Crossing Over

“It is nearly impossible for someone coming from the nonprofit field in the US to find a position in Israel that will value their experience in adequate salary/terms to make it possible for them to stay in the nonprofit field – when both the cost of living and the ability for their value to be realized in other industries is so high.” (Marni Mandell)

by Florence Broder

I recently met an oleh chadash (new immigrant) who asked me what I do. Without thinking I rattled off that I do social media marketing for a biotech company. At that he countered that I was living the dream in Israel.

While for some new immigrants working in Israel’s thriving high-tech sector is the dream, it was never my dream. I wanted to continue working in Israel’s third sector. I wanted to apply my American knowledge-base of nonprofits, capacity-building, and social media to ultimately strengthen the Israeli nonprofit sector. Like most things, beginnings are challenging, and I always feel that any hurdle can be overcome, but after a year working at IsraelGives and dealing with a range of Israeli nonprofits I became frustrated on a number of levels.

In my experience, I found that many of the Israeli nonprofits did not understand how to use technology properly. There were some that didn’t have websites and many that did, had no donate button. All too many amutot (Israeli nonprofits) wanted to launch social media without even understanding the investment needed on their part to develop content. There were others that would not invest in staff training so there would be someone qualified to properly deal with the technology. Amutot in Israel with proper resources are few and far between. It was a tension of how could I apply my skill set if the amutot themselves didn’t know know they needed it.

Another contributing factor was salary. Although nonprofit staff in the US earn less that what they would earn in the private sector, it was liveable. Moreover, this June, eJP reported that a compensation survey was being conducted in the Jewish communal profession at all levels. In Israel, this conversation isn’t even happening. During both the Israeli Presidential Conference and the WCJCS Conference this past June, I had numerous conversations with colleagues. They acknowledged that many amutot would not pay me the salary I deserved because they undervalued or didn’t yet understand the expertise I brought to the table. There exactly lies the conundrum: how to change a sector when it’s not ready to change and doesn’t have the same knowledge base?

Marni Mandell, a Tel Aviv based trainer and facilitator, says, “After working in both the US and Israeli nonprofit field, it is apparent that we have a long way to go towards building a donor-centered mindset of philanthropy here in Israel. On one hand, we need to develop both an understanding of what professional skills are needed, as well as the resources to provide our nonprofit colleagues with the tools necessary to get the job done. On the other, it is inspiring to see what amutot do here with virtually no resources.”

“It is nearly impossible for someone coming from the nonprofit field in the US to find a position in Israel that will value their experience in adequate salary/terms to make it possible for them to stay in the nonprofit field – when both the cost of living and the ability for their value to be realized in other industries (namely the high-tech world) is so high,” Mandell adds.

These were the two primary factors that compelled me to recently explore opportunities outside the third sector. One part of me is disappointed with myself for “selling out,” defecting, and compromising my ideals. I shared those sentiments with many of my English-speaking colleagues in Israel. Surprisingly, I was congratulated. I was told I made the right decision in getting out and making the transition to the private sector. And then I realized there were so many others who were major players in the field who also left or others that were looking for a job in the private sector surreptitiously.

“As someone who is transitioning out of the field, following an amazing seven year stint with several Jewish organizations, one of the underlying factors behind my decision is an overarching organizational hesitancy to embrace new engagement methods,” stated Mordecai Holtz, a former nonprofit COO. One colleague told me, “You will have more influence as a volunteer and lay leader.”

Jonny Cline, one of the organizers of the Amuta21C conference posits, “After well over a decade in the Israeli public and social sectors, I am still trying to work out whether ideological drive is enough to enable one to continue to serve, or whether a certain level of masochistic tendencies is also necessary. Am I joking? Maybe. Either way – I fully believe that the presence of the socially aware in the business sector will both ensure the development of socially responsible business, and will also perhaps ensure that the culture of philanthropy among those who can (and working in the private sector does increase greatly the author’s chances of being one of them) will develop as it ought.”

“At the end of the day, the inability of the 3rd sector to compete and serve in the 21st century market will have to be overcome if we are to survive, and the loss of able and willing professionals to jobs that will facilitate their economic needs is nothing less than a tragedy! I wonder how long we have left before we also give up and give in,” continues Cline.

For myself, after ten years as a Jewish communal professional I pulled the plug and left the field. My bank account is happier but somehow I feel displaced. I miss the daily interactions I had with my networks. True, they are still there but it’s not the same. I don’t have as many reasons to reach out to them like before. I also miss working for a mission I believe in rather than pushing a product to increase sales.

As I consider my own departure and those of my colleagues, I am saddened by the talent drain. The motivation and good intentions we bring to the table are just not enough to make the needed difference. I am left with questions like what is the responsibility of the American Jewish nonprofit sector in moving the Israeli sector to a more professional level where they invest in staff development, technology and capacity building? Can American organizations be models by paying their Israeli staff at a higher bracket?

In the meantime, I am finding meaningful ways to stay involved because I want to continue to feel like I make a difference in the sector. It is a challenge to keep a foot in both worlds but I am starting to take on lay roles and mentor others. This is not really good-bye, but it is a farewell, knowing full well that “I’ll be back.”

Florence Broder is a social media marketing professional currently working in the private sector but yearning to return to the nonprofit sector in Israel. Follow her: @flogolightly