How to Create (Or Transform) an Organization: Top Ten List

top10[eJP note: This piece was published on eJP on May 13, 2009. It is as relevant today as it was then.]

Dr. Anita Friedman, Executive Director of Jewish Family and Children’s Services, the oldest charity west of the Mississippi, and one of the most innovative and successful Jewish organizations in the United States, was this month’s featured speaker at UpStart’s Executive Director Round Table series. Bringing her stellar leadership experience of over thirty years, her sense of humor, and her honesty to the table, she wowed participants with her Yoda-like wisdom – “Your greatest strength is also your greatest weakness,” “I hated it so much that I decided to take it over,” “It’s the difference between a Sushi Restaurant and a Cold Dead Fish Restaurant” – and with her genuine passion and phenomenal knowledge about making organizations thrive.

Here is her top-ten list of essentials for creating, or transforming, an organization:

1. Product: Produce a high-quality product. Judaism today is a life-style choice.

  • People are buying services, and will go where they get the best quality; provide the best quality product and services you can
  • Position your organization as offering something that people will want to “buy”
  • Once you have a good product, decide whether or not you need to be a stand-alone organization, or if you should fold your product/program into an existing organization
  • Provide SAME service quality to ALL: even scholarship or low fee participants have choice

2. Business Model:

  • Figure out ways to generate revenue to support your social cause – “all brilliant ideas ultimately deteriorate into work”
  • JFCS has gone from the “Tin Cup Model,” going from hand to hand to request donations, to the “Private School Model” – they charge a market-rate for services, which 30% of their participants can afford, and they have a scholarship program for the other 70%
  • Inspire people to be involved

3. Facilities: Create a space in which people feel comfortable

4. Technology: Make use of technological options – especially to increase donations

  • The internet is very important as a communications tool, as a way to attract new donors; and as a way of getting people involved

5. Fundraising: This is the key to your success. You need a blood-supply to finance your project

  • After the initial phase of organizational development, your first task is to build a diversified funding base
  • JFCS has ten different funding sources, including Fee for Service, Grants (10%), Government (10%), major gifts, annual campaign, event, and others. “Choice in any form is a good thing.”
  • There is money throughout the Jewish community to fund agencies; it is no longer concentrated in a single centralized source
  • You need to understand how the dollars flow in the Jewish community
  • People now want more involvement, accountability, and connection; work hard to support all stakeholders
  • Start with warm prospects who might be interested in what you are doing and identify your top 10 people to get to know and who may want to invest in your project
  • Organizations must be responsive to those who support it; if those people are your constituents, it will enhance your quality
  • Issue is: do you have a product that inspires people to want to be part of your organization?
  • Every nonprofit should have an endowment once the organization has been established over time
  • More competition in the Jewish community for dollars “makes us peppy” and makes us think of new ideas
  • Goal: Be self-sufficient

6. Marketing & Communications: Get the word out

  • Be market-responsive; operate in a buyer’s market, not a seller’s market
  • People are inundated with information; be strategic
  • Find varied ways to reach people

7. Board Development: It’s all about relationships

  • Find ways for people to get involved BEFORE you recruit them to be on the board – through committees, volunteering, projects, and consulting
  • It’s not about the resources your board members have or have access to – it’s about how willing and able they are to use those resources to help your organization
  • Slowly build connection through a thoughtful stewardship process:
  • Awareness – increase the awareness of people in your orbit around your organization
  • Interest – generate interest in what you do
  • Involvement – get people involved in a small way, and increase involvement slowly
  • Ownership – people then feel responsible for the organization

8. Measure: Measure EVERYTHING

  • Measure everything you do with all of your constituents – board, employees, volunteers, and participants
  • People will tend to do only what’s being measured – so set goals in all critical areas of your work

9. Staff: Your staff is your internal customer. “Put your staff first.”

  • Treat staff with respect
  • Do what is correct
  • Practice what you preach
  • Help those who seek assistance; teach those who seek learning; involve those who seek connection
  • Though you may need to take difficult measures with staff – always be respectful

10. Jewish Values:

  • Every aspect of how you work and behave should be grounded in Jewish values – the Jewish community needs you now more than ever to bring in fresh ideas
  • We need to protect our community members’ minds, bodies, and spirits

Maya Bernstein is Strategic Design Officer of UpStart Bay Area, a social venture and innovation consulting firm.