Category Archives: Non-Profit

Jewish Organizations: The Importance of Acting Ethically

Remaining in Focus

What many of us strive for in life is achieving personal integrity, a state of being when our ‘inside’ motivation matches our ‘outside’ behavior.

Ideally, our actions should reflect who we (really) are. We don’t just want to believe that we’re honest, we want to act in ways that are honest, a perfect match-up of our intentions and behaviors. Don’t be deceived; this sounds relatively easy but is in fact very difficult.

It is just as challenging for businesses and organizations to hold a high ethical standard.

Accountability

Years ago a new field emerged called ‘corporate responsibility’. It was the very beginning of companies making an effort to conduct business honorably.

No longer can companies quietly go about the dirty business of polluting the environment, paying unfair wages, and not treating employees equitably. At least not without negative social consequences and losses of revenue. To a large extent, social media sees to that. However, even more now than before, it seems that there is still a long way to go.

In the last weeks, we’ve seen that even organizations who promise to uphold the highest ideals of communal values of fairness fall short. As a society, it is challenging to change stubborn and hateful behavior.

What about Jewish organizations?

But should we not hold smaller organizations, those with an especially narrow focus, to the same standard? After all, relationships with employees and constituents are more regular and frequent.

In the current economic climate however, as organizations might need to downsize, it is even more important not to compromise on these values. People are more vulnerable in so many ways and the more expedient way is not the most sensitive.

The Torah provides a foundation for how employees should be treated and laws are expounded in the Talmud regarding specific challenging situations and additional pressures.

This information would ideally inform decisions and interactions so that the values of a religious organization should live up to its potential as a model of ethical behavior.

Rabbi Sidney Schwarz states in Judaism and Justice: the Jewish Passion to Repair the World that there are two principles in operation regarding Jewish behavior.

Jews are driven by their twin impulses to survive as a people (Exodus) and to help the world be ordered in accordance with a higher moral standard (Sinai).”

Expanding on this concept, Jewish organizations need to survive in order to fulfill their ultimate mission of bringing the ethical teachings of Torah out into the world. But not at the cost of compromising its own behavior.

Leadership in a stressful time

The challenges facing the Jewish community now are perhaps more acute than ever and as a result, we need to be aware of ethical breaches and inconsistencies and expect more of our organizational leaders.

This pursuit of ethical excellence is discussed widely in the Talmud as well as the intimate relationship between character, leadership, and community. In Arachim (17a) our sages note:

“One said: According to the leader, so the generation. The other said: According to the generation, so the leader.”

We are ultimately accountable. Our leaders need to hold us to a higher standard, but they too are products of our culture. Our culture seems to value the development of our outsides (material gains) in favor of focusing on our insides (ethical and spiritual development). Organizations have often conducted themselves similarly, prioritizing  external goals (a new building, more members) over those that are less tangible (meaningful experiences, membership connections).

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, in the Seven Principles of Jewish Leadership  states that “Leaders must be relentless learners and believe in the people they lead”.

Leaders must be open to change and in so doing, model that for others.

Yes, these are extremely challenging times. Organizations need to work extremely hard with minimal resources to reconfigure themselves in the (God-willing) post-pandemic world.

We can weather this storm but in order to do so ethically, we need to uphold our values.

 


The Fruitless Pursuit of Organizational Self-Interest

Are you only seeing yourself?

I am amazed at the ingenuity of companies borne from the vision of a shared economy. Homes, cars, clothes, specialized equipment, bicycles and toys are just a few of the possessions that have morphed from sole ownership to group use.  In the recent past, it was unthinkable for us to share our homes with strangers who were just ‘travelling through’.

Just a decade ago, Microsoft’s proprietary encyclopedic platform called “Encarta”  tanked, superseded by the open-sourced Wikipedia (tagline free encyclopedia).  My family members would make fun of me when I quoted  my source as Wikipedia (others also thought to make fun, see here ). Now it is a respected resource on the web.

Open source has won out and collaboration is the preferred business model. Are we learning from this?

