Posts Tagged ‘Federation 2.0’


A Chanukiyah of Predictions for 2010

December 13, 2009

December is the time of the secular year where we look backward and forward – making best-of lists and summarizing our prognostications for the future.  While many faiths join together for revelries related to the secular new year, for Jews it is also the season to recall the value of perseverance and faith in collective Jewish endeavors, as well as the unexpected miracles that we encounter along the way.  So in the spirit of the new year but nevertheless inspired by how one ancient prediction regarding a small vessel of oil gave rise to the miraculous tale of eight nights of luminescence, here are eight predictions for the coming twelve months of 2010:

1.   The new “I” word is… Imagination.  If 2009 was the year when the newness of Jewish innovation became more widely discussed (or perhaps, debated) as a substantial aspect of Jewish communal development, it was also the year where innovation as a term became, well, old news. Yes, there are important discussions to be had about the role of entrepreneurs and ‘in-treprenuers’ in the world of Jewish organizations, but innovation alone cannot change communities.  Imagination, however, can create new ways for communities to collectively view their futures without getting bogged down in semantics.  I predict that in 2010 we will find more and more local communities leveraging the imagination of their members out of both necessity and desire, and that as we give our communities permission to imagine, we will create futures burning even brighter than we can anticipate.

2.   The Overseas Case Goes into Overdrive. For people who expect to only hear about the budget challenges facing primary overseas partners of US philanthropy – the Jewish Agency for Israel and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, my prediction is that while people might hear some of what they expect, they will also hear the unexpected.  Both organizations are in the midst of engaging new generations of leadership and deploying new tactics to engage supporters. JAFI’s Global Leaders Forum,   impactful foray into tweeting, and re-energizing initiatives like the new Jewish Peoplehood Hub created in partnership with the Nadav Fund and UJA-Federation of New York give reason for great optimism for the future of JAFI.  Similarly anticipate great ideas being implemented by JDC’s nextgen professional leadership in 2010, continuing that organization’s vital role in helping Jews worldwide in new and impactful ways.

3.   The Educational Affordability Crisis. The past eighteen months have given those who care about Jewish education a great amount of concern, and for good reason.  Enrollment has declined as parents who were already struggling to meet high tuition costs decided to opt-out all together in the wake of the Great Recession; and unfortunately statistics tell us that families drop out, the generally don’t come back.  Even though organizations like PEJE have already been proactively convening discussions on the issue of the changing economy,  I predict in 2010  we will be forced to squarely face one of the greatest and most urgent challenges of contemporary Jewish life – making a high quality Jewish day school education affordable to every Jewish family who wants to provide that education to their children. It is time for bolder local and national solutions, and I believe 2010 is when our realization of the crisis will inspire great solutions.

4.   Jewish media continues to transform… for the better.  In addition to the ancient content of our heritage, there is great new Jewish content emerging, from sites about arts, culture and education (Tablet Magazine and, to thought-provoking online journals and magazines (such as Sh’ma and Lilith) and of course philanthropic resources such as eJewish Philanthropy. While different in content, all of these resources and countless others have the potential to continue to transform national and local Jewish dialogue. I predict that in 2010 as we see more and more local Jewish newspaper come under financial pressure we will see a substantial migration of eyeballs to online media and resources. Moreover, we will find that those resources rise to meet the challenge of delivering high-quality content. 2010 will a defining year for online Jewish media, and you will read all about those transformative changes… online.

5.   J Street, AIPAC and AJC: Separate, but Civil. Some predictions are more aspirational than others, and perhaps this is one of those predictions. But I believe that in 2010 the Iranian crisis will force J Street, AIPAC, AJC, and others to recognize that even with their differences, their coordination on some issues will be important to strengthening an securing the US-Israel relationship for the challenging days ahead.  I predict (hope?) we will see high level leadership and dialogue that builds bridges in relationships and influence to achieve results.  To do so however, J Street needs to continue to mature as an organization and AIPAC and AJC will need to recognize that their big tents may need to get a bit bigger. 2010 is not the year for deepening division among advocates for Israel; it must be a year for closing those divides as much as possible.

