By Bradley Caro Cook, Ed.D.

Preface

This article and research are a collaborative effort of 11 nonprofit organizational leaders. Together we planned and collaborated to produce this appeal.

BACKGROUND

RIGHT NOW is a scary, scary, time for nonprofits of all sizes.

In light of an international pandemic, many Jewish organizations have entered crisis mode. Many have pivoted or canceled future programs because of this “new normal.” At the same time, Career Up Now, the organization for which I am the executive director, and other lean startups and entrepreneurial ventures are finding themselves in a quite different position.

Rather than in crisis mode, as lean organizations, we find ourselves in reasonably secure financial positions for 2020 because of sensible planning, where we are in our organizational growth, and maybe a little bit of luck.

As well, we are experiencing a significant increase in the demand for our programs. We believe our mission and services to be more relevant than ever, as we address issues in which the pandemic has worsened. These issues include employment, food insecurity, fertility, mental health, racial justice, vulnerable populations, and more.

At the same time, we are concerned for our fiscal year 2021 because conversations with potential and some, though not all, current funders included responses like,

  • “Our priorities have shifted due to the crisis,”
  • “We aren’t considering organizations that aren’t in crisis mode,” or
  • “We aren’t considering new organizations at this time.”

Many times this is due to our small organizational size.

Career Up Now, while innovative, is not the only small Jewish nonprofit that finds itself in this situation. And so, we reached out to other small Jewish nonprofits to learn more about their experiences and synthesize these learnings for the field.

Applied Jewish Wisdom

There is a strong Jewish basis for taking a collective approach to serving the Jewish people in making requests as a collective group. Many times in the Torah the Israelites gathered together as a kehilla (or group) to bring valuable items for the greater good that would strengthen the collective. We see this in the wilderness when building the tabernacle (Bamidbar 32:3) and when the Jewish people contributed the vessels for the Temple (Divrei HaYamim Bet, 24:14). These collective efforts strengthened the Jewish people. As well, there is a Jewish value of expressing concerns as a combined collective (Commentary on Bamidbar 17:13, Shulchan Aruch 90:9) with a unified voice. Therefore, I felt the best approach to appeal to funders for FY 2021 would be as a kehilla bringing valuable offerings, in this case strategies, to the field as a whole.

So, in March 2020, I placed an open invitation to join in conversation, through venture networks and Jewish Facebook groups, reaching a wide and diverse group of Jewish communal professionals. This invitation came with specific participation and eligibility criteria.

ELIGIBILITY CRITERIA

  • “Small” Jewish organizations, with budgets of up to $800,000
  • A significant increase in program demand due to COVID-19
  • At least one major funder, relative to the organization’s overall budget
  • A strong financial position in the 2020 fiscal year
  • Concerns about total funding and prospects for 2021
  • Turned away from current or prospective funders due to shifting priorities
  • No layoffs or furloughs
  • Not qualifying or being turned down for any or all of the recovery measures both within and outside of the Jewish community, due to being
    • financially secure (due to advance planning and reserve funds)
    • fiscally sponsored
    • not part of a venture network or
    • too new of an organization

THE RESPONSE and a TORAHITIC CORRELATION

Eleven organizational leaders met the aforementioned criteria and responded to this invitation.

This auspicious number has a direct Torah correlation for pandemics. When in the wilderness, after Korach’s rebellion, a terrible plague struck the Jewish people. To stop the plague Aaron combined 11 spices as a collective incense offering (Bamidbar 17:13), to support the Jewish people during their pandemic, so too eleven emerged to enter into a dialogue to finding similarities in practice which will help strengthen the Jewish nonprofit space, and though we may be secure now, a unified voice that expresses our significant concerns for 2021, and the opportunity for the Jewish world.

The following individuals, representing their organizations, joined the conversation:

  • Arya Marvazy, JQ International
  • Dan Brown, eJewish Philanthropy
  • David Estrin, Together We Remember
  • Elana Frank, Jewish Fertility Foundation
  • Evan Krame, The Jewish Studio
  • Gabby Leon Spatt, The Blue Dove Foundation
  • Libby Goldstein Parker, Jewfolk, Inc.
  • Rebecca Bar, Challah for Hunger
  • Sara Shapiro-Plevan, The Gender Equity in Hiring Project
  • Yoshi Silverstein, Mitsui Collective

OUR CONVERSATION

Together we gathered with common concerns, desires, and with the goal of both making our case for 2021 funding and contributing to the field.