Organizations benefit from participating in a shared economy. A true approach would not be the result of the latest round of downsizing, or mergers….cost saving measures that don’t speak to an organic strategy. The culture that spawns innovation is different.

Organizations need to begin to think about their success in terms of others’ successes.

About a year ago, I was invited to a “Bring Your Parents To Work Day” at Amazon, and was treated to a day-long experience of multiple educational workshops in which representatives of various divisions shared the mission and passion of Amazon. Among other ideas, what sticks with me is how open the company is to collaboration with their customers and even with their competitors.

For sure, companies and organizations need to perpetuate themselves, but even Amazon’s Founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos said “One day Amazon will fail” however employees need to postpone that eventuality by “obsessing over customers” and not worrying about its own survival: “If we start to focus on ourselves, instead of focusing on our customers, that will be the beginning of the end…..we have to try and delay that day for as long as possible.”

Even Apple has ventured into these waters. CEO Tim Cook speaks about the key traits of employees who are oriented to collaboration and not attached to personal recognition. (For sure, there is still a long way to go, even there).

I would love to see more examples in the Jewish community of true collaborative models. Often, there is a tendency to put up even more barriers, in an attempt to save whatever constituencies there are from falling away. I often have a hard time making distinctions between the nuanced missions of organizations who seem to have similar goals.

It just makes sense, in an era of diminishing resources, to be nimble and humble enough to actively seek partnerships. The willingness to share derives from an organizational culture that supports it, not as puffy words in a mission statement, but as a core part of the organization’s strategy and direction. Not simply as a survival mechanism, but because working together ultimately makes the most sense. Rather than duplicating resources, organizations can exponentially expand their reach if they buddy-up.

This take more up-front work, more of a focus on long term vision than short terms gains.  This concept is already noted in our tradition:

“One time I was walking along the path, and I saw a young boy sitting at the crossroads. And I said to him: On which path shall we we walk in order to get to the city? He said to me: ‘This path is short and long, and that path is long and short.” Talmud Eruvin 53b

Meaning, sometimes the most expedient way takes more up front time and effort. Ultimately, the choice is ours.
Do we want to take shortcuts that might put the goal even further away? Do we focus on the here an now, the short-term results and worry about the consequences later? Do we busy ourselves with the everyday so we can’t focus on strategies that make sense for the long-term?
We need to take the longer road, but doing that takes patience and commitment. It also assures us that we will arrive where we want to and be successful once we get there.

Refuse to accept the arrogant model of leadership

julius.

 

We live in a selfish age. I know, no kidding—so I needn’t bother you with listing all the reasons why this is true. Believe me, it would be cathartic for me to do so.  Are you sure you don’t want some examples?  Okay, just one. In 2014, over 93 million selfies were taken daily. Ninety-three million. This narcissistic attitude permeates our entire culture and is not only limited to individuals, it is also the way companies do business.

Headlines depict company after company’s egregious behavior toward consumers: airbag negligence in cars, airline seats subject to fine print agreements, bogus real estate deals, industry price-fixing, and the numerous recalls of tainted food. There’s even a television show created a decade ago, with enough content to offer viewers a glimpse of dirty dealings called “American Greed”.

This culture of self-hood even extends to appeals by organizations to continually ask you to do things for them, even though you’re the consumer and should be the recipient of any largesse. They want you to like them, follow them, and also post and tweet about them. The goal is to enhance their image by connecting with you via the currency of your social media identity.  Doesn’t this also seem like very self-centered behavior? However, why blame amorphous companies, when the leadership sets the tone.

This morning, Jim Cramer, a commentator on a business show said “we live in an arrogant society”. After reading the first published earnings report from Snapchat he flatly stated that CEO Evan Spiegel is “so arrogant” and needs to find some humility.  He said this because Spiegel did not own up to the facts (a 20% loss) and laughed (Snapchat is a public company). Arrogance is the enemy of humility, because you become so wrapped up in yourself that you are unaware of your obligations towards others. You lose a sense of being connected with others. It is arrogance that has de-humanized the workplace so much so that employees rarely feel a sense of company loyalty, and when they do, it makes headlines. Not surprisingly, the CEO of oGOLead.com  says that we’re in a leadership crisis.

