The $54,000 Strategy: A Bold Solution to Undervaluing our Jewish Professionals

Big Ideas Cover[This article appears in The Journal of Jewish Communal Service, Vol. 88, No.1/2, Winter/Spring 2013.]

by Mark S. Young

What if entry-level Jewish communal professionals earned $54,000 plus attractive health benefits, and received effective managerial guidance and visible opportunities for career growth? What if starting middle managers earned $108,000, plus meaningful opportunities to improve their professional, managerial, and leadership skill sets? What if?

If that came to pass, the field of Jewish communal service would easily attract and retain the best and brightest, and employers could then select and retain the most intelligent, creative, and productive professionals available. If these best and brightest were providing services and undertaking leadership roles, our institutions and shared future would have an an even stronger likelihood of long-term success.

Making the Case

The Jewish community is at a crossroads regarding the recruitment and retention of its professionals. Many exceptionally talented individuals whose hearts desire to serve the Jewish community professionally are choosing for-profit jobs or better compensated nonprofit positions, in order to survive and feel secure financially. Many other talented individuals dedicate their time, energy, and creativity to our important work in spite of sub-par compensation, supervision, and professional development, relative to other career paths.

In addition, we in the Jewish community send mixed messages regarding what we value from emerging adults. To excite and engage the next generations we pour enormous resources into day schools, Jewish camps, and programs such as Birthright Israel. We also provide substantial financial resources to top-notch graduate programs and scholarships to those preparing for Jewish professional careers – enabling individuals to pursue credentials without incurring mountains of debt. Yet, when graduates of these programs go to work for Jewish communal organizations they are frequently underpaid, poorly managed, and rarely provided meaningful career growth opportunities. Why does the valuing stop?

Finally, it is rare that we can identify Jewish organizations that effectively and with intentionality manage their talent by providing their employees with ongoing professional development to support career growth or offer substantive performance evaluations connected to compensation increases and promotions. This absence occurs partly because many senior professionals were never formally trained in management, evaluation, or supervision. Many practitioners are placed in management roles with no real guidance. Consequently, subordinates and organizations suffer, experiencing lower job satisfaction and higher turnover.

The $54,000 Strategy

Jewish organizations ought to be “employers of choice,” inviting all talented professionals in our field as “the best place to work and where you will feel strongly valued.” Therefore, I propose a big idea and bold solution: Compensate talented individuals pursuing careers in Jewish professional life well, really well, monetarily and otherwise. Do not force talented people to choose between earning respectable money and receiving strong career support vs. realizing their passion for service to the Jewish community. Why cannot they have both? It should be our collective priority that Jewish professionals feel valued, appreciated, and nurtured to excel and thus be encouraged to use their talents in the field of Jewish communal service. Implementing four strategies will help us accomplish this goal.

1. Set Higher Salary Levels With Increases Based on Performance

The symbolic salary figure of $54,000 demonstrates the value the community should place on the work employees will undertake. It is significantly higher then the $20K-$30K salary range of many entry-level professional positions. This or other significantly higher salary levels will have an immediate impact on our talent pool, attracting increasingly strong, creative, and well-prepared candidates. If it also becomes clear that promotion and pay increases are based on performance, with clear job descriptions and thoughtful performance evaluation programs administered by trained managers, young professionals will be increasingly motivated to stay and eager to pursue positions of progressively more responsible work.

How can we pay for these high starting salaries? Consider the cost of employee turnover. The lost time, advertising dollars spent to recruit a successor, and repeated training result in less productivity and higher expenses. Turnover costs, which can be up to 25-30% of a person’s salary, could be paid to your talented employee instead! The increased motivation of staff who receive higher salaries can also lead to increased productivity and stronger products and services, which may ultimately generate more revenue from consumers of fee-for-service programs, higher donations, and stronger grant applications and awards.

2. Train Supervisors to Be Effective Managers

Each Jewish communal institution should require supervisors to complete management training programs that cover motivation and recognition strategies and how to properly evaluate performance and provide constructive feedback; these elements of supervision maximize the value of what should be weekly (yes, weekly!) meetings with subordinates. The old adage holds true: People stay (or leave) because of their bosses more often than because of their role or the organization. Supervisors should be a reason to stay, not leave.