In our conversation, we determined that we could appeal to funders by both adding value to the field and delivering an appeal that, if answered, that their investment would go far, and it would strengthen the Jewish landscape during these unprecedented times.

OUR APPEAL TO FUNDERS

Include us in your 2021 grantmaking or funding cycles. Your support is critical, now more than ever, to meeting the increasing demand for our services. We ask that you consider the following:

  • Support this collaborative of small nonprofits as a whole as we seek to resource, share, collaborate, and learn from each other. This could come in the form of joint professional development, consulting, and other resources as a collective.
  • Invite us to apply (individually or collectively) for your next grant cycle.
  • Review the descriptions of how each of us has increased relevancy and demand for our services.
  • Explore our “Chart of Strategies to Remain Lean” which we have included at the bottom of the article.

OUR GIVE TO THE FIELD

  • Lean Strategies for Challenging Times: We hope to inform the field with strategies that enable our organizations to remain lean and secure during this time or as a resource for future planning.
  • Colleagues: How can we help?: Really! We’ve received so much guidance from our friends in legacy organizations, and now it’s our turn. Let us share how we are implementing these strategies we have shared below and support you.

END NOTE

We want to make sure the Jewish community has the infrastructure for years to come and we can be part of the solutions you’re looking for at this moment. We know that through current and future partnerships, we can help fill the gaps that many legacy institutions need. But we can’t do that without investment in our future as well.

So as you think about responding to the crisis right now, consider investing in our infrastructure to meet the increased demand for our services, fill programmatic gaps through partnerships, and to ensure our continued growth trajectory.

Investing in our future is an immediate solution.

Organizational Descriptions and Increasing Demand

Below please find descriptions of the increase in demand for our organizational services. Rather than arranging them in alphabetical order, organizations are arranged by budget size, an opportunity to help funders get to know organizations who otherwise may not have received a great deal of attention. As well, we saw this as an opportunity to place lesser-known organizations on funders’ radars therefore, when organizations had similar budget sizes, I placed the lesser-known organization first.

The Jewish Studio (Rabbi Evan Krame)

We engage the under-affiliated, unaffiliated, and disaffiliated adult Jewish population. People whose ties to the Jewish community fray as they get older, especially as children leave home (www.thejewishstudio.org). The demand for programming has increased with the recent pandemic, especially as people living alone and mature married couples found themselves craving meaningful Jewish experiences and joyful social interactions. While we attempt to meet those needs through our internet events, it is challenging to sustain program quality and retool events to provide in-person spiritual interactions while instituting protocols that give attendees confidence that they will be safe. Similarly, as the demand remains for clergy supervised life cycle events, we are designing procedures and acquiring the equipment to conduct high-quality ceremonies satisfying for both in-person and live stream participants. (www.backyardmitzvah.org).

Gender Equity and Hiring Project in the Jewish Community (Sara Shapiro-Plevan)

We recognize and honor that the current, terribly difficult moment calls on us to pivot and grow our work to support the “other end” of the hiring process, the experience of job loss, termination, furloughing, unemployment, and the attendant grief that accompanies this. Now is the time not to wipe out the small gains that the Jewish community has made toward gender equity. On the contrary, it is time to see everything that we do as an opportunity to support people of all genders as we work to remove gender bias from Jewish organizational life to help women rise to positions of leadership. Our work has pivoted completely to recognize this moment: we are called on daily to consider how gender bias and gender equity are transforming Jewish workplaces. Women are the front-line workers, pink collar employees, and work in the fields primarily affected, often the first to be released, terminated or furloughed, the first to have their salaries decreased, as they represent a majority of the workforce. A global pandemic has wreaked havoc on our community and provided us with a startling opportunity to lift up the work of equity and justice to support individuals and organizations in their moment of need.