Jewish non-profits can create a different model of leadership, one that has Biblical origins in our patriarchs and matriarchs. The desire to serve people (and a Higher Being) is a mark of humility. Being ‘other-oriented’ requires the ability to recognize that your place is not above another’s and arrogance occurs when someone forgets that.  Recently espoused by Max Depree in The Art of Leadership, a leader is one who serves.  Being a ‘servant’ leader today seems counter-cultural although it is where our roots lie.

Servant leadership means flipping the ‘what can you do for me’ equation to ‘what can I do for you’? This is not as simple as it seems.  First, let’s take a fundraising example. I recently saw a huge billboard sign posted in front of a non-profit (bearing the ubiquitous thermometer) that said “Give so we can make our goal”. See? You might think, ‘what’s so bad about that? It’s honest isn’t it?’  But that approach comes off as just a little arrogant and demanding.  How much more effective might it be to take the place of the other, the one who you’re trying to reach and think about their point of view.  Why should people give to your campaign? How will their help contribute to making the world a better place?  How can your organization serve others better by receiving a donation?

Next, let’s use membership as an example. I receive direct mail requests so often, and find most are highly ineffective, because they haven’t figured out the obvious. It’s not about them, it’s about the cause. Why should someone join? Believe it or not, the reason someone joins is not to become a member. There might be hundreds of reasons why your constituents might be motivated to be a part of your mission, and you need to discover at least some of them.  In order to serve, you need to have information.

At the very least, it comes from a place of humility and a desire to learn, and not in any way like posting a selfie.

 

 

 


What To Do When LEADERSHIP is Lacking

pexels-mountain-climbing

 

Research shows that most non-profits are concerned about succession planning. There often is not a lack of talent in the organization, just no clear pathway to get to a leadership position. Why is this so?

Cultivation of leadership is a long-term enterprise, and often we don’t have the patience or resources to devote to the effort it takes. We’re lazy, wanting the quick fix, sometimes by sometimes hiring a known leader from another organization or looking for someone new to take a position rather than building capacity internally.  This holds true for organizations whether or not it is staff or lay-led. My comments apply to both types of non-profits so for ease in reading, the term staff will be used.

In most cases, staff leave for reasons more to do with lack of job satisfaction than any other reason. This infographic from Inc.com confirms the top 5 reasons that employees leave. It is costly to replace people who leave due to dissatisfaction, and the costs of that is enormous in increased expenses due to lost time, lowered morale, efforts in training, and more.

We don’t take the time to really get to know our staff beyond the basics.  The vocabulary of the conversations that need to occur will consist of words like desires, skills, talents, goals and dreams. These are not quick conversations by an unskilled manager or human resource professional.

In an earlier post, I marveled at the way one organization nurtures its volunteers, but that was just one example. What are some specific general ways that a non-profit organization can expand its leadership pipeline?

The consulting organization The Bridgespan Group found that “based on collaborative research with 30 nonprofits committed to leadership development, we identified four elements organizations should have in place to align their strategy for talent to their goals for impact.” Those elements were managers who were committed to mentoring others, identifying opportunities for skill development, creating individualized development plans focused on skills, and mechanisms for putting those efforts into action.

The tips I offer below are for smaller non-profits who frequently struggle with this issue but lack the resources of larger organizations with layers of support systems. These suggestions assume that your organization is based on a collaborative and not a competitive model.

  1. Require staff members to complete a basic questionnaire that contains questions about their skills, interests, goals and desires. Don’t just file it away, a top level person needs to study it and arrange a time with the staff member to discuss it.
  2.  Institute a practice for peer coaching, sharing guidelines and boundaries with participants. Assign everyone a partner to whom they will check in periodically about their goals. This can be formalized through completion of a self-assessment.
  3. Provide opportunities for staff/volunteers to stretch themselves in new ways—by trying out new skills and develop new talents. Paired learning is effective for this.
  4. Allow staff/volunteers an opportunity to shadow someone whose position interests them for a few hours.
  5. Establish regular check-ins for feedback and coaching.  So far, there are no costs involved here, only dedication to the practice.

