By Barry Camson
How can practices of nonprofit organizations in Haifa and Boston be usefully applied in the other community? This is a question that has been at the core of a program known as the Learning Exchange which facilitates learning between nonprofits in these respective communities. Here are comments from NGO leaders from Haifa during a recent trip to Boston with regard to practices that could be applied in Haifa.
The trip was part of the Learning Exchange which has been a partnership between the Department of Continuing Education in the Faculty of Welfare and Health at the University of Haifa, Shatil and the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) and Combined Jewish Philanthropies (CJP) in Boston. This was the seventh year of the Learning Exchange which was developed by Liron Peleg Hadomi and her partners, Dror Eytan, at Shatil-Haifa and Rabbi Jim Morgan at JCRC in Boston.
During the course of the program-year, nonprofit leaders from Boston visit NGOs in Haifa and meet with Haifa participants and Boston hosts Haifa leaders later on in the program.
The unique value of the program is set out by Liron Peleg Hadomi: “I have been doing this work over the past seven years and every year we see the uniqueness and the magic of the program. We bring together leaders from the different sectors: private, public and civil society. We give them the platform to connect, learn, engage and create networks for social change locally and globally.”
The participants observed that there are opportunities for greater volunteerism in Israel. Ilana Borovsky, a Haifa participant, noted that nonprofits in Boston are active in recruiting a lot of volunteers. One community center visited by participants had 160 current volunteers with a waiting list of additional volunteers. Another participant noted that the importance of having volunteers is part of the culture in Boston. Ilana added: “We met a lot of volunteers who are volunteering for many years and have effect.” As a result, there is a great deal of knowledge about how to deal with and train volunteers. This increases the dedication of volunteers.
One participant noted that there are small things that can be done to motivate volunteers such as to put their pictures up on a wall and give them more recognition. Another participant commented that in Israel, people volunteer where people are in real need. Unlike in Boston, they tend not to volunteer where there is not such a strong need such as in the daily life of a community center.
It was noted that businesses can play a role in volunteering. In Boston, Nike has a group of volunteers who come to a community center and make healthy foods. An engineering company sends volunteers in to teach children. The conclusion of participants is that it would be helpful if more businesses in Israel could volunteer.
Continue the evolution of the government-nonprofit relationship
The relationship and relative roles of government and NGOs in Israel is continually evolving. One participant pointed out that there are many opportunities for services to be provided by NGOs that are currently being provided by the Israeli Government. In Boston, it was observed that nonprofits do the work that in Israel is done by the government. Adi Gilad Asolin observed that in Israel, money is given for people who need money, e.g. the poor. In Boston, money is also given to the entire community for activities in which everyone can join. Services can be conceived not just for people in dire need, but for the general wellbeing of communities.
It was observed that the relationships between Israeli NGOs and the government can be improved. Adella Biadi observed that “policy makers in Israel see NGOs as a threat as if the only role for NGOs is to monitor government.” Ilana Borovsky commented that she was “amazed by the very good connections that the nonprofits in Boston have with the politicians. It is not as common to meet with policy makers is Israel.” Revital Kashinevsky noted that “there are a lot of people who move from nonprofits to decision making positions.” As a result, there is more collaboration in Boston between these two groups. She added, “connection between workers in NGOs and decision makers is a strategy we wish we could do more of.”
Focus more on the financial aspects of NGO management and fundraising
Participants indicated that there needs to be more focus on the financial aspects of NGO management and fundraising in Israel. Professionalism can be increased in terms of skills and knowledge. Participants were impacted by the much larger amounts of money being channeled into nonprofits in Boston while at the same time NGOs in Israel are struggling for every shekel. It was observed that this ongoing struggle has an impact on the quality of activities provided and the staffing levels of NGOs.
Participants commented that raising money needs to have a higher priority in Israel. One observation was that in Boston, there might be three people whose job it is to raise money. Adi Gilad Asolin noted that in Israel, “I as a manager have to raise money.”
Others commented that ideals are important to Israeli NGOs. However, they added that things must be seen through the eyes of ideals as well as money. “Money is the air of NGOs” was one statement. Others commented: “We need to talk about what will be best for the population we serve and the cost.” “We should hire a person whose job it is to raise money.” Adella Biadi suggested that “nonprofits should talk about their fundraising strategies and fundraising jobs. How do others go into the private sector and get money?” Adi Gilad Asolin said “there are things we can be doing better. We can get people to talk to potential donors about what is happening in the neighborhood, to see programs in action rather than just talking about them.”
One participant noted that “success breeds success. The minute that people see I am making money, I will get donors.”
Build the exchange of knowledge among NGOs and communities in Israel and with those outside Israel
Many participants in the Learning Exchange commented based on their experience that there is great value in developing relationships and the exchange of knowledge with counterparts outside of one’s own community, city or culture. Tikkva Perlson mentioned the intensity of the Learning Exchange program. It is “essential to be in a place where others live” and for people to share their knowledge and experience. Bracha Shariel said that “this is a case where one plus one is four. Encouraging exchange is important.” Ilana Borovsky commented that “it is good that we were exposed to so many projects.”
Showing Haifa to the Bostonians helped make the people from Haifa more aware of their own city. The additional perspective of those outside their own culture also helped people from Haifa be more aware of what they were already doing well. They became aware of how those in other cultures are struggling with the same issues. They became aware of other solutions. One person commented that in the press of daily activities we forget that social justice is important. “It is good to be reminded of this.”
Finally, people noted that the learning from this particular week of events should be continued through ongoing collaboration by participants within this program and with their counterparts in other organizations in Israel. It can be continued through conferences and even through exchange among members of the communities being served by NGOs. The exchange of learning among NGO leaders and the fellowship that it creates among them is a model that can be replicated in many other situations.
Barry Camson, a consultant and trainer now living in Haifa, has worked with American and Israeli organizations. He can be reached at BCamson@gmail.com