Together We Remember (David Estrin)

We’re living through our “L’dor V’ dor Moment” – antisemitism and other bigotries are on the rise while the survivors who made us promise “never again” are passing away. COVID-19 only accelerates this trend, forcing us to stay physically apart when we must unite across lines of difference. In response, we helped Holocaust museums and centers transition their programming for Yom Hashoah and Genocide Awareness Month online. We transformed our website into a virtual hub for collaboration, sharing resources, amplifying events, and curating experiences that which would have otherwise been inaccessible to students, educators, and community leaders worldwide. There’s unprecedented demand for digital collaboration to counter antisemitism and hate, especially among smaller organizations, and we need the funder community’s help to realize this potential.

Mitsui Collective (Yoshi Silverstein)

We are a new startup whose mission is to build a resilient community through embodied Jewish practice and multiracial justice. The last several months have highlighted the needs for each of these areas of work both in isolation and as intersectional issues. The challenge of physical separation highlights our need for community. The work we do around Jewish frameworks and inspired practices for self-care and wellness have been increasingly in demand as people and organizations manage an ever more intensive array of work-life challenges. The urgent need for racial equity has absolutely seen increasing prominence over the last several months both within the Jewish community and beyond. Because we are small and had already intended to pilot new programs, we could be nimble in the pivot to programming that has been almost entirely online and responsive to the needs of the moment. We are focusing more on prototyping multiple ideas and practices over committing full-scale to one method. For example, within broader organizing frameworks like our daily Omer-based wellness series, an extensive 49-day commitment, we prioritized working with as many guest contributors as feasible – close to 40% of the daily practices were from guest contributors – and allowing for a diversity of shared embodied practices rather than trying to define the work too narrowly early on. As a result of both our growth and budget priorities, we’ve been able to invite many of these guest contributors as paid teachers for our inaugural Tu b’Av Self-Love & Liberation Festival on August 5 – also a pilot project centered on themes of equity-based self-care and community-care.

Career Up Now (Dr. Bradley Caro Cook)

Career Up Now creates intentional communities of emerging professionals and community/industry leaders based in applied Jewish wisdom, and experiential Jewish education. With 11% unemployment, the number of layoffs, internship cancellations, camp counselor positions lost, and career centers closing, we have seen the demand for our programs more than quadrupled. Before COVID-19 we had 2-3 signing up to join our community weekly. Now we are at 5-6 daily and a month to two month waiting list to join our community.

Since the majority of our community is Jews who self-identify as having low to no current connection to their local Jewish community, we have found that the need is coming from both the side of the emerging professionals and established professionals who have little to no current attachment to Judaism or the Jewish community.

We have shifted our dynamic in-person Jewish learning/career advancing gatherings to having a heavier emphasis on “right now” skill development, connections to secure jobs, 1-on1 coaching, graduate school scholarships, and opportunities to find life purpose and passion.

We have increased the number of 1-1 interactions within our community to make this time of social spaciousness less stressful and lonely. We have also increased our Women of Wisdom gender equity programs to help young women secure their career paths. Finally, since there is a shortage of 500,000 coding jobs in the US, we have launched a 6 week beginner and a 4 month Python-3 computer coding academy, based in Jewish values and social justice, which will enable the participants to be eligible to secure one year full-time positions in Israel or have a certificate to secure employment in the US.

Jewfolk, Inc. (Libby Goldstein Parker)

With more people online more of the time, missing in-person interactions, and folks looking to stay connected to the Jewish community, our digital and social media services are in higher demand these last four months. We anticipate that as organizations are forced to shrink their staff and seek efficiencies, they will continue to need to provide digital/virtual options. We are seeing the demand for our FolkMedia (social media coaching/management) service increase as we offer an affordable, below-market-rate, and specifically Jewish agency service. We also have increased demand on all our platforms – our website, social media, and hyperlocal virtual groups, which we’ve been nurturing for the last several years. We are serving this increased demand by generating more content, launching a new podcast, and broadcasting our own and other agencies’ content for our community on our platform.

eJewish Philanthropy (Dan Brown)

Our website has seen a 40% increase in traffic post-Pesach, compared to the same period in 2019. Our newsletter subscribers and open rate are up YTD. Submissions have grown 5x from pre-COVID, and we are regularly publishing more content. Advertising inquiries are up from the 1st calendar quarter, but it is too early to draw conclusions. We are simultaneously planning for tomorrow (literally) and 2021.