Providing this management training will be expensive, but slashing training budgets feels contrary to a Jewish community that values learning. This training can also be an opportunity for institutional collaboration. Organizations can pool resources to deliver joint training programs, saving funds and increasing cooperation. The local JCC or Federation is an optimal place to stimulate these collaborations.

3. Demonstrate Value by Compensating Beyond the Dollar

If Jews value education and ongoing learning, then professional development should be a staple of all employees’ job experience. Require all employees to attend seminars or courses to improve professional skill sets on a quarterly or bimonthly basis (at no cost to the employee!), demonstrating that we value their professional growth and development of their talents. This will increase current performance and yield a noticeable return on investment.

4. Compensate Managers So That They Choose to Stay Long Term

Many industries (particularly for-profits) provide substantial increases in salary and/or bonuses to mid-managers, mostly based on performance and their assumption of progressively greater responsibilities. We should not try to match for-profit salaries. Jewish organizations as nonprofits have limited revenue streams. However, we should commit to salary levels that motivate mid-level managers to remain in the field.

How do we pay for salaries that are much higher than current salary scales? We hire only when necessary and provide ongoing training and support that increase job satisfaction. This will greatly reduce turnover costs. In addition, hiring and keeping the best talent – attracted by these smart compensation strategies – will yield stronger productivity and will likely also increase revenue, as argued earlier.

Commencing a Conversation

I imagine this article will generate dissent and controversy. That is the point. I hope that this begins a larger conversation among the leaders of Jewish organizations. In an economy yet to be fully reenergized, increasing salaries, adding training programs, and implementing new managerial systems may be currently out of reach, but we cannot put off these strategies indefinitely. Valuing our Jewish professionals in significant and meaningful ways, just as we value our Jewish youth engagement and graduate programs, is essential and will make a significant positive impact on our community. It is also the strategically sound and morally right thing to do.

Mark S. Young is the Program Coordinator of the Experiential Learning Initiative at the William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education of the Jewish Theological Seminary. Mark is also the Board Chair of the Advancing Jewish Professionals of New York City. He completed his undergraduate studies at McGill University and received both a Masters of Public Administration in Non-Profit Management and Masters of Arts in Hebrew and Judaic Studies from New York University.

Reprinted with permission; to receive the complete Journal issue, you can subscribe here.

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  1. Eitan Gutin says

    Mark, you write about salary increases in the following way:

    “If that came to pass, the field of Jewish communal service would easily attract and retain the best and brightest”

    I would say that the argument “better pay will attract higher quality, more passionate leaders” has been unsubstantiated by the evidence. All one has to do is to look at the financial sector to see that the argument that better pay = retaining the highest quality staff has failed society (that is the exact argument for Wall St’s exorbitant bonuses, for college football coach’s salaries as well).

    Many (if not most) positions in the Jewish community are already filled by passionate, talented people. The problems are (1) it is difficult to work at your fullest when your salary/benefits mean you are in constant fear of running out of $ for housing, food, etc, and (2) Organizations are cutting staff without cutting responsibilities so, on top of the stress of low pay professionals also have the stress of unrealistic expectations. Those two together should be enough of an argument for better pay without resorting to the fiction that higher pay means better executives/staff. If that were the case then UJA would be doing much better nationally and locally given how well the CEOs and other senior staff of most Federations are compensated. Day schools would not be closing their doors with multiple employees making six figures at the helm.

    You talk about turnover without discussing where the employees are going. In the case of Jewish informal education, for example, while most people only remain in their job for 3 years or so in my experience they move around within the Jewish community instead of moving out of it. You are correct that pay would have an influence on turnover, though, since most jobs in informal education are entry level at best.

    I would argue that there is a cultural problem in our community regarding how employees are looked at by leaders that leads to salaries that people can not live on, let alone build a savings on, in all but senior positions.

