A Full Clip for the Jewish Future

by Naomi Korb Weiss and Shelby Zitelman

For a moment, imagine yourself a shareholder of a multinational corporation that has been in a state of gradual but perpetual decline. Over the past two decades, the customer base has been cut by half. Revenue hasn’t declined significantly but it is generated by increased sales to customers who are quickly aging out of the market. New customer acquisition strategies have centered on advertising and marketing, but the conversion rate is lower than replacement value. Despite an investment in ongoing training and development, your executive class is aging out almost as quickly as your customer base, and at the moment it is pretty clear that there isn’t a succession plan in place for the majority of company divisions. If you were a shareholder of this corporation, would you buy or sell? More importantly, would you convince your friends and children to buy?

Most likely, if it was just another corporation, you would sell, and you certainly tell the people you love to stay away because the corporation’s future was too uncertain for them to get involved. But when it comes to the organized Jewish community, which, like our theoretical corporation is losing members and donors while keeping its revenue propped up by mega-donors who are aging out, we do not have the option of selling. This is our People, and we are committed to our future.

There are obviously numerous differences between a multinational corporation and the assortment of institutions and bodies that make up the organized Jewish community, but there are also a few similarities which we would like to highlight in an attempt to learn best practices. First, a company that does not provide value to its customer will have no sales. The Jewish community needs to identify those elements that are valued by individuals in exchange for commitment to Jewish life and invest in those products.

Second, a company whose strategy is customer loyalty needs to allocate suitable talent and resources to meet the customers’ need. If our community members, or a company’s customers, do not feel they receive sufficient value from their affiliation, they will go elsewhere because no one will stop them.

And third, a company with extensive customer analysis needs to turn that information into action especially if the customer is purchasing from the ‘competition.’ Instead of asking what is drawing them away one must learn what will get them back in the door in order to rebuild a relationship with that individual.

As Venture Capitalist Ben Horowitz noted when his company was in distress, “There are no silver bullets for this, only lead bullets. [His staff] did not want to hear that, but it made things clear: We had to build a better product. There was no other way out. No window, no hole, no escape hatch, no backdoor. We had to go through the front door and deal with the big, ugly guy blocking it. Lead bullets.”

The Jewish community needs to invest in creating lead bullets and in cultivating individuals who can manage the process. This means spreading our energy across the core needs of our community, but investing more into research and development to create core products in order to attract new customers and develop professionals who understand how to meet customer needs.

We at PresenTense have taken this need to heart and count ourselves lucky to have partnered with Federations, Foundations and JCCs who agree. PresenTense’s Community Entrepreneur Partnership’s strategy could be summed up in those two words: Lead bullets. Our aspiration is to provide local communities and organizations with the systems they need to produce many, many lead bullets so that they can fight against the increasing disconnect between individuals and their community institutions. This year we look forward to working with 12 communities around the world to help launch 152 new ventures for the Jewish People, programs and initiatives that we hope our community will follow to learn about what works and what does not. We know from the past four years and 149 ventures launched that not every idea ends up as a venture – but that those who participate in creating something new are the leaders we need to fight for our future.

It is time for the Jewish community to wake up and work toward a turn-around. Even in the depths of the current dip there are brilliant points of light working to engage Jews young and old in changing the world. We need to support these new efforts and integrate them into our circles if we’re going to convince our children, and our children’s children, to take stock in our future as a People.

Shelby Zitelman is the North American Program Director for the PresenTense Group, overseeing the Community Entrepreneur Partnerships in six cities across North America. Naomi Korb Weiss is PresenTense’s Director of Training, helping organizations achieve new heights through PTSchool.