The Blue Dove Foundation (Gabby Leon Spatt)

With 1 in 5 Americans 18+ experiencing a reported mental illness (pre-COVID-19), our work has become more relevant now than ever before. We continue to engage in our traditional work and are also responding to COVID-19 with timely resources. Many experts believe there will be a huge need for mental health resources for years to come from the effects of COVID-19. The Blue Dove Foundation quickly pivoted from in-person programming to virtual programs allowing more individuals to join from around the country. We have seen an increase in our digital engagement across traditional and social platforms. We are also experiencing a steady rise in requests from Jewish individuals and organizations for tools, resources, and unique programming around mental health through a Jewish lens.

JQ International (Arya Marvazy)

LGBTQ+ Jews often feel split at the root, welcome to communities based on parts of themselves, but not usually fully able to unify and express their full identities. Imagine that many LGBTQ+ people, and especially youth, have been quarantined at home with a family that does not support them, or fully understand their own child’s orientation or gender identity. As a year-round service and support organization for LGBTQ+ Jews and their allies, JQ International has experienced a significant increase in participation in all facets of our work and a consistently more significant request for support over the last several months. Support groups for our constituents would take place at different times throughout the year in cycles. Therefore, the increased demands for support and utilization of the JQ Helpline moved us to launch two weekly support groups over the last three months for anyone and everyone that might need us. Each area of our work has seen an increase both in numbers and nationalities of those participating in our current remote organizing environment. Our community needs us now more than ever, and we’re here for them.

Jewish Fertility Foundation (Elana Frank)

When the Fertility Clinics temporarily shut its doors at the onset of COVID-19, JFF clients were left heartbroken and hopeless. These clients had already suffered years of infertility and miscarriages. Furthermore, they had finally decided to spend tens of thousands of dollars to pursue fertility treatments, were now turned away from those very clinics. To put this into perspective, for JFF clients, missing just one month of fertility treatments could mean the difference of a baby or no baby and ultimately no family.

Within weeks of COVID-19, JFF began seeing a 200% increase in its support group attendees. As a result, the organization tripled the number of emotional support programs it had traditionally offered and moved them to a telemental health-compliant virtual setting. Additionally, JFF created innovative educational programs such as an “ask-the-expert” program – in which the organization bought fertility physicians, infertility therapists, and fertility lawyers together to answer COVID-19 and fertility-based questions sent in by its community members. The organization also created bi-monthly webinars on specific topics asked by its community members, such as how COVID-19 might affect fertility and pregnancy, and those webinars have reached hundreds, sometimes thousands, of people!

Now that Fertility Clinics have begun to re-open, in some cases, virtually, JFF has already seen a significant influx in Fertility Grant applications, which makes sense in the current environment, where many have been left jobless as a result of COVID-19’s economic impact. The organization has increased its fertility grant amount to $15,000 in the Atlanta-area, to meet the financial needs of its clients.

This pandemic has been an opportunity for JFF – with two offices in Atlanta, GA, and Cincinnati, OH – to expand its impact on more people and more communities across the United States. This impact was made via Zoom and Social Media Live Discussions and Panel Webinars, as the organization continues to roll out national city-based expansion.

Challah for Hunger (Rebecca Bar)

We have seen an increase in demand for our programs as the food insecure students Challah for Hunger serves have increased. Whereas pre-COVID-19, 39% of students at 4-year institutions were food insecure, that number has risen to nearly three out of every five students, with dining halls and campuses closing, housing disappearing, and resources for students drying up. To address this pervasive issue, we have moved all programming online, while maintaining our tenets of community, philanthropy, and advocacy. We have increased our advocacy programming by launching our first national campaign, #FUELHigherEd, focusing on increasing SNAP benefits for students as well as promoting Hunger-Free Campus bills on a state level. Besides, our students have run fundraisers for their local connected nonprofits, and we have implemented a virtual Camp Challah for our community chapters with families and children ages 4-10 to learn about this issue of campus food insecurity and get them involved with advocacy through #FUELHigherEd.