    In essence, organizational boards are in the habit of looking at senior management as assets but looking at everyone else as liabilities; this view is often unaffected by the actual performance of the organization. This is why a day school director can make 1/2 a million while a teacher with a PhD makes less than they would in the local public schools or why senior staff at a federation will often each have a salary and benefits package worth $200k+ while the same Federation cuts and furloughs staff in all departments with the excuse that “times are tough”.

    The perception of senior management when compared to everyone else also explains the vast gulf in pay between rabbis and education directors in synagogues – the market rate for a rabbi with ten years experience is typically 2 to 3 times the market rate for a synagogue education director with the same number of years in the field. Synagogue boards see rabbis as an asset but see educators (or at least the cost of running an education program) as a liability. This is why synagogue boards talk about “subsidizing” the cost of a Hebrew School but rarely talk about subsidizing any other aspect of synagogue life.

    Thoughts on the rest of what you have written:
    (1) Pay for performance: I would be interested in seeing what performance you would suggest using to determine pay increases. I would also be interested in your citing studies that pay for performance increases the success of individuals who work for non profits and for the non profits themselves. In public education, for example, “performance based pay” has meant that salary increases are tied to test scores; this, in turn, creates an incentive for helping students cheat on those tests so that the teacher takes home a bit more the following year or so that the school retains the same level of funding (DC is a good case study for this). It is difficult to accept a performance based pay solution when so much of what Jewish professionals do is intangible or does not have a noticeable affect in the short term.

    (2) Training supervisors – In theory this is a great idea, and one the community could benefit from. However, I think that your idea of turning to management training programs may not be the best way to go about doing this; such programs have produced a large number of mediocre to awful managers over the years. Instead, top managers should be selected within organizations and those in training should be given the (paid) time to shadow them for one week every quarter. Trainees could rotate managers in order to be exposed to the wide variety of management styles that can lead to organizational success. Finally, just because someone is senior staff does not mean they should be exempt from these ride-alongs.

    (3) Demonstrate Value… – 100% agree, with one caveat – if employees are going to spend time in professional development then work loads need to be reduced by bringing in more staff so that the requirement to participate in such training does not simply lead to more stress. Our organizations are in the habit of only adding to people’s plates and never reducing the load. Every new requirement/obligation has to be balanced out by a reduction somewhere else for this type of plan to succeed and to make sure staff do not resent the required PD time.

    (4) Management pay – While salary is important so is the overall environment in which people work. I know of at least one office in the Jewish education world where people used to stay many more years than the below market salaries would suggest because they were treated with such respect and dignity by their supervisor and knew that he would ALWAYS have their backs. Many of the solutions you propose in this article are administrative solutions (better pay, better training) to what are really spiritual/moral problems. Many of our organizations just do not know how to treat anyone who is not senior management with respect. I hear too many stories of people being embarrassed, bullied, scapegoated, and blamed for others’ mistakes to accept an argument that better training will be enough; it is easy to train people to balance a spreadsheet, much more difficult to teach them to be mentches.

  2. says

    Mark: Congratulations on this important contribution to the ongoing conversation about the need for Jewish community organizations to be concerned about the talent required to help them succeed. A voice from and about how the next generation of professionals view this issue is important. That voice will be required among the ranks of organizations’ leaders to best understand and communicate with new generations in communities. Your idea is both bold and simple. It challenges lay and professional leaders consider to new thinking and approaches to addressing this issue. I hope that your article generates a lot of comment and conversation and that we hear from the executives and foundation leaders who are concerned about this issues and have the ability to move this conversation forward. I am happy to join that conversation.

  3. says

    I recently gave a presentation touching on this topic at the Council of American Jewish Museums conference in which I presented data from an informal survey on attitudes of staff in Jewish museums. Though the survey did not touch on remuneration (a third rail in museums as well as the Jewish communal world) it is absolutely an issue in shaping museum staff attitudes toward their institutions. A copy of the presentation is available at

  4. says

    Thank you Mark for an extremely well written, well thought out, bold and visionary manifesto. I’d like to add a few thoughts.