6.   Microfundraising goes… big. The patterns of how people contribute online will change more in 2010 than the past several years combined.  As more and more local organizations provide opportunity for online giving, donor designation and project funding, more and more donors will choose to make their charitable contributions in more specific ways.  In addition, organizations like JGooders will enable local initiatives to have more direct pathways to global donors. I predict what once was a concierge service for wealthy donors with philanthropic funds will become the conventional wisdom in 2010, leveraging technology to make that wisdom reality.

7.   Emphasis on Outcomes. Given the new focus on microfundraisng, organizations will need to be more focused on measuring and communicating results. While many larger organizations have already invested heavily in outcome measurement strategies, there will be a real push in 2010 for all non-profit organizations to become outcome-focused by understanding the taxonomy of their outcomes.  As resources stay scarce, results will be the key differentiators.  Those organizations that can demonstrate their effectiveness quantitatively will have the edge.  Expect to see more and more organizations retooling themselves both with board resources and technology to enable them to get that edge… and ultimately get those elusive dollars.

8.   There will be magic in the Magic Kingdom. Even though the 2009 General Assembly just recently concluded, I predict that the 2010 General Assembly of Jewish Federations of North America (to be held in Orlando) will truly be one of the most significant gatherings of American Jewry in the past 20 years. With new leadership now in place and new energy percolating across the system, I predict that GA10 will bring together more people in more collaborative discussions than ever before, and that before, during and after the GA people will recognize the impact that that conference will have on the next 20 years of Jewish life.  A successful GA will also cap a year where a reenergized Federation system emerges as a renewed force in modernizing Jewish philanthropy… and that is no Mickey Mouse prediction.

So there you have it – eight predictions for the next twelve months. While some of those predictions may very well require miracles, I think that we will find 2010 is a year that exceeds our expectations. And just like the shamash is the service candle for each of the other candles in the chanukiyah, in 2010 each of us will have the responsibility to be the shamash in lighting our own predictions and aspirations for the days ahead. Let us be those shamashes together, and may 2010 be even brighter than we imagine. Chanukah Sameach!


Itta Dozntmatter about Federation 2.0: A Response

May 31, 2009

“As an essayist I don’t believe in the fiction of an anonymous observer. Rather than the sham of objectivity, I think you should put your perspective up front. That’s only fair to the reader.” – Ralph Wiley

One of the most fascinating aspects of writing a blog is the nature of the comments that one receives after a post.  Generally after I post a new essay I receive several comments, some of which are publicly posted to the blog and some of which are emailed to me directly. Oftentimes the comments via email are done in such a manner because the commentator for one reason or another would prefer a direct conversation (or observation) as opposed to a more public contribution to a discussion I am proposing. In each of those cases I have kept (and will always keep) those email conversations confidential. I also have not (and will not) share feedback I receive without permission.  My feeling is that I am not a reporter with anonymous sources, nor is this blog a conduit for me to refract or reframe the comments of others in a manner of my choosing.  This blog reflects my own thoughts;  those who choose to join a conversation can do so publicly via the comment function or with me directly.

However, just as I respect the desires of those who wish to remain confidential when they contact me, I do not provide a forum on my blog for “anonymous” comments. When I receive comments that come from a source that is identifiable, I post them regardless of content and without edit.  When the comment comes from an anonymous email address or a disguised one, I do not post it publicly.  However, since I have not made this practice clear, I have posted the one recent anonymous comment I have received (since it was intended to be public), but going forward I will not post anonymous comments.

The first (and last) anonymous post on my blog is from a commentator named “Itta Dozntmatter” who wrote from an anonymous email address.  Itta (for lack of another name) posted an anonymous comment to my recent Federation 2.0 post and the comment (in its entirety) is as follows:

“Seth –

Are you working with anyone to accomplish this or are you just sitting back spewing ideas and waiting for someone to ask you to actually get your hands dirty? Stop writing, stop pontificating and actually produce a product and put your words into action. You are beginning to sound like the boy who cried wolf!”

Itta – as I do with everyone who contacts me about the blog, I want to thank you. First for reading the blog (I still marvel that people take the time to do so), and second for taking the time to comment. But moreover, you raise a good question, an interesting suggestion and a much-appreciated observation. I will address all three via the blog (since I don’t have your email to contact you directly).

