Posts Tagged ‘Memo to the (Federation) File’


Memo to the Federation File: The New (Human) Capital Campaign

November 9, 2008

During the past few months, one can rarely avoid a discussion of the impact of the ongoing economic challenges facing many Americans.  Avoiding such conversations is even more rare in the hallways of nonprofit organizations that depend on the generosity of their donors to provide critical financial resources to address a variety of compelling needs.  These organizations that often struggle for funds even when times are good now find themselves in a time of dramatically increased need even while many of their supporters are more hesitant about their individual ability to give generously. Notwithstanding data that indicates that generosity does not diminish (and often increases) in times of great need, it is nevertheless clear that in these belt-tightening days that many people, when reconciling the numbers of diminishing 401(k) returns and increasing 501(c)(3) appeals, just can’t make the math work.

So these are long days and nights for fundraising campaigns – calls to donors are as much about friend-raising as they are fundraising, for just as there are many individuals who may offer a bit more financial help, there are those who reveal that they are in a bit more financial need.  And along with the greater demands to find financial resources to help those in that seek it, there will soon be challenges to be faced in ways that we haven faced domestically in perhaps generations. How our communities meet those challenges, and how we allocate the resources necessary to help overcome them will be defining questions for community leaders in the months and perhaps years ahead.

So it might seem odd that I would suggest that at this time of immense challenge that we focus on an immense opportunity to commence a new type of national Jewish communal campaign – a capital campaign of sorts, a human capital campaign.

Yes, we must continue and expand important financial appeals in our Jewish communities to serve local, national and overseas needs (we should not forget that the crippling effects of the global slowdown that impacts us at home has tremendous impact on the needs of vulnerable and at-need Jews in places like the former Soviet Union).  But we need to expect that for many individuals who are struggling to cope with their own personal financial challenges, engaging in acts of Jewish philanthropy may be an option that, for the time-being, must be left untaken.  Whether helping shore up their parents’ financial needs, struggling with their own limited ability to maintain synagogue memberships, day school fees or JCC dues, many Jews who would nonetheless like to remain engaged in the community may feel financially shut out.  In the face of these economic limitations, they may feel like what they have to offer the community is diminished, and therefore their engagement in the community should diminish as well.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. And the leaders of the organized Jewish community need to make sure that not only does the false perception of these individuals manifest themselves in our communities, but that we proactively take measures to seize the opportunity offered by those who want to find alternative ways to give back to their community.

Now is the time for us to engage in discussions with those who want to give time rather than money and capture their energies in ways that help us collectively face the challenges that confront us. Sure, many of our most vaunted professional leaders and long-time volunteers may be able to put the current challenges into perspective, but the emerging viewpoints and ideas of new volunteers and leadership will help us define pathways to future achievement.  Individuals who long invested in the community by writing checks may now find that being engaged in a volunteer leadership role is equally fulfilling. And then as economic times improve and they can more generously give once again, our communities will benefit from both time and money.

Therefore, I think right now is the time, an important time, to engage in a discussion of how we embark on the great Jewish human capital campaign.  A campaign with realizable goals locally and nationally for engaging new volunteers, and new volunteer leadership.  A campaign that does not diminish the value of giving financially to philanthropic endeavors, but one that reinforces the value of investing personal time in the organizations that pursue those endeavors.

Now this campaign would not be without its challenges.  Like any great effort that brings in new individuals to organizations and movements there are always questions of ability to integrate the new volunteers leaders into existing roles, to create new roles and opportunities for personal investment and to provide volunteers/leaders high quality experiences that reinforce their desire to give their time to the community.  These volunteers and leaders must be powerfully engaged, educated and empowered to effect change in our communities and help create new avenues of Jewish experience.  And they should have some fun.

Equal to the systemic challenges with respect to the new volunteers/leaders we need to anticipate challenges for our professionals. Many of our senior professional leadership have grown up in systems (most notably the federation system) that have not achieved much-needed and dramatic reengineering of core strategies related to volunteer engagement. Figuring out new ways to engage leaders and new ways to synthesize their strengths into existing organizations is no small task. And as many have realized, Jewish communal organizations are not necessarily bastions of adaptability – recruiting substantial numbers of new volunteers/leaders will require many organizations (and their professionals) to be responsive to the new ideas, approaches, and technologies – each which may be at odds with decades of organizational experience/tradition.

This human capital campaign needs to start at the bottom and at the top. We need new faces at our most basic committee levels in our local communities, and as I have suggested previously, we need new ideas at the top of our local and national organizations.  The human capital campaign is not narrowly focused or easily satisfied.  It requires fundamental changes in the way we recruit engaged Jews and the way we govern organizations that are led by them. We need to challenge old assumptions and embrace new visions. Even those visions that require resources we might not be able to collect in the coming days, months and perhaps even years. Because by encouraging and allowing those visions to take root, we will be harnessing the passions of visionaries who create them.  And when the financial resources are there to transform those visions into realities, the human capital campaign will infuse new life into these financial campaigns as well.

Yes, we face challenging times. And yes, in these challenging times we tend to monitor our campaigns closely – aspiring, stretching and achieving those goals we must achieve to address the needs we face. But lets not be too cautious lest we lose this opportunity to engage in a great new capital campaign  – a human capital campaign that seeks to benefit from the greatest resource of all – the hearts and minds of the Jewish people.