    What I’ve learned not only from my organizational work at PLP and Hillel but very much through my recent coaching and consulting, is that customization is the key for organizational policies to really work. Yes, your categories are must-haves for starters. But retaining talent I believe is greatly related to 2 crucial factors that I will pose as q’s:

    1) Are the jobs crafted to build on the professional’s strengths which is where everyone thrives – – and then be recognized for their unique contributions? Much literature has been written on this but a staple favorite that I come back to often and highly suggest for more information is the work of Dr. Tal Ben Shachar.

    2) Do the professionals have consistent access to a coaching/mentoring figure to help them think through the challenges, complexities and politics which are inherent to the work? Coaches and mentors can be insiders or outsiders, can charge or volunteer, but they need to be available for help. In not, in my experience, the best professionals will leave even if the other factors mentioned above are present. Here is where I believe we as a field can be wildly more creative in harnessing the tremendous wealth of human resources we all have in our communities, yet alone nationally and globally. A terrific resource for this concept is Rabbi Brad Artson’s book, “Gift of Soul, Gift of Wisdom: A Spiritual Resource for Mentoring and Leadership.

    I hope some of these thoughts are helpful and I’d love to continue the conversation…

  5. says

    The author suggests that higher salaries for Jewish communal service employees would easily attract and retain the best and brightest. Here’s a little secret — we are now, and have always been, the best and brightest. Another little secret — management knows this and that’s why they have ZERO incentive to change the system. Our passion and zeal to make the world a better place is now being exploited by the very same organizations who initially planted the seed in the first place! Sure, you can leave but it’s typically a lateral move to another Jewish agency for equal or less pay. If you try the old “threatening-to-leave-if-I-don’t get-my-promotion” game, be prepared to have your bluff called — there is a line of well educated, brilliant, and passionate individuals waiting in line to work longer hours for less money. Additionally, the author suggests a pay for performance model for merit. Get the fuck out of here with that. The pay for performance model has been used at Jewish communal service organizations and has been an utter failure at truly rewarding success, only serving to create a meritocracy that breeds the worst type of cronyism imaginable. Also, the pay for performance system is so gummed that those few employees who do actually see a performance based merit increase should really be asking themselves, “How is a 2% bonus better than a promotion with higher pay/advanced responsibilities?” I could go on for hours but I just don’t have the time — I’m too busy doing three jobs.

  6. says

    You wrote an excellent article and make some great points. Here’s what I view the problem is, having done business with numerous HR personell & CEO’s at communal organizations.

    The problem lies in how communal employers view an employee – is it an investment or an expense? From nearly all non-profit perspectives, an employee is an expense unless they actually directly fundraise. The ancillary employees not focused on the core fundraising needs of the non-profit – such as marketing, events, office work, social media, etc. – are viewed as expenses and, like any expense, need to be controlled or reduced.

    My company, Henry Isaacs, Jewish marketing & communications consultants, has helped numerous Jewish non-profits who feel that marketing, event planning, public relations, and social media employee’s are simply too expensive to justify hiring a full-time worker to manage and oversee; as a result, we’re brought in as consultants to do the same quality work at nearly half the cost of a full time hire. We believe fundraising personnel should be full time hires, though, and should indeed be rewarded for their efforts through your $54,000 solution thesis. For all non-fundraising, non-core employees, there is room for non-profits to save money via outsourcing to compensate those core fundraisers.

    Until non-profits view an employee as an investment, more positions will remain stagnant in pay and employees will have little room to grow. However, there are ways to obtain quality work through outsourcing, allowing non-profits to save money which can then be channeled to their top valued employees. For more insight into this, check out my SlideShare here:

  7. David Harris says

    I very much enjoyed reading this, as it is something that is becoming increasingly a focus on my mind as I get older and progress through my professional life in the Jewish nonprofit sector. Kol haKavod for writing an important piece, I just worry that it will never happen – especially considering I’m not sure how Jewish institutions could raise the capital to afford high quality professionals long term (unless of course they were upper upper management).

  8. Elizabeth says

    This is a joke, right? Why don’t you just hold out a tin cup instead?

    Take an economics course and get over the fact that in a free market you chose a low-paying, low-producing career.