1.    “Are you working with anyone to accomplish this or are you just sitting back spewing ideas and waiting for someone to ask you to actually get your hands dirty?” Itta – the answer to your question is yes to the first part and no to the second part.  As my peers here in Atlanta know (and as a cursory review of my bio would suggest) I am actively engaged inside the “established” Jewish community advancing many of the ideas that I suggest on this blog. I am always careful to note that the ideas in this blog are my own and are not intended to reflect the views of any particular organization. But make no misstate, as while serving as Vice Chair of the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta and as an engaged member of the Atlanta Jewish community, I actively speak about and advocate many of the ideas I discuss here.  I think there are numerous change agents in my own community (and elsewhere) that also share many of my same views, and as they contact me we begin to develop even more coordinated discussions about some of the actions I propose. So yes, I am working with others, but not nearly as many as I need. There is a reason I openly post my email – I welcome others to contact me to join a very important discussion in process.

As to the second part of your question, no I am not waiting for someone to ask me to get my hands dirty, I am asking others to get their hands dirty with me.  Contact me and be willing to be part of a group in Atlanta that helps create Federation 2.0 in our community (because I believe the Federation professionals are willing to create that vision hand in hand with local change agents).  But for those not in Atlanta, also contact me and be willing to be part of a national working group of change agents that work in support of a renewed Federation movement (as oppose to working to only eulogize it). And Itta, I would be delighted to have an open conversation about what “getting our hands dirty” means – even if we have different views, I am certain we would agree that the more hands getting dirty the better.

2.    “Stop writing, stop pontificating and actually produce a product and put your words into action.” So I am not certain that stopping writing is the best suggestion, and I very much try not to pontificate. But the idea of producing a product is one that I very much agree with, which is why I wrote and published Federation 2.0: Reimagining the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta.  It has plenty of observations, but plenty of actionable steps too. I continue to use that document as a blueprint for many of the actions I believe we need to take locally and nationally, and Itta – I welcome you and others to take that paper, find a piece of it that resonates with you, and lets’ get to work. A committee of one is not very productive, and a voice with no chorus is not very loud. As I now work to develop the local and national working groups that I propose, I am hoping that many of my words and ideas do get converted into actions. But as I am fond of saying, in this kitchen we need more chefs, not less.  Yes, I would like to see the changes I am proposing, but not to the exclusion of change others are seeking. Federation 2.0 isn’t intended to be only my vision, it is intended to be a model in which my vision, your vision and other individuals’ visions of the Federation movement are all shared, evaluated and implemented.  But before we implement tactics, we need to develop a strategy, and before we develop the strategy we need to identify some common principles of what our renewed movement will look like and feel like. The development of those principles comes from a discussion.  And a discussion is the very first action we need to take, but it needs to be an expeditious and inclusive action.  Sometimes I feel like I am having a one way conversation, I would be delighted if you joined me in this first action step, and then each of the action steps that follows.

3.    “You are beginning to sound like the boy who cried wolf!” Itta – thank you, that is good feedback. One of the hardest parts about writing a blog is the development and refinement of voice. To who am I writing and why am I writing at all? These questions vex me often when I sit down to write. Equally challenging is knowing how my voice is heard and interpreted – am I seen as a thoughtful critic that believes in the Federation movement but concerned that it has been transformed into a “system”?  I hope so. Am I a person who likes combining my experiences (good and bad) with ideas in my head in a thoughtful way then transforming those thoughts into action?  I am.   Do I always get the balance right?  Probably not. In the words of Whitman, I contain multitudes, and this blog reflects many (but not all) of them. You are telling me I am beginning to sound shrill, and that is important to know. Even if that opinion is not universally shared, I am certain it is shared by others. And it is a good reminder to me that I need to continue to develop my voice, and balance my thinking with doing.  But one disagreement – unlike the story about the boy that cries wolf, I am not lying – there really is a wolf. It is called apathy and it is already scattering much of the flock.

Lastly, I am fascinated by the anonymous name you chose for yourself.  As it is written, the name we make for ourselves says a great deal about who we are, what we do and how people perceive us. I write this blog under my name because I am hopeful of change I propose and I believe that my thoughts and words matter in helping create change, as will my actions.

I don’t know what your name is – you say Itta Dozntmatter.

My name is Seth Cohen – and I say it does.


(Not) Waiting for Godot: Five Steps Toward Federation 2.0

May 25, 2009

“ESTRAGON:  (giving up again).  Nothing to be done.

