A Crisis of Vision

excerpts from an Op-Ed, Invest in Innovation, by Felicia Herman and Dana Raucher

As this process of communal re-envisioning begins, we’ve been hearing calls for greater consolidation and a return to the more centralized infrastructure of yesteryear.  Drawing upon our experience in two foundations that have prioritized innovation in their grant making, we respectfully disagree with this view.

We believe that the young, and often small, nonprofits that have emerged in the past decade, and the very de-centralization they reflect, are here to stay.  We believe that this interconnected network of smaller, niche-based organizations reflects the organizational transformation now under way in American culture: a revolution in the way that people connect, organize and affiliate, brought about by technological advancements that have dramatically shaped our ways of looking at the world. That revolution already has utterly transformed so much of our lives — the way we shop, network, share information, learn and teach. We don’t believe there’s any going back.

The dilemma for the innovation sector in this troubling economic climate is to maintain the momentum it has built over the past decade. Unlike many traditional Jewish organizations that have been struggling with demand — fretting over numbers and trying to retrofit their organizations to attract new and younger audiences — the innovative organizations have a different problem: one of capacity. Nearly every young organization we have funded over the past few years has been challenged to find the resources to deal with an ever-increasing demand for their programs and services.

Just as these organizations were successfully building the Jewish future, the Jewish community’s resources bottomed out. As a testament to their entrepreneurialism, however, leaders in this sector already have begun to implement cost-saving measures, in collaboration and strategic partnerships with other organizations, in order to trim administrative expenses without compromising their respective missions and visions.

Felicia Herman is the executive director of the Natan Fund. Dana Raucher is the executive director of The Samuel Bronfman Foundation.