    “Professionals” like yourself are just full time volunteers who get paid thanks to donations from professionals like me. So stop wasting both of our time and my money and focus on building the community rather than feeling sorry for yourself!

  9. Joshua Gutoff says

    A bold proposal, which most Jewish communal professionals would probably endorse (except for those who would be laid off, or not hired, to fund the increased salaries). It’s based on some assumptions that may or may not be testable, but should probably be investigated:

    1) Is it the case that the “better qualified” Jewish professionals of a given set of skills and interests are choosing either corporate, or secular non-profit, work over work in the Jewish community?

    2) To the extent that the “best and brightest” are not coming into Jewish communal work (or are leaving it early), is it because of salaries? My understanding is that in law, for example, low-paying public service work can be far more competitive than much better paying corporate work.

    3) Is there any information that would suggest that an increase in salaries would substantially affect the quality of Jewish life?

    One could make the case that the issue of salary and benefits is a justice issue – that even if it did not have an impact on recruitment or retention, that basic respect would demand a certain level of compensation. But it seems to me that the justice issue is far more acute further down the scale – for early childhood teachers, for example, and for clerical and other support staff.

  10. Dave Neil says

    This article is a good example of one of the problems the American Jewish community has in how it goes about trying to solve its problems..
    (Here the problem happens to the caliber of the Jewish professional.)
    The way we too often relate to problems in the Jewish community is that just by throwing are money AT the problem the problem will go away.
    I am not sure in this case (and many others) that just by throwing money at the problem, that the problem will then go away.

  11. says

    I have a feeling this won’t be my last comment on this thread. But I did want to quickly share something that synergistically came across my desk: that a real estate company is paying employees 15% more if they’ll tattoo the name of the company somewhere on their person. (No size or location restrictions.)

    Now, I’m not saying that we should do this in the Jewish community. But I do think we should think about this story for the things that it can teach us, perhaps extrapolating the following facts:
    1) This idea came from a staff person, who was doing it not for the raise but because he wanted to do it.
    2) There were no size or location restrictions or incentives for these promotional tattoos – it was strictly opt-in, at the level of comfort for each individual person.
    3) Some people did it for the money, but others did it because they loved the company.
    4) The logo itself wasn’t awful.

    The takeaways from this – at least for me – are that forward-looking companies are open to grassroots ideas from their employees, that passionate employees are capable of thinking outside the box in terms of company pride and promotion, that open-minded bossess will embrace new ideas even if they’re a little wacky or may cost them additional money in salaries, and that it’s a lot easier to commit to a brand if it has a good graphic presence.

    I would posit that all Jewish nonprofit employers should understand that there are many reasons a person would or wouldn’t be proud of their work (perhaps proud enough to ink their endorsement). Each individual organization should aim for the kind of employee loyalty and brand pride that would inspire Jewish nonprofit employees not just to self-identify as such, but to want to wear their affiliation proudly (in whatever way is the most comfortable for them).

  12. Sam says

    I think Mark touches on a problem that affects the newest generation of young professionals most acutely. The fact is, $30-35k (if that) is not enough for a 24-year-old college grad who may be starting a family and looking to save for the future (he or she won’t be able to retire until well into their 70s anyway). My first year out of college, I worked for a Jewish non-profit that I believe serves a critical need in the American Jewish community. I have been an active leader and participant in synagogues, youth groups, day school, and camp for as long as I can remember.

    But my enthusiasm for Jewish communal building was not enough to ignore the realities of daily adult existence. I’m soon getting married, my fiancee is in grad school (for at least 4-5 years), and my former non-profit employer didn’t have much room for remunerative or professional growth.

    Now the latter is another problem which may prove tougher to address. But this is a problem that affects the for-profit industry as well. If I started out in the low-mid $40k range with the potential to reach Mark’s $54,000 mark within two years, I may have found a reason to stay.

    20-somethings have a reputation for feeling entitled to benefits and opportunities they haven’t yet earned, and that reputation isn’t completely unfounded. Still, our generation’s middle class will not live as comfortably as our parents did.

