community change

Creating a roadmap to more-collaborative Jewish communities

By Susanna Rothschild, Tristan Dorfman, Rabbi Anthony Knopf,
and David Wallach

If you work in the Jewish communal world, you have probably collaborated with another organization or internal partner at some point in your professional career. You’ve slapped their logo on your marketing materials, forwarded email chains about “reaching out to your respective networks,” and looked to other organizations and professionals to fill the gaps that you cannot. You most likely have some success stories as well as many important lessons learned. If you pause to analyze which collaborations have been successful and which ones have not, you may find the best results are from those efforts identified as active strategies with the end-user in mind, as opposed to instrumentally merging logos, resources, and contacts simply because a certain program or event matches the mandate of more than one organization.

The COVID-19 pandemic has afforded our community of Montreal the much-needed opportunity to think deeply and critically about how to best facilitate collaboration at a time when organizational structures and viability are shifting dramatically. Thorough field research on the topic revealed two main obstacles to successful collaboration: The first challenge is organizational fears; collaboration can be seen as a threat to an organization’s own identity, particularly when organizations are struggling to stay sustainable and relevant. Secondly, fear surrounding competitiveness and conflict of interest may also arise; organizations may worry about “losing” constituents to another organization which offers similar programs. The latter challenge highlights the difference between active and passive collaboration. Passive collaboration — such as adding another organization’s logo to your marketing materials, having part of your program funded by others, or reaching out to people through multiple networks — often helps achieve the short-term goals of a program or event. Long-term impact, however, is achieved more successfully through active collaboration. This includes organizations’ decisions to work together based on commonalities in their mission, vision, and values; setting shared goals for their project which further the mission of each individual organization; and creating experiences that will have a lasting effect on the user.

As participants in the Passport to Jewish Life Fellowship, a program that aims to create shared language, processes, and goals amongst Montreal’s Jewish community professionals, successful collaboration is of utmost importance to us. It was imperative that we identify ways in which organizations and professionals can use active collaboration to further the individual and collective mission of each partner, with the ultimate goal of a more vibrant community through increased engagement. The Fellowship provides a platform from which we can establish productive conversations with potential partners and overcome our fears, allowing collaborative possibilities between diverse organizations to be empowering and proactive — working to fuel organizational pride and viability as opposed to threatening them.

After extensive research failed to locate existing resource guides on successful collaboration, and in an effort to create shared processes amongst the Jewish community’s professionals, we used field research and our own experience to develop one ourselves.

Our guide outlines the following steps for organizations/professionals embarking on a collaborative project:?

Individual Goal Setting: Outline your organization’s own goals surrounding the new project. Provide the reasons you are embarking on this project, and specify what you hope to achieve/accomplish by doing so.

Partnership Search: Search for a partner(s) whose mission, vision, and values align with your own

Collective Goal Setting: Set shared goals amongst all partners. While your individual goals may differ, your collective goals should align for your collaboration to be successful. These goals will help to further your own individual goals and the mission of your organization, as well as ensure that you are all working towards achieving the same objectives throughout your process.

Identifying Strengths and Challenges: Together, partners identify their own strengths and challenges, highlighting where strengths and resources overlap and where they can compensate for each other’s challenges and gaps. 

Roles and Responsibilities: Tasks, roles, and responsibilities are divided between partners based on their own strengths, skills, reach, and resources in order to ensure efficiency and effectiveness of the planning process.

Establishment of Working Norms: Working norms are established to promote smooth communication and build overall trust and positive work experiences between partners. 

Timeline: A firm timeline is agreed upon to ensure that everyone is aware of deadlines and can commit to their work being completed in a timely manner, and in order for the next steps to flow naturally.

Project Evaluation: An evaluation of the project is imperative to correctly assess whether your goals were met, the impact of your program, and how successful your collaboration was.

We invite you to use this resource as a guideline the next time you embark on a collaborative initiative. Our hope is that this tool will serve a dual purpose both in easing the challenges and fears that many community organizations are currently facing, as well as acting as a roadmap to developing organizations that are more viable, sustainable, and impactful — resulting in the ultimate collective growth and influence of our communities. 

Susanna (Shoshi) Rothschild is an independent consultant specializing in Evaluation and Strategic Planning.
Tristan Dorfman is the Regional Director of BBYO Montreal.
David Wallach is a Jewish Studies Teacher at Azrieli Herzliah High School.
Anthony Knopf is the Rabbi at Congregation Beth Ora.

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Passport to Jewish Life Fellowship is an 18-month professional development program for leading educators in Montreal. Fellows gain conceptual ideas and practical tools to strengthen their work, build a collaborative community, and develop a shared language for educational practice. The Fellowship is powered by the Passport to Jewish Life Funders Collaborative, led by Federation CJA and run by M2: The Institute for Experiential Jewish Education.