VLADIMIR: (advancing with short, stiff strides, legs wide apart). I’m beginning to come round to that opinion. All my life I’ve tried to put it from me, saying Vladimir, be reasonable, you haven’t yet tried everything. And I resumed the struggle.”

Any fan of Samuel Beckett (or individuals with a passing knowledge of theater) will know those lines as the opening lines of “Waiting for Godot,” one of the most intriguing (and debated) plays of the modern era.  Notwithstanding its acclaim and endurance, questions continue to be asked about the message Beckett was trying to convey. Who was Gadot? And in the event he arrived (which he never does), what would happen?

Over the past few weeks the “Godot” question has plagued me, but for a different reason. As the conventional Jewish communal calendar comes to its summer recess, there is still a substantial question raised by many (including me in my previous posts): what is the future of the Federation movement?  For much of the Jewish world, this is a marginal question (at best) and increasingly an irrelevant question (at its most dangerous); but for those who have busied themselves with wondering about this future aloud, there tends to be a recurring and Godot-esque response: “let’s wait and see what the next leadership does when she/he arrives.”

Here is my suggestion: let’s not wait for Godot.

If we are truly in the window of opportunity to reframe and renew one of our most central, enduring, and impactful modern Jewish movements, then we can’t rely merely on the arrival of a professional CEO or the engagement of new volunteer leadership. We need to take significant, broad-ranging and constructive actions (not just budget cuts) to bring Federation 2.0 into being.  And we need lots of participants in this endeavor, participants that are not satisfied waiting for change, but participants who want to create change.

We have not been at such a fundamental inflection point in the Federation movement for decades. Not to slight the many years of merging, restructuring and strategizing, but those were inflection points tied to reorganizing the Federation system. What I am writing of is reimagining the Federation movement. Once the movement is reimagined, we can then begin the process of converting our system to meet the vision of a renewed movement.

However, to look forward, we can use wisdom by looking to our past. At one of the our movement’s great moment of inflection, at the 1969 General Assembly, Rabbi Hillel Levine, then a student, spoke of being part of the “children of timelessness” who nevertheless want to “participate in building the vision of a great Jewish community.”
In what could easily pass as something being heard in 2009, Levine said in 1969 “we don’t want commissions to ‘explore the problems of youth.’”  Rather, he stated, “we do want to convert alienation into participation, acrimony into joy – the joy of being possessors of a great legacy – a legacy which has meaning for today.”

In similar spirit, it is time again to bring forward the great legacy of the Federation movement in America to have relevance today. And we don’t have time to wait. We need to act, and act swiftly.

In personal hindsight, eighteen months ago when I first started circulating the white paper titled Federation 2.0: Reimagining the Federation of Greater Atlanta, I made (at least) two mistakes. One, I relied on thoroughness over brevity, making the action plan too lengthy and detailed to make it actionable. And second, I encouraged talk rather than action. Learning from my experiences I now propose, in brief form, specific action steps for bringing Federation 2.0 into reality and helping us all take possession of the great legacy that awaits us.

1.   Refrain from placing blame about the status of Federation 1.0. There are many who would be quick to compose a laundry list  (privately and publicly) of all those who are to blame for the current state of the Federation system and constituent Federations. Where does that get us?  It is an empty endeavor that does not hasten the development of Federation 2.0, and traffics more in institutional memory than impassioned creativity.  The blame game is destructive and dividing, and our endeavor to move forward is weakened by both. Regardless of how our opinions may differ, our endeavors should be based on kavod and the language we should use with one another should be language worthy of our endeavor. Let’s leave the ‘I and thou’ to Buber and focus on the “we and us” While actions matter, language does as well.

2.    Engage our legacy. How many smart women and men have been engaged in the Federation movement only to eventually find their passion and engagement waning for one reason or another?  Locally and nationally we need to reach out to the disaffected and disenchanted, we need to harness their memory to help create a different future. And not only people, we need to remember some of our texts. Not just religious texts, but communal texts. Levine’s speech, Rabbi Herb Friedman’s book, Heschel’s essays on radical amazement – the history of our movement and the ideas of our people should inspire us to recall our mission even as we reimagine our approach.