    There’s also the issue of organizations not demonstrating any sort of compelling need to exist at all. There’s a glut of Jewish non-profits who perform similar functions, and that weakens the ability of all non-profits to effectively fundraise. But even if there was a mass weeding out of redundancies in the non-profit space, there’s a mindset intrinsic to the industry that people are willing to be paid more to do something meaningful. It’s a model based on altruism rather than efficiency. Even if a non-profit had enough revenue to more adequately pay its employees, I’m not convinced it would.

  13. elizabeth is entitled says

    Right, Elizabeth. that’s how I think about educating your children–as a volunteer position. You do it out of love, I’m sure, so I *must* love them more than you do–and you should feel rightfully entitled to treat me like crap, as I’m no better than a doorman who has volunteered to serve you. It’s people like you who enforce class warfare within the Jewish community by totally devaluing Jewish educators–and teaching your kids the same, too.

    The only valuable careers are those that have economically measurable outcomes, right?

  14. Cobi Weissbach says

    Thank you Elizabeth! You’ve done it… You have identified the real problem. And that problem is YOU. Your complete disregard and the offensive way you speak about those of us who continue to serve the greater good is pathetic. My 15 years of experience, and advanced degree do make me a professional. You are certainly no leader, and I’m sure you are not a serious funder either.

    It’s people like you, who devalue the role of and critical work of Jewish communal professionals, that cause so many talented young professionals to leave the field. It’s people like you, who think the job of Jewish communal professionals is to serve the rich and clean up after them, lead so many talented workers and volunteers to look outside the Jewish world for a more pleasant and meaningful work environment. And it’s people like you, who believe you are more important than anyone else because of the size of your bank account, make me so worried about the future of our community.

    Elizabeth, I hope that you are not a member of my community. You are a bully and a troll, who thinks she can push others around with a little bit of cash. And to whatever agencies you do support, I hope their employees have their salaries doubled for having to manage a nasty person like you.

  15. Anonymous says

    I was once a super-passionate Jewish professional, with an advanced degree in the field. I had a decent pay, but my job description was so overwhelming that after working 60+ hour weeks for over 3 years and with no support from those in charge (other than that I needed to do even more), I left. I think that in addition to an attractive salary that equal attention needs to be given to making job descriptions reasonable and that do not lead to burnout.

  16. Mark S. Young says

    The debate has been sparked! Thank you for raising so many important and valid points. Allow me to comment very briefly on a few key themes brought up:

    1. I don’t believe linking pay increases to solely to quantitative assessment (i.e. student test scores) is the way to go . But I do think thoughtful performance evaluations where employees receive meaningful positive and critical feedback about their work (provided by managers trained on how to do this) is essential – and if employees are doing a stellar job, they shouldn’t be treated monetarily the same way an employee who may be doing “the minimum” is treated. This reality de-incentivizes emerging professionals.

    2. Evidence/surveys have shown that most non-profit professionals do this work primarily because of its personal job satisfaction (me included!), but that shouldn’t be taken advantage of. As the piece states, I am not suggesting entry-level and mid-managers be paid equivalently to the for-profit sector (doesn’t make economic or business sense). I am arguing however that stronger compensation means something, and should be systematically “in the mix” when reviewing employee performance and thinking about how we value and recognize employees so their talent stays in the organization.

    (Eitan, you raise so many other great points – can we meet for coffee and discuss further?)

    3. Coaching/mentoring – Yes! This piece focuses on the numbers to make a point, but I am primarily focusing on the issue of value. As Rhoda (such a fan of your work!) points out, having a great coach/mentor in your workspace or as a supervisor provides enormous value to one’s career, and I’ve certainly remained in this field in part because of great mentors. We need more better trained mentors/coaches in all our organizations – this doesn’t pay the bills – but does provide value professionals desire (and Rhoda, loved your point about customization to the organization, agreed!)