If you would like to request a form to use for this purpose, please go to my site and write “Staff Form” in the subject line. You will receive it as my gift to you in order to encourage leadership development at your non-profit. This offer expires on May 31st, 2017. 

 


What Engagement Is (and Isn’t)

chef

I wrote earlier on my blog site “Double Take” that some job descriptions are so vague, it’s almost impossible to figure out what the tasks are. In that post (called “What will you actually be doing if you get this job?”) I revealed that reading job descriptions is something I did regularly as a career consultant.

Scanning those help wanted ads (when there was such a thing) was valuable for so many reasons: it kept me abreast of industry changes and trends, corporate buzz words, and even company expansion into new areas. Think positions in corporate social responsibility, community relations, and medical ethics— fields which are now commonplace.

It also helped me coach clients on what to watch out for: job descriptions that were unrealistic, too vague or cryptic, or filled with tell-tale warning signs like: “ability to work under pressure with tight deadlines and irregular hours”.

So, what does this have to do with the state of the Jewish community? Plenty, it turns out. The position openings I see posted most often are positions I would have warned people about. These are jobs that on the face of it, have interesting titles, but when you dig deeper, issues bubble up. Most often those positions have either ‘Outreach’ or ‘Engagement’ in the title.

On the surface, those positions sound great and are full of promise, but since we know that many established Jewish non-profits are experiencing contraction (due to economic circumstances, demographics) their inability to effectively undertake the two things above is already a warning sign. When I read the descriptions more closely, my optimism takes a further hit.

The jobs, instead of focusing on involving new and prospective people in the organization, are often a mishmash of tasks that sound more like a recipe than a bona fide job description. Imagine the Grand Chef of Outreach, standing over a pot and adding in: a little marketing, a dash of donor relations, a sprinkling of grant writing, a bit of database management, a with a splash of social media thrown in for good measure.

This is neither outreach or engagement. It’s a job that is made of pieces that don’t necessarily belong together. The tell-tale sign for me is that no where do most of these openings mention responsibilities that should be essential components of outreach or engagement: interviewing stakeholders, gathering data, developing leaders, and implementing strategies and training mechanisms across departments to change organizational culture.

So, in order to do outreach, organizations need to make sure that it’s just not a new job that makes everyone feel a little better that something’s being done, but a real effort at organizational change that is manifested by the true work of engagement.


3 Ways Nonprofits Can Increase Engagement

Do you care about organizational integrity?

Who cares about your organizational integrity?

We are witnessing the highly valued currency of connection in many organizations, especially non-profits. This is so because non-profit organizations have the most to gain from a consistent and loyal donor/customer (hereafter named d/c) base. When resources are thin, the value of customer retention is at a premium. Yet, despite the rash of open positions titled “Engagement Coordinator”, “Director of Donor Outreach”, or “Membership Concierge” there is more to reaching out to current and potential donors/customers than a newly crafted position.

Beyond having hundreds, if not thousands of d/c “like’ you, “follow” you, “pin” you or develop an association with you is the hope that they will, over time, build a relationship with you. In time, that connection will hopefully culminate into the continual donation/purchase of goods and services, ensuring a secure future for your organization. For non-profits, that culture of connection translates to donations made freely and frequently.

So what’s wrong with creating new positions in order to focus on connections? Simply developing a new area of focus in d/c engagement doesn’t assure success. As compelling as the organizational mission might be, to be really successful at the above endeavors requires internal change as well.

For instance, organizational staff will need to comprehend a change in focus. What plan is in place to bring them on board? How will this new spirit of engagement translate to the folks in the Marketing, IT departments or even those at the front desk? In what ways will their work change? What specific strategies will support the new emphasis on d/c relationships?