3.    Open source our ideas. In the few short years I have been engaged in Jewish communal leadership I have been amazed at the insight and creativity inside of both career social workers and emerging social entrepreneurs. In reimaginging the Federation movement, we cannot engage only those that meet certain experience levels and donor status, we need to engage passionate Jews at in all stages and interests. We need to open up the discussion broadly, energetically, imaginatively, and audaciously. We need to use social media tools, virtual town halls and in-person listening tours we need to move swiftly, but not by being exclusive in our discussions. Yes, there is always a place for focused discussions of our most generous supporters, but as I discussed in the Federation 2.0 white paper, we need to make sure that we do not forget that the base is broader than the pinnacle and our movement is one of many, not few.

4.   Create a national Federation 2.0 working group. This is not just a New York City project, and with apologies, it is not just Chicago, Boston, Atlanta, and Los Angeles’ project either. It is not just a “Big City” project and it is not jut an executive committee project. It is a national project. It will require input from Seattle and Savannah, Providence and Pittsburgh.  We will need engaged leaders from all over the nation to commit to a discussion where we frame a national agenda for the Federation movement. This working group is not inside out or outside in, but a true partnership between those inside the system and those outside of it.  An agenda should be set for discourse, but with a goal towards answers. This working group should be self identified immediately, and begin its work immediately, with substantial discussion having occurred by November.

5.    Utilize the 2009 General Assembly as a forum for the debate and adoption of a renewed agenda and approach for the national Federation movement. Forty years have passed since that 1969 GA, and it is time that we engage in a discussion and debate of the magnitude we had then.  UJC should reframe the GA in the context of a great national debate, and rather than recognizing ribbons we should look to rigorously debate a national agenda for our movement. Call it “GA 2009: Reframing, Reimagining, and Renewing our Movement.” Cut the attendance cost and bring people of all backgrounds and ages to be part of the discussion.  Create nationwide conversations during the same days for those that can’t come to Washington (and nationwide plenaries via national teleconferences and webcasts).  Then, at the conclusion of the GA, adopt an agenda and national approach that is bold and imaginative. Create working groups for that agenda to continue the national dialogue and to keep us accountable regarding our approach. And let our movement once again spread across the country energetically from the bottom up, not the top down.

So there you have it, five actionable steps for the development of Federation 2.0. Yes, we still need leadership to arrive and yes, we should have high expectations of her/him.  But we cannot wait for Godot.  As that play ends…

“VLADIMIR: Well, shall we go?
ESTRAGON: Yes, Let’s Go.”

We too must go – go forward.  Who’s ready?


Memo to the (Federation) File: Think Differently

August 13, 2008

One of the things I have realized in posting some of my thoughts on my blog is that different topics generate dramatically different levels of interest.  Of course that is to be expected – some topics just don’t resonate with a diverse audience. What has surprised me however is the number of visits and emails I receive related to those posts about UJC or local Federations.  It appears that for as many people there are that are frustrated about the “system,” there are as many, if not more people that care enough to read about it, to write about and to work  (in a constructive way) towards positive change within it.  And as my recent posts on the UJC search committee and young leadership cabinet structure have reminded me, when people find a voice that shares a common concern, they are more likely to lend their voice to the chorus, hopefully in a constructive manner.

So keeping that in mind, as a regular part of the blog (and as an effort to consolidate some of my thoughts on the topic) occasionally I am going to post what I am going to call a “memo to the file” about a topic relating to the state combined Jewish philanthropy and the organizations that work to that end.   While I suspect those posts will not necessarily interest the small number of regular readers of this blog (Mom, Dad, thank you!), by posting the “memos to the file” I will be able to flag those posts that may be of interest for those who might not otherwise be interesting in my personal noodling on Jewish communal life.  And it gives me a channel to be constructive, while also being thoughtfully critical.  Hence…

Memo to the (Federation) File #1: Think Differently

In reaction to our increasingly branded world, I suppose it was inevitable that we would endeavor to brand the combined philanthropic experience and (at least cosmetically) reduce the essence of our efforts to a memorable catch phrase.  I realized this yesterday as I was sitting in my law firm’s United Way planning meeting when we were advised to use the United Way slogan “Live United” in our campaign.  Of course it got me thinking about our national UJC/Federation branding of “Live Generously” and how that slogan represents the way donors are approached by Federations.  And what I think is this –

Catchy, but not convincing.