    3. Appropriate Jobs and Clear Job Descriptions – Several comments touched on this, and I couldn’t agree more. So, I wrote a piece a year ago in eJP “Valuing our Advancing Jewish Professionals” June 2012) talking about this as a fundamental issue, perhaps more so then salary. Regardless of what the pay scale is, if employees are overwhelmed or unclear about their role – confusion, burnout, frustration will be a hallmark of their Jewish communal experience. Jobs should allow for employee growth, should not mean you need to work 60 or 80 hours a week every week, and should be measurable (i.e. a year from now, can we reasonably objectively determine whether you did your job well?) Salary matters, but this matters just as much if not more.

    4. I think the point describing employees as “investments” over “expenses,” is a great analogy to help reframe our thinking. How can we invest – do everything we can to support our staff so they are valuable to us, grow and thrive to support our organizational missions? Expenses we try to minimize, yet investments we try to maximize. Every employee should be considered an investment (not just the fundraisers), and I think the steps I propose in the piece connect to how we can invest properly in our respective human resources.

    I realized I just scratched the surface in responding to the many issues/questions raised. I am happy to speak further offline with anyone to discuss this further. Feel free to connect with me through linked-in. –

  17. Eliezer Sneiderman says

    I appreciate this discussion. While my comments will not be as well crafted as Eitan’s, I think the focus on compensation is misplaced. Chabad has an extensive network of dedicated Shluchim, and while some may have comfortable compensation packages, most struggle economically.

    While the economic challenges of working in small communities is well known, there exists a vast pool of highly talented individuals waiting to become Shluchim. It has less to do with what a person is paid and more to do with where a community places value.

    The underlying question is “do we value Jewish communal work?” Do we value it as individuals? Do we value it as a community? Is Judaism, Jewish Identity, Jewish Peoplehood something we value or merely something that we play at.

    If it was merely about compensation the next generation would all become plumbers. But, we as a community give more value to the PhD making $40,000 a year than to the plumber making $200,000. If we would give more value to Jewish life everything else would follow.

  18. Jessica L says

    I am so glad we are having this discussion, but I fear that it often ends here. There have been many articles and studies done that shows exactly what Mark is talking about here, but so far I don’t see any difference. I have been a Jewish Professional my whole life and honestly wouldn’t know what to do in the for-profit community, but I wistfully dream about moving to a corporation where I get to leave at 5PM, have an actual weekend, and have some money to put away in savings. Instead, I work 60+ hours a week, am not ever managed, and only hear what I do wrong, never what I do right. I think management and burn out are the two biggest issues, and I don’t see any change in this generation.

    I was lucky enough to graduate from Hornstein, one of the few graduate programs that understands these issues and is working to address them. By training our future leaders in the Jewish communal field as well as in the business world, we can bridge the gap so many of us see: leaders who mean well but have no idea how to run an office, manage their employees, create an oporational budget, or offer anything resembling professional development.

    I have never had a mentor or a boss I wanted to emulate. I have learned what not to do, and keep those lessons close to my heart as I manage interns and admins. I would hope that one day my supervisors recognize the changes needed, but right now I am assuming it will be my responsiblity to make that change.

  19. says

    Mark – Many eJewish Philanthropy writers seem to ignore the comments section, so thank you for taking the time to read and respond to the comments. Your clarifications flesh out the original article as you respond to the concerns a few of us have raised in the comments.

    Rhoda – Love the comment about coaching/mentoring.

    Henry – your investment/expense dichotomy mirrors my asset/liability one. I think I like yours better and will use it. Thanks for articulating that issue so well. At the same time I have mixed opinions about the outsourcing of various organizational functions, but that is a conversation for another time.

    Elizabeth – While I disagree srtrongly with what you wrote I also disagree with those who are treating you so harshly in your comments. If you are still reading this post I’d be happy to discuss this with you online, over the phone, by skype, etc. You can click on my name and find my contact info under “Leadership” at the top of the web page.

    Josh – Your (3) comment ignores part of the point I made at the top and that Sam makes later. It is one thing to debate how much to value any given position. It is another to pay Jewish professionals less than it costs to live as part of the communities they serve especially if those professionals would like to start a family at any point. Two non-clergy Jewish professionals married to each other is nearly impossible to sustain financially for those entering the field today. I think that we should make sure we are paying the Jewish version of a living wage before tackling your number 3.