Why should you expend the effort? For the sake of organizational integrity which long-term, translates to sustainable success.  Think of the most effective organizations you know.  They seem to have a top-down, bottom-up consistency to messaging.  A solid measure of how effective an organization is, is how well their message to the outside world mirrors the one to its own employees and staff. It’s the sweet spot where the external mission and the internal operation coalesce into a unified whole.

Why is this important? Because today, success is not just about sales/donations. It’s about being upstanding and upright. So, no matter how many positions are created with this new engagement focus, if they are not reflective of a cultural shift in the organization confusion will follow. Being an organization without integrity is like being a parent who says one thing but does another.  It won’t take long for a bright consumer to figure things out, and then there could be very serious consequences and perhaps even irreparable damage, with heavy work to be done in order to restore confidence.

So, what are three quick questions to ask to know if your non-profit has organizational integrity?

  1. Compare the way your organization treats its best donors with the way it regards the most valued employees. Are there disparities? Repair them. Perhaps your organization is filled with itself on the inside but unable to articulate that same message to potential or current donors/buyers? If either case is so, you’ll need to fix it.
  2. Compare the frequency and tone of external newsletters with communication with internal staff. Does the message match? Is there equal attention to the content for both? Make sure your message works for you, in all ways possible. If not, work on creating better tools.
  3. What is the follow-up system for problems that occur? How are issues handled for d/c or for internal staff? If issues fester and go unresolved, that can poison any outreach/inreach efforts you might want to undertake.

Achieving organizational integrity is a process I can help you with. I am interested in your responses and hope you might connect to discuss your experience with me, here or at Ruth Schapira Consulting.  


Uphill Marketing to Jewish Teens

Maybe a megaphone would work?

Maybe a megaphone would work?

I am an advocate for Jewish teens, and believe that all teens benefit from a Jewish education past the usual drop-off age of Bar/Bat Mitzvah.

By Jewish education, I don’t mean madrichim programs (where teens aide in classrooms). I mean teens participating in educational programs that build curiosity and challenges their intellect.

Full disclosure: see the About page. I’m biased.

And, playing nice is what I do.

What does that mean?

Well, I can’t really repeat the things I hear from our students about their prior Hebrew School experience in marketing materials or promotional pieces.  That would not be nice.  Plus, what students have said about their specific experience may not hold true for everyone. So, What do they say?

Here’s a sampling:

“Hebrew school was a waste of time”

“No one knew anything in my Hebrew school”

“I learned the same thing year after year at Hebrew School!”

“No one took Hebrew school seriously, no one wanted to learn!”

So, can I use these often-heard comments in marketing our program?

Well, that wouldn’t be nice, so no.

Things also get complicated when the very teens you’re trying to reach are already in Hebrew school, wanting to be done

That is precisely why marketing is an uphill struggle, and a challenge that I’ve written about before, just to be able to vent about it.

You might ask, what is the reason for being nice? Well, do you want to be that candidate running a negative campaign?  It’s a cheap shot, and one not worth taking. Community building is what we should all be doing, however tempting it might be to carve out an easy win.  

 


Jewish Teens Need Us to Work as a Team

English: Students cheer their team on Sports DayI have resisted writing about the following for some time. But I can always tell when I’ve reached my own ‘tipping point’: it’s usually when I get tired of hearing myself repeat the same thing over and over to different people.

Secretly, I hope they’ll do something about what I’m telling them, but that hasn’t happened yet.  So, here I am, blogging to you. At least you can listen and perhaps share my frustration, and who knows? Maybe things will change.

First, we need to cooperate more. We are not working as a team on behalf of our teens.  I’ll define a teen team player as anyone or any organization that has the teen’s best interest at heart for involvement in Jewish life. Period.

