The demographics of Jewish communities often change, so that communities may find their members spread over a large geographical area. When this occurs, nonprofit educational, social, and health organizations face a number of challenges. Among them is how to continue to provide professional and comprehensive services to their members and clients who are now geographically dispersed. Several considerations should be factored into the decision to develop additional sites for the delivery of services to the community.
Some communities find it advantageous to follow the Jewish community and relocate their main institutions to these new areas. The community’s leadership engages in a planning process to determine where it is best to move and when is the best time for this to take place. Often it is a lengthy and time-consuming process but one that has the potential to energize the community and to assist it in focusing on present and future priorities. It provides an opportunity to strengthen existing leadership and to recruit new people who may not have been involved before moving the school or the community center or the other institutions found in many communities.
Frequently the relocation process begins with a canvassing of the leadership and the recipients of service to develop an understanding of their concerns as well as introducing new ideas for them to consider. People who have lived in the community for a long time may have a strong emotional attachment to the existing buildings and feel that the essence of the institution is in the physical structure. This is particularly true for members of families that have funded the construction of those facilities and whose connection to the nonprofit is deeper than just the services provided to the community.
Once the relocation planning process is initiated, there can be any number of options that an organization might want to implement. One, of course, is for the organization to move; however, this option may not be the best way of handling the situation. Another is to cooperate with another agency that has already relocated and to provide services at their site. A third option is to develop satellite offices that establish a presence for the agency in another location without moving the entire organization; this works well when the Jewish community is no longer centrally located in any one area.
Earlier in my career I was the executive director of a multiservice family agency that had been in the same location for more than 60 years: an office building in the downtown section of the city. It had even remained in the same suite of offices for more than 25 years. The antiquated offices and the decreasing activity downtown motivated the agency’s board to consider moving so it could continue to be relevant in the lives of the members of the Jewish community.
After developing and then implementing a strategic planning process, the board of directors decided to take a two-pronged approach to enable the organization to continue to serve the community. First, it would negotiate a new lease for additional space in the same building and would modernize its downtown offices. Second, the agency would investigate the possibility of opening up satellite offices in the townships to which Jews had been moving for a number of years.
Several of these townships lacked local services, and the agency was able to negotiate spaces in town halls of the townships where it set up a weekly presence to meet with clients. The agency had a policy of serving all people without regard to religious affiliation, so through this arrangement it provided a direct benefit to all the residents of the towns while of course providing faith-based services to members of the Jewish community. In turn, the local authorities were pleased with this expanded ability to provide services in its community.
At the same time the local Jewish federation was extremely pleased with the efforts the Jewish family service organization was making to expand its presence in the broader metropolitan area. An additional benefit to creating these satellite offices was their ability to reach out to synagogue nursery schools and kindergartens to provide consultation services to teachers and parents. When it was necessary for the parents and/or children to meet with a social worker, the agency was present in their geographical location.
The renovated downtown office and the satellite offices served the agency and the community well for five years. After the Jewish Community Center moved to a location right off one of the main highways in one of the suburban towns, the multiservice agency relocated its main downtown office closer to this location. Some satellite operations were continued while several were closed because of the community’s easy access to the new offices. Having coordinated services with the local townships meant that there had not been a large investment in infrastructure or equipment. The satellites were continued for as long as they enabled the agency to serve the community. Once they had fulfilled their purpose and the main offices of the agency were not located a great distance from where people lived, these satellites were no longer necessary.
This flexibility demonstrated the agency’s willingness and ability to meet the needs of the community. It is an approach that can enhance both the nonprofit and the community and should be considered when dealing with communities in transition. It is also an effective and efficient way to create strategic relationships with local governments and to serve the Jewish community at the same time.
Stephen G. Donshik, D.S.W., is a lecturer at Hebrew University’s International Nonprofit Management and Leadership Program and has a consulting firm focused on strengthening nonprofit organizations and their leadership for tomorrow. Stephen is a regular contributor to eJewish Philanthropy.