First of all, although the slogan’s strength comes from  its normative message, that message is also its inherent weakness.  While we often need to be assertive in our approach to engaging Jews philanthropically – we need to meet them in the way they are currently living at the same time we are inspiring them how to live.  Living generously sounds great, but what are they doing now? If they are not giving, are they not generous? If they are generous but not through Federations are they not living generously (or maybe merely living united)?  By being normative we run the risk of excluding as much as we are inspiring. We need to strike the right balance in the way we think and act in response how Jews perceive the slogan.

Second, by shrinking the essence of the message into a catchphrase, we lose a critical word – Jewish. Look again at the slogans above. “Live Generously” vs. “Live United” – just based on those two phrases, how would you differentiate which one is the Jewish organization’s message? Maybe by process of elimination since the “Live United” slogan incorporates part of the United Way’s name.  But even in our catchy slogan, shouldn’t we hit on a Jewish theme?   I mean, isn’t that the essence of our efforts?   Don’t we want them to think Jewishly when they are living generously?

Now I understand there are reasons why slogans are helpful, and this memo to the file is not an effort to diminish their value, but merely demonstrate their limitations.  “Live Generously” is good marketing, but it is not sufficient messaging. We need to do better in our messaging, and that doesn’t come from a catch-phrase or a slogan, but a whole lot more.

So let me humbly propose a new slogan that we start to use within our system when it comes to messaging, engaging and interacting Jews to live generously:

Think Differently.

We need to think differently about ways to embrace new strategies to massage to potential donors/philanthropists while we continue to leverage those tried and true strategies that are effective with existing donors. If caucuses work for a certain group of individuals, great, but if impulse campaigns work for another group, or another generation, let’s use those too.  Let’s embrace new media, but not as a cosmetic approach to covering up our lack of new thinking. Let’s recognize service donors in a meaningful way so that when they do have financial capacity they become financial donors. Let’s imagine the new ways of engaging young leadership while still maintaining the effective way young leadership cabinet does it currently.  Let’s evaluate our campaign strategies and donor management strategies not to point fingers, but to point out the holes that need to be filled and the opportunities that need to be realized. We need to meet our youngest donors at their critical stages in their Jewish Journeys, not with a card, but with an experience and a smile, a book or a blessing. We need to meet them at different places and in different ways.  We need to think differently, and then act differently too.

Transformational thinking doesn’t result from just thinking about the same things in different ways. It comes from thinking about different things in different ways.  So even while we review and revise our existing approaches to engaging people Jewishly and generously, we also need to think through and embrace those different ideas proposed by different people.  That transformational approach will create transformational experiences and transformational results in our Jewish community.

So perhaps in the end, the “Live Generously” slogan has its benefits, even from an internal messaging perspective.  It reminds us each day, on every email and every piece of marketing material what the goal is  – to get more people to live generously in a Jewish way to make a Jewish impact.

But to get to the goal we will need to do something else:

Think Differently.


The Search and the Searchers

August 4, 2008

As an involved volunteer in a major-city Federation, the news of the succession planning for next year’s departure of Howard Rieger as CEO of UJC reached me almost as soon as the news was publicly announced. And with that announcement came the simultaneous news that a search committee would be promptly convened to create a seamless transition. Now for much of the Jewish world, this wasn’t news. Howard Rieger was likely not even a name they were familiar with. But for those who are involved with UJC or otherwise pay attention to these sorts of things, this was big news.

The search is on.

The search for what you may ask?  Well, not necessarily the search for a strategic vision – that is already in process.  And not the search for more dollars, for that search is always in process.  This is the search for a new leader that will be able to invigorate both of the aforementioned searches and the organization that houses them. With new leadership comes new opportunities.  Mr. Rieger brought his own brand of each, and the next leader will bring his/her own opportunistic vision.  And given the state of UJC, this is an important time and an important search.

As the search commences, I am reminded of one of my favorite lines in the 1956 John Wayne movie “The Searchers.” In that movie, when getting ready to lead the charge into the Comanche camp, Reverend Clayton (Ward Bond) yells ”Brethern, we must go among them!”

And go among “them” is exactly what the UJC search committee must do.