That team, the teen team, has a shortage of players which is why we’re losing the Jewish identity game.  Here are some reasons:

  • There is little to no list-sharing among providers of Jewish educational experiences, both formal and informal.  What about privacy you ask? Well, how many groups even ask if their teens might want to have their names shared with other teen non-profit groups (non-profit stressed due to obvious reasons). How many teens do you know that would not want to be with as many other Jewish teens as possible?
  • Since groups wish to maintain their “members” and teens’ time is limited, there is little collaboration among groups, fearing that teens might ‘defect’ if exposed to the other group. (I could have said ‘leave’ but I’m making a point here). This plays out among synagogues, youth groups, interest groups, educational providers, and camps. Yes, there are joint programs out there, but often they partner with  ‘their own’ of the same denomination. I have experienced too many anecdotes about this that would curl your ears, if your ears could, in fact curl.
  • So, the takeaway for teens, though not intended, is that “membership” dictates who is in your community. How’s that for teaching teens that the Jewish community is a fluid, open-networked concept?
  • The above mentioned groups feel no guilt about deciding destiny. So, for example, if a teen belongs to a movement-affiliated synagogue, the chances of finding out about other options are pretty limited. If a synagogue is affiliated with a movement, only that youth group and camp are promoted.
  • Synagogues often want their teens ‘on-site’ as if keeping them physically in one place assures commitment (it doesn’t). Those teens may end up defining Judaism very narrowly. In fact, they do just that when they get to college. How can Judaism be more relevant to them if their experience of it is primarily synagogue-based? I am not referring to those teens who seem to straddle multiple worlds, and who are natural networkers. And I’m also not saying that synagogue/youth group/movement camps are not a good thing, we know they are. I’m specifically talking about those teens, for whatever reasons, are the minimally engaged to begin with and not making those choices. What are the options for other Jewish connections that we’re giving them?
  • The above does not apply to broad-based efforts, like the Foundation for Jewish Camping, that make a point of going beyond those limitations in awarding grants by saying in effect: “we don’t care which camp or where, just pick one!” We should all be taking that cue regarding Jewish youth involvement: we don’t care which program or where, just do something!
  • How about other open groups you ask? What about groups like teen philanthropy, teen fellowships, gender-based groups? Those are defining Judaism more broadly, but are there bridges to other programs which could increase identity building? Many times, those connections are left for each teenager to figure out. The connections must work both ways: to and from other organizations and synagogues.
  • How are we doing those teens a favor? Shouldn’t we be giving them a better sense of Jewish communal collaboration before they get to college? How can we, as a Jewish community, talk about pluralism and Klal Yisrael when we don’t really act that way ourselves. Could it be that we are modeling the very behavior they can’t relate to? Is this close-mindedness a contributing cause for the fact that most college students see no need to affiliate denominationally in college? I’m not saying that youth movements don’t work as leadership preparation for the future. I’m saying that we need to rethink our strategies and behave in ways that model collaboration or cooperation. We can’t be on the teen team if our organizations are based on a scarcity model.  

We have to decide if we are playing on an organization’s team or the teen’s team. If we’re on the same team, then we need a shared mission of youth leadership.

We’re in need of players for the teen team if we want to win this.  It’s like we’re in the 9th inning, with no runners on base. Will you step up?

I’d love to hear about collaborative models that defy these descriptions. I’ll post and share your responses so we can learn from each other.

Image via Wikipedia


My Experience with In-the-Box Thinking in the Jewish Community

Freeflyer09. Use does not imply endorsement

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I read the article “Employees are faster and more creative when solving other people’s problems” by Daniel Pink with fascination. It turns out that we think more creatively and abstractly for others than for ourselves.  

The solutions are more concrete when working on things that affect us personally. 

What does this have to do with Jewish education?

Plenty,  it turns out. I’d like to share just two experiences with you:

1. Recently, a group of four synagogues wanted to brainstorm solutions for their Hebrew schools’ declining enrollment.  Among them, there are about 30 students in the 6th grade (daled) class.  The brief summary is that after several meetings they were unable to generate any alternatives. Why? Because each one did not want students to go to another location.   While discussions are still taking place, they did  agree to joint programming several times a year (locations to be determined).