    Dave N – There are already many high quality professionals working for the Jewish community. However, the quality of the work we do is often negatively affected by the stress of (1) barely making enough to live on, (2)job descriptions that are unrealistic, or (3)supervisors/board leaders who do not know how to treat staff with dignity. Often at least two of the above are combined and in the worst case professionals deal with all three. One reason I stay where I work now is because I don’t have to worry about (3), (2) in my case is just about resolved, and (1) will be resolved by the end of my next contract. I am one of the very lucky ones when I speak with my colleagues in other positions.

    Sam – I feel for you. The entry level salaries for non-clergy have barely budged in the past 15 years.

    Arnie – Thanks for the kind words!

  20. says

    Mark – Yasher Koach on a great article, and thank you for reigniting this important discussion and suggesting some bold strategies. Given the many conversations I’ve had recently with communal professionals serving Birthrighters and their peers, and I would suggest that any interventions also consider the following:
    – Jewish professionals desire a sense of community with their peers; this may have been a strong motivation for them to join the field in the first place. There’s a ton of value in building thoughtful and intentional communities of practice, across a variety of networks – not only to develop skills and network, but also feel comfortable in sharing their challenges, brainstorm, create deeper working relationships, and step outside their “work silos” as members of a greater community. By bringing people together, we have an opportunity to make our communities more transparent. I often hear that professionals would love to be a part of these opportunities, if only there were more of them, and if only their organizations encouraged it.
    – The professionals I meet with also express a desire to experience and learn “Jewish” in different settings – through local community fellowships, participation in immersive learning experiences such as LIMMUD, leading Israel trips, etc. Lowering the barrier of entry to these experiences by providing incentives or scholarships is a way of providing additional benefits for professionals, independent of salary increases.
    – Because working in the Jewish community is a great way of building and deepening Jewish identity, we need to better develop our pipeline for employment opportunities at a variety of levels – for camp counselors, Israel trip staff madrichim, synagogue educators, JCC professionals, etc. Information about these opportunities should be widely and thoughtfully disseminated amongst professionals, organizations, and interested “outsiders.” By doing so, we will also build a more inclusive and connected eco-system of professionals, organizations, and opportunities.

    I look forward to continuing this conversation!

  21. says

    I don’t believe that salary is the most significant factor in retention. Across the board, the data I have seen suggests that our salaries are mostly in line with secular nonprofits. Moreover, most folks I have spoken to who left Jewish nonprofit work left for other reasons, not money.

    Why do people leave? Because they feel like they have stopped learning. Because there is no path to advancement. Because they grow frustrated by poor management, low expectations, risk averse leadership, etc. More than anything, what drives excellent people out of Jewish communal service is the tolerance for mediocrity embedded in the system. I’m not sure raising pay wok solve that but I do agree with the other suggestions made in the article.

  22. Howard Wohl says

    I wrote about this subject about a year ago. I agree with the general assessment. The only real leverage is with donors (Elizabeth et al). I would like to see the largest donors (foundations, et al) start demanding more from their donees. This should include appropriate compensation, mentoring and career paths. Our Community institutions as a whole are ineffective, in messaging, vision and execution. They are all service industries, limited only by the quality of their staff. When donors recognize that outcomes matter and that Jewish professionals need to be treated as our leaders and not as low paid and little respected employees, we might see change. I for one make sure that our most significant gifts are made to organizations that are succeeding and/or are open to change. This often means hiring the best people. The lure is not money alone, as surveys show that employees tend to leave for other reasons. Organizations need to see themselves as missionaries (much as the Chabad schlichim do) with the future of our Jewish Community at stake. Only then when they focus on what is needed to accomplish their missions will they succeed.

  23. says

    This is a fascinating discussion — and I’d like to add the voices of several communal professionals. A couple of month’s ago, the journal Sh’ma focused its sharp lens on the environment, the culture, and the policies of the Jewish workplace. We examined how the Jewish workplace could align the values of an organization—Jewish values—with the treatment of its workers. It’s a packed & illuminating 16-page read, and you can find the digital edition at