those lonely moments of getting my ass kicked, I never once shied away or was ashamed of identifying myself with being Jewish. Now that I live in Phoenix, and knowing how we are behaving towards the most vulnerable amongst us, taking money from their support to support the Campus, I think I am more comfortable hiding my Jewish identity here, because I could not bear being considered as a member of this group.

At least the Jewish News had the strength to highlight this in their latest issue. When you give money to the JCA to support the Campus, ask yourself if this this the ditch you are prepared to die in? Are you the type of person who thinks that a building that is used by less than 4% of the population, designed to glorify the contributions of the few, is the greatest achievement of the Jewish Federation? Is it a great achievement to reduce funding to the needy and skip out on our financial commitment to Israel to support a building that few of us actually use? Can being a good Jew or even a great Jew be defined by building and owning a cool athletic facility? If that is the case, I am guessing that the list of the greatest Jews the world has ever known could be amended and might look like this: Abraham, Moses, Maimonides, Jones (Jerry), and Hofheinz (Roy).

THE JCA’S NEW ENDOWMENT FUND – “FULFILLING THE PROMISE” TO WASTE THE REST OF THE COMMUNITY’S MONEY

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There are two precepts that I tend to place above all others when it comes to businesses.  The first precept is that it is impossible to fix stupid.  Nothing can be done to remedy the management of an enterprise, if the management is made up of stupid people.  It will not be possible to make them smart.  The management must be changed.  The second precept is that if a company is managed by dishonest people, the investors will lose more money than if the management was just merely stupid.  Another way to say this is that you can rarely lose more money through a stupid decision than someone can steal from you.

The new endowment fund that was launched by our JCA might represent the rare opportunity to lose twelve million dollars through a combination of management dishonesty and stupidity.  It is really a Ponzi-like scheme, taking fresh money to cover the future losses while calling it an “endowment”, which generally connotes sustainability and perpetuity.  Therefore, I am going to call this new scheme a “Ponzdowment”.  I might be so isolated as to never have heard of an endowment campaign that has the veiled purpose of covering the operating operating expenses of a failing enterprise, but I doubt it.  Every endowment campaign I have ever reviewed, donated to, or had the pleasure of serving on has had the stated purpose of providing perpetual funding to a particular organization.  I have never actually heard of, or seen an endowment campaign that was designed to spend all the money raised in twelve years, leaving the institution being supported in the same terrible financial shape it was in at the inception of the campaign.  Endowment funds are generally used to help an organization become sustainable.  This Ponzdowment represents a case of “doubling down” that would leave even the most cynical gamblers scratching their heads.

“Fulfilling the Promise” is just a sliver of wordplay symptomatic of continued JCA mismanagement and their inability to be honest with the Jewish community of Phoenix. Instead of the JCA’s board saying to the community: “hey, we f_cked up and squandered $34,000,000.00 of donated money by creating a campus that will never be able to be operated without loss, we are sorry for having done so and we will resign, en-masse”, we are presented with the JCA’s Board directed Solipsism and detachment from reality: a ponzi scheme dressed up by calling it an endowment campaign, euphemistically entitled, “Fulfilling the Promise.”

It is very clear that the promise the JCA’s board is fulfilling is to squander whatever money they missed the first time around, like the Grinch making one more sweep and grabbing that one toy he missed and stuffing it in his bag.  I think that the campaign should be entitled truthfully and named: The Ponzdowment Campaign to Cover Up Our Mistakes to Help Fund A Failing Health Club For Twelve More Years.  With a tag line below it, “Because we think you’re all stupid.”

As to the oft repeated idiocy quoted by the JCA’s wise men of Chelm that: “The success of the campus is imperative to the survival of a strong, cohesive Jewish community in Metro Phoenix”, I have noticed that in the two years that have passed since I have been on that campus, I am still Jewish, I still belong to a synagogue, and my foreskin is still missing.  Maybe it has to be that the building can no longer be standing for the Jewish community of Phoenix to undergo this decimation.  Or maybe the campus is actually The Third Temple and if we don’t support it, that’s OK, just do not expect to be hanging with Moshiach anytime soon.

So, if you, like me, are curious about the management freak show at the JCA, spend the $18.00 and attend the annual meeting at 7:00 PM on Wednesday, Feb. 1 – it could be even more weird than Coney Island’s.

911 – The Survival of the Jewish Community of Phoenix Depends on Sustaining the JCA Campus by Reducing Funding to the Poor and Elderly.

I’m sorry I have not been writing.  I have been Tebowing in the dark for the last several months, hoping that they might start fracking in Scottsdale so that a hole in the earth would open up and swallow both the Federation and the JCC, sparing the Jews of Phoenix the pain and suffering of this cancer.  I am afraid that my prayers have not been answered.

According to the Jewish News of January 20, 2010, the JCA (the new name of the merged JCC and the Jewish Federation of Phoenix), raised 3.4 million dollars, dispensed 1.6 million to partner agencies, pocketed 1.4 million dollars to sustain the health club at the JCC, while using $800,000 for their own overhead.  True to character, they reduced funding allocations again to Kivel and other needy agencies so that we Jews have a state of the art health club.

I particularly love this quote:

In a summary of its major allocations decisions dated Jan. 7, the JCA explained the campus funding by saying, “The success of the campus is imperative to the survival of a strong, cohesive Jewish community in Metro Phoenix,” but added that the current funding level represents “an unsustainable model.”

Who came up with this idea?  Why does the survival of the Jewish community in Phoenix depend on the success of an economically unviable health club?  If the building gets hit by a meteorite, do all the Jews of Phoenix turn into a puddle of goo like the witch from the Wizard of OZ?   What does that building/campus possess that gives life to the Jewish Community of Phoenix?  I have never been in the vault in there, but maybe they have that scroll that they put under the Golem’s tongue to bring it to life to protect us from Arpaio.  Maybe it is the recipe for Gefilte fish, or just maybe it is a copy of a Bernard Madoff Management Book, which has most likely been consulted continuously so that this economically unsustainable (their words, not mine) health club can be supported.  Isn’t a ponzi scheme something where you bring in new money to sustain a scheme that is unsustainable and use the money to pay off earlier mistakes?

That campus shines brightly as a constant reminder of the idiocy of the Federation management that built that campus and the ego driven need of the donors to give their money to the project and get their names on the wall.

I guess the one thing that can be said about the building is that it does help Jews lose weight, both the Jews sweating from their workouts and the Jews getting by on less food: you know, the Jews from Kivel and other needy agencies whose funding was cut to support the campus.