21 Lean Strategies for Challenging Times

Strategy Description Organizations Using this Strategy
Automation technology Automation is the use of technology to manage and repeat regular and ongoing tasks. Such tasks can range from marketing correspondences, event creation, iterative data collecting, and social media. Automation allows with the press of a button, that which would have otherwise taken dozens of hours overtime to accomplish. Career Up Now, Jewfolk, The Blue Dove Foundation, Jewish Fertility Foundation
Empowered Lay Leaders/Pro Bono Volunteers Empowered Lay Leaders/Pro Bono Volunteers Lay leadership is at the core of our organization’s lean success. We have been able to recruit talented individuals to join our communities to provide their talents many times over. This success requires a concerted effort of cultivation of relationships that pays dividends in the short and long term. Career Up Now, Challah for Hunger, eJewish Philanthropy, Gender Equity in Hiring Project, Jewfolk, Jewish Fertility Foundation, JQ International, The Blue Dove Foundation, Together We Remember
Extremely flexible work environment/Results Only Work Environment Gone are the days of 9:00am-5:00pm workdays in fixed office spaces. We empower our teams to work where they want and when they want as long as they are meeting project deadlines and goals. This flexible work schedule serves us well with the new structure and the work habits of late GenXers and Millennials. Career Up Now, Gender Equity in Hiring Project, Jewfolk, Jewish Fertility Foundation, JQ International, Mitsui Collective, The Blue Dove Foundation, Together We Remember
Fiscal Sponsor (for the back end) We have chosen to remain fiscally sponsored, rather incorporate with 501c3 status. This helps our organizations build capacity and not become burdened by overwhelming costs and overhead. Our fiscal sponsorship agreements range from 5% to 9% of yearly revenue projects. Career Up Now, eJewish Philanthropy, Gender Equity in Hiring Project, Mitsui Collective
High focus on easily accessible resources and digital/social tools Rather than looking at tools as one-offs or attached to a specific program, we provide these resources openly to the public or our constituents in an open source or accessible formats. Bayit, Career Up Now, Challah for Hunger, eJewish Philanthropy, Gender Equity in Hiring Project, Jewfolk, Jewish Fertility Foundation, The Blue Dove Foundation, Together We Remember
Human-Centered-Design/Design-Thinking We create and design with our constituents and for our constituents. We are asking the open-ended questions like “how might we” in order to identify specific needs. Working closely with those that we are serving using a design thinking approach allows high-impact solutions to social problems to bubble up from bubble up from those we serve rather than being imposed by leadership. We never create without an iterative and ongoing design process with those we serve. Without that process, what may seem like a “good idea” to us could be dead on arrival if no one wants or needs it. Career Up Now, Challah for Hunger, Gender Equity in Hiring Project, Jewish Fertility Foundation, Jewfolk, JQ International, Mitsui Collective
Importance of Reserves – a minimum of 3 months As small and medium nonprofits – this is challenging and yet critical to survive and thrive through lean times. By committing early on to having and building cash reserves, we can ensure that during the leanest times, we are never in “crisis mode.” Each of us has reserves of 3 months to 1 year. Career Up Now, Challah for Hunger, eJewish Philanthropy, Jewfolk, Jewish Fertility Foundation, JQ International, Mitsui Collective, The Blue Dove Foundation, The Jewish Studio, Together We Remember
Paid Interns Interns are college or high school students who gain experience through their time and earn school credit and/or are in a temporary paid position (dependent upon state and academic requirements). We believe in seeding the field with talent and bringing in those interested in learning about our work, growing a next generation of Jewish leadership through possibilities for mentorship and learning in this way.” Career Up Now, Gender Equity in Hiring Project, Jewish Fertility Foundation, Jewfolk, The Blue Dove Foundation, Together We Remember
Machine Learning and artificial intelligence Artificial intelligence and machine learning approaches are newly appearing in the nonprofit world and are in partnership with, and one step beyond automation described above. These approaches enable us to gather data-rich information on our constituents. We can also create working avatars to provide the most timely and pertinent needs of our parts, collect and manage data over time, from chatbots to dynamic forms, which is the way of the future, and a cost-saving tool for now. Career Up Now
No office space Office space and rent can be expensive. We have chosen to direct our budgets toward programming and staff expenses instead of office space, investing in people, learning, and growth. Bayit, Career Up Now, eJewish Philanthropy, Gender Equity in Hiring Project, Mitsui Collective (during startup phase), The Jewish Studio, Jewish Fertility Foundation, The Blue Dove Foundation, Together We Remember
