Building the Talent Pipeline for Jewish Nonprofits

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By Gali Cooks

I recently got a call from a friend who graduated from a top business school and was considering three great job offers: one doing marketing with a professional sports team; one as an account manager with a tech start up; and, one doing development with a Jewish Federation. He was seeking my advice about which position to accept.

I asked him the questions my father had always asked me when faced with such choices: “Which job would you enjoy the most? Which would really allow you to grow? Which boss would make the best mentor?”

It was a no brainer. “I want to be around smart people. I want to be proud of what I do. I want to make the world a better place,” he said. Today, he’s doing exactly that at a Jewish Federation.

We need more outstanding young leaders, like my friend, who choose to build their careers in our sector because they view Jewish organizations in a positive light – filled with opportunity and support.

There has been a lot of talk over the past few years – on these very digital pages, in particular – about the dearth of emerging leaders in the Jewish nonprofit sector. Following extensive research identifying the causes of this leadership deficit, 15 foundations and federations founded the Jewish Leadership Pipelines Alliance, recently renamed Leading Edge. The research laid out our path. First, we need to do more to support and nurture talented emerging leaders who are already employed at Jewish nonprofits. Second, we have to create workplaces that attract the many talented young Jews who consider a career in our sector, but ultimately choose a different path because they perceive a lack of value in working at Jewish nonprofits.

The need is urgent. A large majority of Jewish nonprofit organizations – 75 to 90 percent – will need to hire new senior leaders in the next five to seven years.

To address both the immediate and long-term leadership gap facing the Jewish nonprofit sector, Leading Edge will launch three initiatives in 2016:

First, our Leading Places to Work Initiative will guide Jewish nonprofits in creating organizational cultures that attract and retain top professional talent – cultures that emphasize connectivity, open communication, and collaboration.

Second, our Lay Leadership Commission for Professional Recruitment & Retention will engage donors in learning about the leadership deficit, understanding the best practices for closing the leadership gap, and developing recommendations they can use in grant making to ensure a vibrant and solvent Jewish nonprofit sector.

Third, in partnership with the Jim Joseph Foundation and other funders, we will launch a CEO Onboarding Program. This program will provide new CEOs – and the board members responsible for their on boarding – with the skills and support they need to be effective leaders over the long-term and promote the overall health, impact, and stability of their organizations.

These programs are only the beginning. Leading Edge is looking at best practices from both within and beyond the Jewish community. We are listening and learning and actively partnering with those who already are exploring these issues. By creating outstanding workplaces and empowering talent to achieve their full potential, the institutions that represent the backbone of our community will be increasingly dynamic, with cutting edge programs to nurture generations to come.

Please share your thoughts on the approaches Leading Edge should consider as we work to strengthen the talent pipeline of our sector. For example, what do you value most about where you work? Do you feel supported in your own leadership development? Let us know in the comments section below.

Gali Cooks is the Executive Director of Leading Edge, a partnership between Jewish foundations and federations to build a robust talent pipeline for Jewish organizations.