Memo to the (Federation) File: The Morning After – Way After

September 4, 2008

Recently I attended a Saturday evening social event hosted by the Young Leadership Council (YLC) of the Atlanta Federation. The theme was a Bar/Bat Mitzvah throwback party with all the accompaniments – mini hotdogs included (although it is hard to imagine many of the party-goes actually had Duran Duran played at the B’nai Mitzvah party, well… many people other than me).  Regardless of what role you believe Federation should have in community engagement, it is hard not to get excited about events like this… seeing hundreds of young Jewish professionals gathering in a social setting – talking, smiling and moving to the music. From the youngest to the oldest, there were diverse individuals with two overarching bonds – being Jewish and being together.

But more than the feeling – the fundamentals of the evening were solid. There was some subtle but good branding, although I suspect that the education messaging might have been lost on many of the attendees (at least after they had a few drinks).  And unlike the tendency at so many Jewish events, there was no “ask” other than to bring one or two items of canned or dried food for the local Kosher food pantry.  By the time my wife and I left the party (at the same time it seemed the more hip attendees were arriving) there was a 50-60 person line deep to get in.  Now you just don’t see that at many events where Federations convene young adults.  Rather than trying to have young Jews meet Federation on its terms, the Atlanta Federation was meeting them on their terms. In their part of town and in a way in which they wanted to be met, these Jews were being engaged in a personally relevant way. They might not have been educated about community, and they might not have been empowered to make change – but they were certainly engaged. And that is really exciting.

But unfortunately, that was the easy part.

The hard part is the planning, managing and evaluation of all that needs to happen after an event like the one I just described.  And the challenge is best captured in a comment that was made by a friend as we walked out of the party that evening.  Looking at the long line of waiting attendees, and with the ringing of the evening revelry in his ears, he turned to me and said “really great evening, but I wonder what will happen the morning after.”

Interesting question – but one that needs to be coupled with a section question:

Which morning after?

Certainly on the morning immediately following the engagement event certain things should happen. But I am not certain any of those things should be expected of the attendees. The community professionals need to use dynamic technologies to rapidly and responsibly follow-up with the attendees, with a thank- you email, a link to some of the evening’s photos (which become almost instantly ubiquitous on Facebook anyway), and even some upcoming events/opportunities (each of these activities were undertaken by the Atlanta Federation, which has continued to develop and refine its process on follow-up in a very effective manner).

However, the ‘morning after’ follow-up does not consist of just voicing thanks for the memories, but also communicating possibilities for future memories.  And just as critically, the ‘morning after’ is the time to continue planning and preparing for the future engagement moments that manifest on a personal and community level.  Because while the ‘night before’ might be a ‘Jewish moment’ –  we need to continue to recognize that the Jewish moments we create are not singular in nature, but moments that connect to other moments, and then others, and so on.  When we look at the engagement opportunities as Jewish moments (rather than ‘programming’) we begin to create both timely and timeless Jewish connections. And that is what Jewish engagement is about isn’t it?   Connecting Jews to the continuum of Jewish life, learning and experiences rarely occurs in just in one moment, but more often it takes many moments.  And many ‘morning afters.’

So that goes back to the earlier question: which ‘morning after’ should we wonder about?

We need to think hard about that question, because its answer will dictate the planning we make for future Jewish moments, and the way we will measure success.  If we think the very next morning after will result in more contributions, more bequests and more phone-a-than volunteers, then we will likely be disappointed.  Because the next morning after for many of those young Jews will be… well…sleeping in.   Brunch with friends. The things that young Jews do when they are not being engaged Jewishly – living their lives in the places and ways they want to live them. The next morning will not likely be a transformative moment in which the attendees suddenly have an epiphany about the value of Jewish philanthropy. They will not suddenly concern themselves with  the plights of Jews in the Former Soviet Union or in southern Israel.  They will not immediately become donors. And that is why the very ‘next morning’ after is the wrong morning on which we should focus.

The morning after we need to watch is that ‘morning after’ in the future, not too soon but not too far. In that future ‘morning after’ we may find that the Jewish moment at the dance club led to another Jewish moment in which a Jewish romance was kindled. Or perhaps it led to a moment where an opportunity for a Jewish service experience was communicated and realized, all because of a follow-up emails.  Maybe that night at the club put in motion a series of moments where individuals ultimately begin to explore Jewish community with Jewish friends, start Jewish families with plans for Jewish children, and begin to give back with Jewish hearts and generosity.   Maybe there were many Jewish moments and many ‘morning afters’ – all leading to the one morning after in which the efforts are realized in a sense of engagement and connection that, in turn, helps create new moments for others.

So back to the party I attended – it is a fair to ask the question about what we will find the morning after, but it is equally as important to ask which ‘morning after’  about we are speaking.  Short-term measurements alone will result in short-sighted goals and short-term strategies.  And if we are focused on Jewish engagement for the long-term, we can’t short ourselves.  Just as we want Bar/Bat Mitzvahs to propel Jewish youth into their Jewish adulthood, it is fair (and fun) to hope that Bar Mitzvah themed parties might help propel those same Jews (now adults) into a series of moments that further define their Jewish futures and the futures of their families.  And fueled by other Jewish moments created by the community,  these Jews will be propelled to that that future morning after –  a morning after filled with Jews smiling, talking and moving to the music of community…

Not just the music of Duran Duran.