Nonprofit discounts There are many companies and contractors that offer generous discounts or their services for free – you just have to ask. Career Up Now, Challah for Hunger, Gender Equity in Hiring Project, Jewfolk, Jewish Fertility Foundation, JQ International, Together We Remember
Consultants/Contractors Rather than hiring additional full-time staff, we identify the areas of need and identify independent contractors and consultants to fill these needs for a one time engagement or multiple times during the year. These range from grant writing, to social media management, campus engagement, musicians, educators, or technology. *It is important to keep in mind who qualifies to be an independent contractor versus an employee. These are laid out on the IRS’s website. Career Up Now, eJewish Philanthropy, Challah for Hunger, Jewish Fertility Foundation, Mitsui Collective, The Blue Dove Foundation, The Jewish Studio
Partnerships We look for organizations that are mission-aligned and believe in our work. We plan long term and consider each other an extension of our own. We brainstorm and share opportunities. Bayit, Career Up Now, Challah for Hunger, eJewish Philanthropy, Gender Equity in Hiring Project, Jewfolk, Jewish Fertility Foundation, JQ International, Mitsui Collective, The Blue Dove Foundation, The Jewish Studio, Together We Remember
Reconfiguration of the advisory board Since we are fiscally sponsored, our organization has the luxury of having an advisory board which is not our official board of directors. With this ability, we can nimbly adjust or reconfigure our advisory board to serve the organization best during our times of need or growth. Career Up Now, eJewish Philanthropy, Mitsui Collective (in that we just formed our first advisory board), The Blue Dove Foundation,
Repeatable processes, Standard Operating Procedures We identify our core processes and those which involve programs, expansion, and other procedures. We document them and their step by step implementation as they go. By creating these playbooks, we can spend less time on implementation processes and more time serving our constituents and communities. Career Up Now, Challah for Hunger, Gender Equity in Hiring Project, Jewish Fertility Foundation, The Blue Dove Foundation
Securing funding first: Not running or starting programs unless funding is secured first A key to our success is abandoning the old model of doing and then fundraising to fill in the costs. We each take a strategic approach to secure funding for full projects, programs that additional financing can then be raised around, and we don’t do speculative work. Fundraising forces us to crawl, walk, and then run, rather than an exhaustive sprint that isn’t sustainable. Career Up Now, eJewish Philanthropy, Jewfolk, Jewish Fertility Foundation, JQ International, The Blue Dove Foundation, The Jewish Studio
Setting a high board give or get We approach board memberships through time, talent, and treasure, and at the same time, realize that the board’s primary responsibility is fiduciary. Therefore, we set a high board that will cover the majority of our organizational overhead and enables us to focus on fundraising for programs. Career Up Now, Challah for Hunger, Jewfolk
Standard Operating Procedures Having a manual, booklet, guidebook that document step-by-step instructions on how to complete repeatable task, programs, or other operational/programmatic aspects that are key for one’s organization. This decreases the amount of time needed to train new team members and ensures smooth transitions between team member groups. Career Up Now, Challah for Hunger, eJewish Philanthropy, Jewish Fertility Foundation
Strategic Staff Roles/Importance of multitaskers With the limited staff, we are forced to multitask and be resourceful. We often wear different hats and can jump between being an accountant or a marketer between calls. We are constant learners, not afraid of trying something, and have no problems asking a friend for insight or support. Challah for Hunger, Gender Equity in Hiring Project, Jewfolk, Jewish Fertility Foundation, JQ International, Mitsui Collective, The Blue Dove Foundation, The Jewish Studio, Together We Remember
Value of collaboration More minds mean more ideas. As organizations with minimal staff (1-3 on average), collaboration gives us like-minded thought partners, a marketing team, and a broader audience. Bayit, Career Up Now, Challah for Hunger, eJewish Philanthropy, Gender Equity in Hiring Project, Jewish Fertility Foundation, Jewfolk, JQ International, Mitsui Collective, The Blue Dove Foundation, The Jewish Studio, Together We Remember
Virtual Assistants These are individuals who are remotely based and contracted through hiring agencies such as Upwork. Career Up Now
     

Bradley Caro Cook, Ed.D. is the executive director and co-founder of Career Up Now. He believes in the power of the collective, and that dialogue and open communication of shared concerns, especially during challenging times, builds community and strengthens humanity. He can be reached at bradley@careerupnow.org