Seth Godin wrote a scathing blog post about fear induced institutional torpor found in established non-profit organizations:
“These organizations exist solely to make change. That’s why you joined, isn’t it? … The problem facing your group, ironically, is the resistance to the very thing you are setting out to do. Non-profits, in my experience, abhor change … Take a look at the top 100 twitter users in terms of followers. Remember, this is a free tool, one that people use to focus attention and galvanize action. What? None of them are non-profits. Not one as far as I can tell. Is the work you’re doing not important enough to follow, or is it (and I’m betting it is) paralysis in decision making in the face of change? Is there too much bureaucracy or too much fear to tell a compelling story in a transparent way?”
Godin then underscores his point by pointing to for-profit entities who have used twitter and social media successfully:
“If you spend any time reading marketing blogs, you’ll find thousands of case studies of small (and large) innovative businesses that are shaking things up and making things happen. And not enough of these stories are about non-profits. If your non-profit isn’t acting with as much energy and guts as it takes to get funded in Silicon Valley or featured on Digg, then you’re failing in your duty to make change.”
Are established Jewish non-profits subject to the same forces? It looks like it. The only UJC person I have had any interaction with over the past year has been William Daroff, the Vice President for Public Policy and Director of the Washington office of United Jewish Communities – and even then, our interaction has been, err… occasional at best. OK, that’s cool. I’m not a person of any consequence. I’m not even a constituent! But still.
I regularly read blogs including this one, the Fundermentalist and Richard Wexler’s UJTheeandMe – blogs often full of juicy insider-y details about the inner workings of the Jewish Philanthropic world. Like the JPPPI’s announcement that three new appointees are joining the leadership of the Institute, or the UJC’s upcoming name change from United Jewish Communities to The Jewish Federations of North America. Like Richard Wexler, I too went to the UJC/JFNA Facebook page, and I too was completely confused. The latest posts are 2 months old, there are no upcoming events (like uh… the GA maybe?) and I still have no idea why anyone would want to be a fan. [note: this post appeared yesterday on Jewlicious; subsequently the UJC/JFNA Facebook page was updated to reflect both the upcoming GA and Jewish Community Heroes project].
The new CEO of the UJC, Jerry Silverman, in response to a challenge posed by 4 young Jewish leadership types regarding getting more young Jewish leadership types involved in the UJC, stated that “We must go further. The first step is to convene a group of young people to begin a dialogue on how to create systemic readiness to embrace and engage and listen as we move forward. We must create an opportunity for both dialogue and action, locally and nationally.”
Yeah. That and update your facebook page Jerry. I should be enthralled by all the stuff I read in the aforementioned blogs. Instead, I often keep asking myself why I should care. A day doesn’t go by where I don’t have multiple conversations with young Jewish social entrepreneurs and grass roots activists. Federation involvement never ever comes up – like it’s not even an option. I mean I get it. I know what the Federations do. And I respect their accomplishments and activities. But I just don’t sense within them a desire to really develop new leadership or to communicate effectively with their grass roots constituents. Silverman’s words were awesome but from where I’m sitting, it just sounds like lip service.
I’ll conclude with Seth Godin’s conclusion, which was aimed at all non-profits but is particularly applicable to Jewish ones:
“Sorry if I sound upset, but I am. The work these groups do is too important (and the people who work for them are too talented) to waste this opportunity because you are paralyzed in fear.”
David Abitbol is the founder of Jewlicious.