Go Outside: Expanding Your Professional Development Horizons

The professional Jewish community overflows with conferences. The pockets of time between major holidays are crammed with opportunities for learning, connection, case studies, best practices and keynote speeches. While they are worthwhile, informative, necessary and valuable, they are also an echo chamber.

When we limit our learning to those closest to us, we narrow our perspective, and miss out on the real best practices and creative work that is highly relevant, though perhaps a few steps away from our day-to-day realities.

After developing a career in the Jewish community focused around technology, I stumbled into the Nonprofit Technology Network’s annual conference six years ago. It was a sea of do-gooders who have dedicated their lives to making the world a better place, and were using technology (in its many forms) as a tool to accomplish their mission. How ironic it felt to have stepped out of the Jewish community, and to feel so among my people.

While we are all busy, and the necessary Jewish conferences fill our schedules and consume our professional development budgets, I want to make the case for purposefully stepping outside and engaging in the best, dynamic conferences and professional development in the nonprofit sector that are not Jewish. Why?

  1. We should be striving for excellence, not only to be as excellent as the other Jewish organization down the block. We should be learning from the best practices and wisdom of those across the nonprofit (and maybe also for profit) fields.
  2. The people we are trying to reach and engage have a wider view. They are customers of the new economy. They engage with nonprofits like Charity:Water and the Surfrider Foundation which are innovating in their communications, fundraising, services and community organizing. They research and buy products through Amazon, have groceries delivered to their doorstep, and pay a subscription for unlimited music on Spotify instead of buying CDs or even MP3s. We need to understand the psychology, behavior and modes of connection to this audience, none of which is specifically Jewish. (See also Rachel Cort’s recent series on Millennials in eJP)
  3. The process of organizational change and realignment in our shifting landscape (technology and otherwise) isn’t specific to the Jewish community, and we need to be learning and adapting as quickly as possible. Let’s look to those who are pioneering and doing it well to leapfrog over a learning curve that we don’t have time to climb inch by inch.

Now, all of this isn’t to say we should throw the Jewish connection out of the picture. We do have a lot to learn from each other, many opportunities to support each other and collaborate, and the need to build personal and professional relationships. Over the past 6 years, we’ve been using the Nonprofit Technology Conference (NTC) as a platform for organizing the Jewish community. The first year there were 6 of us. Recently that number has grown to over 70. We are an official NTEN affinity group, and meet each year for a 90 minute “Connect” session to share knowledge and advance our field, and thanks to support from The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Philanthropic Network, an evening social gathering – Shabbat dinner when the conference is over Shabbat, and a cocktail hour when it’s not. It’s the best of both worlds – a rich Jewish communal experience with maximum exposure to the best-of throughout the nonprofit sector. (Plus, they give out ice cream bars and warm cookies at the 3pm break – we could learn something about hosting a conference!)

And NTC is just one example. The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Philanthropic Network is collaborating with Games for Change, and ROI and the URJ have collaborated to organize Jews at SXSW. I’m sure there are many other examples of using non-Jewish conferences as a platform for Jewish gatherings (Know of some? Please share in the comments.)

Want a little more flavor? See what some of the Jewish professionals at NTC (and professionals at NTC working with Jewish organizations) have to say.

Care to join us? This year’s conference is in DC March 13-15. If you come to the conference, we welcome you to join us for learning and/or Shabbat dinner (advance RSVP required). Can’t make it? You can follow us at #NTCjews, and follow the conference at #14NTC.

Lisa Colton is the Chief Learning Officer for See3 Communications, and the Founder and President of Darim Online. She’s been gathering the Jews at the Nonprofit Technology Conference for 6 years, and it’s a highlight of the year every time. Follow her at @darimonline