Who is the “them” I reference? I mean the Jews of North America.  I mean the national and international Jewish leadership. I mean the next generation of professional staff as much as I mean the large-city executive directors. I mean the campaign workers, the donors, the rabbis, the social entrepreneurs, the students, the bloggers and the artists. I mean the highly engaged and the relatively unengaged. The “them” is as broad as the constituencies of our Jewish communities. The “them” is all of us.

But that isn’t the only suggestion I have for the UJC search committee. So in my own small and not so influential way, I have a few suggestions to UJC leadership comprising the search committee.

1.    Look outside the system. I never cease to be amazed by the wealth of excellent community professionals we have in our local and national Jewish communities. And we have some true luminaries. I don’t know most of them, but I read what they right or hear what they say, and they are impressive. Not so impressive that they shouldn’t be challenged or otherwise questioned by volunteer leadership, but nonetheless impressive. They run Federations in large cities and small and they are also the foot soldiers in those communities as well. They have a lot to offer, and like Stephen Hoffman and now Howard Rieger, they bring an insider’s view to an organization rife with insiders.

Butt here’s the rub. When you only look at insiders, you risk the perpetuation of an insider mentality. Such an insider CEO, while adding their own unique vision of a new CEO, never can fully break out of the perspective they gained from the system they rose up in. How many Federation executives started in Cleveland, Chicago, Baltimore or Pittsburgh?  How many have passed through those cities on their way to more senior jobs? And how much of the vision of all of these professionals have been developed by similar experiences, challenges and successes?

That’s why we need to look outside. We need to look to executives in the Jewish world (profit and non-profit) who can bring a critical view to the state of UJC and its professional structure, its partnership arrangements and its national brand.  We need to find those visionary leaders that shift paradigms, and I don’t think they are all in the proximate circles of influence at in the UJC network. That is not to say they aren’t in there – they are. But they are outside that network as well. And we need to search for them.

2.    Find a visionary with help from the visionaries. When I was dreaming up my list of dream UJC search committee member it would include innovative business people like Sergey Brin at Google, Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook and Susan Decker at Yahoo. I would include people like David Lonner at William Morris and Steve Koonin at Turner, each who bring a creative and Jewish perspective to the table (and understands how to manage talent).  I would bring some wonderful rabbinic talent to the table like Robert Wexlerm David Stern, David Saperstein, Sharon Brous at IKAR and Mark Charendoff.   I would bring in some Jewish artists and writers as well – I mean, think about the perspective Michael Chabon and Matisyahu might lend when discussing the creative attributes the CEO of UJC must possess?

Now I don’t know any of those people, but I must believe that somebody somewhere in the UJC system knows each of those individuals. And while UJC might not be able to get them on a search committee, they should at least have the search committee spend some time with those individuals (or those types of individuals) to understand their perspective on leadership and vision, so that the search and be infused with those perspectives. That’s what this search should be about, not just a search for a CEO, a search for a visionary. And if seeking a visionary, doesn’t it make sense to seek help from visionaries?

3.    Transparency. Lastly, the search process should be inclusive, and most importantly, transparent to key stakeholders in the UJC system and the broader Jewish community Any hiring process needs to have elements that are confidential, but UJC is not a private company, so the process need not be too secretive. There needs to be a level of openness in the search process that allows stakeholders in the system (and aren’t we all stakeholders) to understand what UJC is seeking in its CEO and why. Just as the strategic vision of UJC needs to be open and transparent, so should the hiring of its chief visionary. Anything less would reinforce the view some have that UJC is clubby, insular and close-mined.

So let’s hope that the searchers go out among their brethren, seek the visionary leadership we need and be transparent about both.

Then they may truly find what they are searching for – a strong future for UJC, and an equally if not stronger future for our Jewish community.


A Comment on Cabinet

August 1, 2008

This week I am writing from upstate New York (and when I say upstate, I mean the Adirondacks, not Poughkeepsie). But in the past day or so I have received several emails from friends from Atlanta and elsewhere in Jewish America asking, “Why am I not here?”

Where is the “here” they are speaking of?

Scottsdale, Arizona, This year’s location for the yearly summer gathering of UJC Young Leadership Cabinet.

No thank you – at least not for now.

Now to be clear, I believe there is value in the Federation system (see my prior posts on the topic) and I believe bringing young leadership together to meet, connect, learn and discuss the future of the Jewish people is an important effort that we should be undertaking constantly. Unfortunately, I think the way Cabinet is currently structured falls far short in reinforcing its value to the Jewish people and unlocking the value in its participants.