2. Two synagogues down the road from each other recently joined efforts to create a ‘collaborative’ Hebrew High school, which sounds like a very good solution.  Because each one did not want students to ‘leave the building’ they alternate locations every six months.  The programming definitely seems creative.  At the outset this seems  like a terrific compromise between two ‘competing’ synagogues.  Except for the fact that less than 500 yards down the road sits a Jewish community high school. The school was never brought into the conversation, and the conversations leading to this change were facilitated by the community’s Jewish education agency.

Based on the study Pink quotes, he recommends disassociating ourselves from the problem when trying to solve it.  How would this work in the Jewish community?  How would the scenarios above play out differently? What if we could really think creatively?


Non-Day School Jewish Teens: Orphans in the Field?

photo courtesy of ePublicist

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Almost every day I experience a huge disconnect between my reality and the world of foundations and philanthropy.  

I would like someone to take note that the Jewish community consists of more stakeholders than students at  Jewish day schools and summer camps. 

 I am not always in the mood to respond, but I have to, because I believe that I’m speaking for those who are not speaking for themselves: Jewish teens who are not attending day schools.   

Really, do any teens, let alone Jewish teens, need someone to speak out on their behalf? Since when are teens quiet? On the contrary,  teens are usually outspoken and full of comments about everything

But it’s not their job to keep up with the Jewish educational world, it’s mine.  So, I apologize if this post seems redundant and quite similar to things you’ve read before.  I am not dropping this issue, even if it means no one will read about it any more.

I do need to advocate for the thousands of Jewish teens out there that are not currently enrolled in day school.  I think day schools are a fine option for those families who have made that choice.  As Jewish educators we generally believe in the ‘more is better’ axiom. 

But for those teens who have opted for a different educational setting, there is little attention/money/support paid to them.

This is how my online experience usually goes: I might get a Google Alert. Or I read about a new program/initiative/study/ that is usually directed toward day school students/Jewish camps/Israel trips. 

For example, today I read about a great program, supported the Legacy Heritage Fund Limited, that along with Yeshiva University, places young and innovative teachers in day schools and mentors them for a few years with workshops, additional training opportunities, and other support systems. 

This is a great idea, no?  Who would say that such a thing is not necessary?  It is what the Jewish community should be doing to support young and motivated educators so that they stay connected to the Jewish community and act as role models for those yet in school.

Okay, so here is how I see it:  there are thousands of students in supplementary Jewish high schools, and many who graduate in twelfth grade are teaching in those same schools when they get to college.  The harsh reality, is that most receive very little support and/or mentoring.  Often, they leave after just a few years, burnt out and never to return. 

These are often the best, brightest, and most Jewishly committed students who may have held regional board positions in their youth groups, may have chosen to attend Jewish camps for the summer, and may have been on several Israel trips.  Their downfall is that they haven’t attended a Jewish day school. 

Sometimes I get tired of sounding  the same note in an unbroken melody post after post.  One thing hasn’t changed: the number of American Jewish students attending Jewish day schools outside the ultra-Orthodox community has barely budged, yet the Jewish community has not re-oriented itself. This has been reported in numerous places.  Even Michael Steinhardt was quoted as saying that the lack of growth in the day school population is “sad, sad, sad.”

So, what do I want? I want these Jewishly committed teens to get the attention they deserve. Do we really think we’re building community by not paying attention to these ‘orphans’ in the Jewish educational field?

 

How Jewish Youth Go About Repairing the World

A report came out recently detailing the volunteer activities of Jewish young adults.  Some interesting facts emerge:

The good news  is that a large percentage of these young adults are participating in community work at a rate of  up to 86% depending on denominational and identity factors.  Also, over three-quarters of them are involved in civic activity. 

The bad news? Most of the volunteering takes place infrequently and is episodic.

Though the population examined is “young adults” my own experience with teens mirror these two findings.  So many students have told me about their “mitzvah project” in the year leading up to and including the Bar/Bat mitzvah year. 

They see  the experience as an obligatory ‘check off’ on the list of tasks they need to accomplish and perhaps talk about from the podium.  A small minority might even get local press about their efforts.  Few, if any, continue the practice beyond the mandated time. 

