Op-Ed: Federation Is Transparent

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By Lawrence Wolfe

The Jewish News’ Sept. 1, 2016, editorial titled Federation: Choose Transparency rightly points out that transparency and trust are critically important if the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit is to maintain its legitimacy and position as the community’s central fundraising address. But to assert or insinuate that we have been acting in secrecy, as the editorial does, is both unfair and untrue.

Communicating openly and ensuring decisions are debated and vetted properly is vital to establishing trust between Federation and the community it serves. So, too, is publicly sharing key information. This is why the “Publications” section of the Federation website under “About Us” contains the organization’s yearly annual reports, bylaws, financial statements and allocation reports and can be viewed by anyone (jewishdetroit.org/about-us/
publications).

Like most Federations, we no longer print and mail the Annual Report out to every member of the community because we believe the significant dollars required to do so are better spent on programs supporting those in need. This year, we will email a notice and link to all of the constituents in our database when the report has been posted to notify the community that this information is available.

The Jewish News asserts that Federation has become more secretive when, in fact, the opposite is true. Our reporting to the community is more robust than it’s ever been and Federation is more open to both the public and media, including the Jewish News, than at any time I can remember.

Chief Executive Officer Scott Kaufman and our leadership — both professional and volunteer — spend a great deal of time meeting with community members to provide periodic updates on initiatives as they develop, to hear concerns and to gather feedback so that programs and services can be enhanced and improved.

I’ve watched Mr. Kaufman and Federation’s professional staff — all of whom care deeply about this community and in many cases have committed their lives to serving it — operate with great integrity. By writing that decisions are being made in secret, the Jewish News suggests otherwise.

Not only is Federation operating transparently, we are meeting our community’s difficult challenges head-on. After Federation discovered the significant financial discrepancies at the JCC, we moved quickly to stabilize the center and get it back on solid footing, which included the very painful decision to close JPM. The financial challenges at the Center have been going on for many years, but we made the deliberate decision to deal with them openly and directly and not “kick the can” down the road.

In addition, with many of our aging agency facilities needing significant repair and maintenance, we centralized management of Federation’s entire real estate portfolio to ensure our agencies have operational and safe spaces for many years to come. We are also working with our agencies more closely and collaboratively than at any time in our recent history, and we routinely hear from our peers in other communities that this relationship is extremely unique. These are just a few examples; there are many, many more.

As a community-driven organization and the primary instrument of Jewish philanthropy in Detroit, we know that transparency and honesty are critical to our success. We will continue to operate as we have — in an open and forthright manner. We also will continue to evaluate our communication methods and governance processes to ensure that we always live up to that standard.

Lawrence A. Wolfe is president of Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit.

 

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