So what would I do to fix it? A few thoughts.

Participants.  One thing that I think UJC needs to do to make Cabinet a more meaningful convergence of national young leaders is to open up the way UJC defines those young leaders in the first place. Right now, the criteria to attend/participate in Cabinet is a substantial commitment to Federation campaigns and a demonstration of leadership ability within the system. While criteria is different in various communities and the ‘Cabinet brand’ holds different sway in different quarters, there is one fundamental trait shared across all communities – you already have to be investing heavily within the UJC system, financially or otherwise to attend Cabinet.

Right there is the major challenge and limitation of Cabinet. While we say it is the Cabinet of the ‘united Jewish communities”, we are convening leaders who are within the system, not those exceptional leaders in our communities who are not “in the system.” For example, I know several individuals in Atlanta who give a multiple of the minimum Cabinet commitment to various Jewish organizations locally and nationally, but have not yet understood the value (or personally appreciated the value) of federated giving, so they are not eligible for Cabinet.  What a lost opportunity (for our communities and our campaigns) – to exclude these impactful young Jewish philanthropists from Cabinet because they are not yet “in the system.” And what about those young leaders involved in innovative change in our various religious communities. What about our best young teachers? Our most influential young writers/artists/bloggers? Why not welcome them as well?

If we want a Cabinet to represent a collection of individuals that truly represent the diversity of young Jewish America and infuse UJC with the ability to engage and harness next generation leadership, we need to invite different people to be part of cabinet. People who challenge one another from inside and outside the existing institutions of Jewish life. We need to reimagine cabinet participation.

Location. The biggest complaint I often hear about the Cabinet conference location is  ”beautiful resort, but really, really hot.” It is hard to empathize with those types of complaints, but having experienced Jewish retreats at beautiful resorts I can appreciate the value of taking individuals to a place where there is a fun and relaxing environment to develop relationships with one another. But Cabinet is more than a retreat, and we should treat is as such.

Why not have Cabinet conferences in communities that need a vibrant injection of young leadership thinking?  Why not set Cabinet conferences up so that, as part of the program, these young leaders fan out across the host community to meet with volunteer and professional leadership facing local challenges and opportunities.  Cabinet members can then share ideas and engage in groupthink about creative solutions for local problems, helping impact the host community as well as themselves.  What community wouldn’t want to help host 400 Jewish leaders who bring with them fresh eyes, fresh thinking and fresh energy? The social element of Cabinet could still be maintained, but we could make Cabinet as much of a concentrated service experience as it is a social and educational one.  Where we host Cabinet says as much about it as the individuals who participate.  If we are reimagining the participants, lets reimagine where they meet.

Vision.  Lastly, we need to reimagine what we expect to receive from Cabinet, We don’t need only engaged individual coming back to our communities with increased pledges to our annual campaigns, but we need innovative visions for the future of the Jewish people. We need them to walk out of their meetings with collective ways not just to transform Federation campaigns, but also to transform community institutions. We get some of that today, but we need a lot more.  Where are the concluding statements and commitments that are made at so many other assemblies of great leaders? Where are the action plans for national initiatives? We need those too – and not just UJC action plans and initiatives but community plans and initiatives.

In this week’s hafotrah, we week read selections from Jeremiah, and in particular Jeremiah’s transmission of God’s lament that “… My people have committed two evils; they have forsaken Me, the spring of living waters, to dig for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that do not hold water.”

With Cabinet, UJC and young Jewish leadership have powerfully responded to part of God’s lament as conveyed by Jeremiah – by caring enough to gather as a group and to recognize the importance of servicing and strengthening the Jewish people it is clear this significant group of you Jewish leaders (and the organization that hosts them) have not forsaken God or His people.

But we still have some work to do on the second part of the lament. While he have been provided the spring of living waters – in this case dynamic young Jewish leaders, by continuing to engage a Cabinet with a process in need of reimagination, we may be digging for ourselves broken cisterns that do not hold the water.

Lets us built a better Cabinet, a better cistern, to hold a lifeblood of the Jewish people – our current and future young leadership. And then next year, when my friends write to ask, “why am I not here,” the “here” will truly be a center of Jewish future. And I will hope to be there.

Shabbat Shalom.


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.