I don’t disagree with the idea that service is a value to be pursued, but if we desire different results, we need to examine the process of how we engage these young teens.  It may be that the launch of these volunteer projects in tandem with this Jewish rite of passage feels a bit forced. 

It is interesting to note that according to the survey, young Jewish adults don’t even know about volunteer opportunities in the Jewish community, and feel that Jewish organizations do not address the causes that are most relevant for them.  Wow.  In addition, it seems that Jewish values are not the prime motivators for their decisions, but rather universal values are.  This is not a bad thing, but if Jewish identification is what we’re after when we pitch  doing ‘mitzvahs’, then we are missing a big opportunity.


“The Truth About Youth”: What we can Learn

The world in mosaic tiles, courtesy of Genista.

I recently visited a blog on manufacturing (not my usual topic for browsing) because it featured information on a study of 7000 teens worldwide conducted by the McCann Worldgroup, a leading global marketing communications company. 

I was immediately intrigued.  Wow, this organization (even if for marketing and branding purposes) decided to put a whole lot of effort into surveying teens and the importance they place on values. 

This study, called “The Truth About Youth”  by one of the world’s largest marketing communications networks, is easy reading at 20 pages, and you may want to check it out.  Granted, missing for me are more details: how the survey was conducted, a copy of the survey measure, how respondents were contacted, age/country breakdown and more, but after all, this was a marketing study not research for a dissertation.  I’ll take what information I can get. 

In this post, I’ll comment about only a few of the findings.  One: “We’ve seen the emergence of a generation with fundamental commonalities that transcend borders.  The same three motivations are ranked highly in every country (emphasis mine):

Commune: the need for connection, relationships and community

Justice: the need for social and personal justice, to do what’s right, to be an activist

Authenticity: the need to see things as they are.”  p.3

For non-profit groups working with teens, this information is affirming.  Teens need to connect to a larger purpose across multiple levels, and we need to be upfront and honest in our dealings with them and with the information they receive.  In a non-profit educational environment, we are not only providing a service, but our youth really need us to reach out and offer them opportunities to connect in these meaningful ways. 

I’d like to hear your responses, and what programs might respond to these needs.


Jewish Programs that Miss the Mark

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last month a new blog  from the Mandel Center for Jewish studies at Brandeis University said  that ” Some of the most talented, passionate and deeply knowledgeable members of the Jewish community do not have the opportunity to share their passions and knowledge.  We have not linked the silos, smoothing the path for young Jews from our schools or synagogues to find  Jewish studies experiences when they arrive in college.”(italics mine).

The irony here, is that there are so many silos to be linked! The author was talking about academicians connecting with college students and announced a new program to meet that need.  It sure sounds like a great idea, but why stop there?  When thinking about silos within the Jewish community, the list is so much more extensive.  Specifically, the lack of programming for entering college students is gargantuan.  Is there a way to be pro-active and link those silos before students actually get to campus?

We need to create programs that connect college students to the greater Jewish community before (or when) they arrive in their college town. What about developing mentorship programs for Jewish studies majors who are interested in working in the Jewish community?  How about creating support systems for the hundreds of college students working in synagogues as teachers and youth group advisors?  Shouldn’t this be a priority? 

We need to develop an internet-internship hub for students majoring in business, marketing, and non-profit management ( a partial list of relevant majors) so motivated students can find placements in Jewish organizations.

Briefly, we need to worry about the big picture and not just one remedy–and more than just linking silos, we need to craft a web of connectedness.

We should be planning out an entire meal instead of focusing on the appetizers.  As  Jewish non-profit organizations we often take an a la carte approach to issues, hoping that a ‘quick fix’ will suffice. Since non-profits can’t get funding for what we really need (the whole meal) we try to get by with discrete programs (appetizers) and hope that will satiate the hunger.  

A co-worker of mine says “We’re not that rich to be so cheap!”  when frugal solutions are used instead of  a more costly but durable option.  Patchwork programs work in similar ways, tricking us into thinking the problem is solved.

So, why be content with tapas tastings? Because for the moment, it stays the hunger–which makes us feel a lot better.

But really, we’ve missed the mark.