h1

Partners: Equity, Income and the Jewish Dilemma

July 30, 2008

A few years ago, as an associate in a AmLaw 100 law firm, I was consumed with the concept of partnership and how best I would be able to achieve the status of partner. Partnership seemed like a far and distant nirvana – once I got there everything would be wonderful and unencumbered by further desires to achieve a level of status.

Now, a few years later as a partner in that same firm, my naiveté is gone.  Partnership is not nirvana, far from it. It involves its own opportunities as well as challenges and it is filled with all sorts of issues and encumbrances that sometimes make associate life (in retrospect) look like nirvana.

Chief among the issues one faces as a partner in a law firm is the recognition of the fact that while we refer to ‘one partnership’ there are often two types of partners – equity partners and income partners.  For those law firms that distinguish between partners, each partnership arrangement varies in terms of the division of the rights, responsibilities and economics of the dual classes of partner. But fundamental in the division of the two is that equity partners have actual ownership equity in the partnership, while the equity partners do not. Accordingly, the ability to influence the partnerships decision-making and fundamental actions are often tied to whether one is an equity partner.  Nonetheless, on all other matters of course and in the day-to-day functioning of a firm, the distinction is rarely acknowledged and all the partners refer to one another as partners, regardless of partner status.

But on many firms, there is one fundamental impact of the distinction between equity partners and non-equity partners.  Non-equity partners recognize, inherently and oftentimes explicitly, that they are not true owners in the business.

And they act accordingly.

Now what does that mean?  Maybe they are less loyal to the firm when other opportunities arise.  Maybe they are less-likely to feel like they need to make investments in the firm (with time or money) than they otherwise would if they were equity partners. Perhaps they may even fall into the habit of using “us and them” language and acting as part of a group distinguished from those who have a deeper sense of ownership in the firm.

So why the essay on partnership?

Because it is a word we use in the Jewish community to describe almost every element of Jewish existence. We are in a partnership with God.  We are in a partnership with our spouse. We are in a partnership with others in the community. We are even in partnerships between organizations (Federations/affiliates), between communities (Partnership 2000) and between large centers of Jewish life (Israel/Diaspora). But in the context of our use of partnership in the community setting, we often miss a critical question.

Do Jews in our community think of themselves (and conversely, do we think of them) as equity partners or income partners in the broader Jewish partnerships that we seek to maintain? In other words, do they individually view themselves as owners in this great Jewish endeavor or are they of the opinion that they are one of the ‘others’ that are partners in the broader experience  (maybe benefiting from some ‘income’ of Jewish experience) but nonetheless distinct from those that truly have ownership in it?

My guess is that Jewish communal life has a lot of income partners that need to be transformed into equity partners. Just go read the blogs, talk to the unengaged or marginally engaged and look to the state of Jewish philanthropy at a grass-roots level The attitudes of income partners permeate Jewish life today.  There are plenty of Jews that truly believe they are in a partnership with Jews around the world, but they nevertheless inherently understand that global Jewish partnership to have levels of status and influence. They resist and challenge this community partnership structure, but ultimately their frustration only reinforces it.

Therefore we need to enable the transformation of our understanding of Jewish communal partnership on multiples levels and through multiple strategies.  We need to make sure Jewish life isn’t perceived to be owned only by its prime benefactors (whether it is Federations, foundations or other substantial philanthropists) but is truly understood to be owned by all of us.  We need to make sure Jews get a sense of ownership that transcends whether or not the send their children to day-school, go on Federation missions or give to Jewish causes,

And that desire for a sense of ownership must permeate each aspect of Jewish engagement, ranging from the language we use to the tactics we deploy. How telling is it that in many of our Jewish institutions volunteer leadership and other community members often are required to wear nametags that designate them as guest or visitors. Why not have name tags that identify these individual Jews as owners. They are aren’t they? Don’t we want them to think of themselves as owners – especially as owners of the future of their Jewish community?

When we move to a model where we are cultivating a sense of ownership at every level, everyone feels like they have some equity in the Jewish people. They are less likely to migrate away from the Jewish experience because they feel like it is THEIR experience, not somebody else’s experience they are just visiting. Their sense of partnership is truly deeper and they are unlikely to fall into the us/them dichotomy because there is only a great sense of ‘WE.’

And to that end, WE need to strengthen Jewish partnership on individual and communal levels. But we need to do so by cultivating the individuals to be impactful partners.  Ones who have a sense of ownership, not just income.

Because that makes all the difference.

Advertisements

One comment

  1. You don’t turn people into owners by slapping a name tag on them. You can’t cultivate a ‘sense’ of ownership unless there’s a true opportunity to own.

    The Federation model, and the model of many other Jewish institutions is what I like to call the Have, Need, Work Model. If you are a Federation pro, there are three categories of people you deal with. People who Have (your donors), people who Need (those who receive services from Federation orgs) and people who Work with you. The only owners in all this are the donors, and sometimes, your co-workers. Everyone else needs a ‘guest’ sticker.

    Until you overturn that model, why should anyone feel like an owner?



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: