Invitations To Be Invited

by Sherri W. Morr

Sometimes job interviews are so routine, or possibly so fascinating that it makes sense to write about them, or to at least ponder the content. I was recently asked what my thoughts were on inviting non-member people to serve on boards of member affiliated organizations. This could be any sort of organization, school, church or synagogue. Even a museum or music organization. It raised some very important issues to consider in our overly organization populated life.

We are all very familiar with the phrase, ‘you have to play to pay’. It’s similar to ‘always be closing’. In the nonprofit world these are axioms of basic organizational development. Certainly anyone who sits on a board needs to abide by board responsibilities. They need to be passionate about the mission, and be able to act as an ambassador. They need to make a meaningful donation, and to fulfill other responsibilities like attending events, filling a table at a gala, and providing prospect suggestions. But board members from outside the sphere play an even bigger role. Often they offer a fresh prospective, one not as close as say the board members who are school parents, or synagogue members. Sometimes their sphere of influence is broader, more inclusive, and facilitates discussion that is new or not thought of previously. From my experience such people add a level of ‘not talking to ourselves as much’.

Organizations that go in this direction are often perceived as more forward thinking. Choosing a path that’s a little out of the box. And it is a concept that is motivating to existing board members. Just as boards try to be diverse in terms of economic ability, inter-generational diversity, and knowledge level so too should they be reaching out to individuals who bring a little something unique to the table.

In many large communities Jewish organizations are reaching out with goodly (some may say Godly) sums of money to help next generation young people connect. The ideas and programs are more exciting, more electrifying than I have heard in years. They go way beyond the traditional leadership development speaker series, a tour of local agencies, and the culminating Israel mission. These ideas contribute ways too numerous to mention, but their common thread is to infiltrate Jewish life, Jewish study and tikkun olam into day to day lives of upwardly mobile young Jews. In the 60s, 70, and 80s Jewish Federations had play days at high end country clubs. After tennis (or golf, or cards) participants heard a speaker were asked for a donation, then went home until the next years play date. A significant amount of money was raised. We went to ‘where the client was at’. Now these events have to beg for attendance. This generation is getting older, they may not be on the courts so much, and they are bored with the repetition of same old same old. But the young people, ah they know much more of what they want, and they want it in an action oriented manner. They want to visit the soup kitchen, but they also want to stand behind the counter and serve the soup. They see the homework tutoring happening at after school programs and want to get in there to help. In Los Angeles where most people have a script in their drawers, volunteers can help high school seniors with college and personal essays. One can help the Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation (MHOPUS) locate instruments for schools and for children exhibiting an interest in learning an instrument.

Young Jews want this, and they want it proactively to celebrate successes and accomplishments to see people (not just Jewish people) lives impacted for the better. Sounds familiar I am sure. And impressive I think.

Volunteers of America is expanding their programs to find substantive opportunities for increasing numbers of baby boomers who are looking for meaningful ways in which to give their time. Outreach to veterans, the homeless, women who have been abused, and the many effected by the economic climate all need support. Are our agencies, synagogues and federations exploring these ideas? Are they receiving calls from empty nesters asking how they might donate a few hours? Are family agencies creating dialogue groups for grandmas and grandpas who are doing more babysitting than ever … not for Saturday night date night, but for critical things like getting kids to school on time, being the class parent … all while their young adult children hold down powerful and demanding careers.

Perhaps this essay has evolved a bit far from its original premise, but I hope you see the connection. Our communities have more organizations than ever before. How will they all stay afloat? Who will fund them all? Who will take on the leadership expressing the vision and the passion? Yes maybe it’s the next generation, or maybe it’s the baby boomers that were overwhelmed with their own lives during those years and now have the time to think and ponder what they might do. Certainly they all should be invited to come to the table. Certainly there are many attributes they all can contribute. They just have to be asked. Those of us who have done this work for decades well know that you have to ask.

Sherri W. Morr has spent the last several decades working and consulting in the Jewish community as a fundraiser, a teacher, and trainer, most recently as Director of the Western U.S. at the Jewish National Fund for 12 years. She has completed an MA and received an honorary doctorate from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. Her work outside of the Jewish world at independent schools, the Baltimore Symphony and Tufts University have given her an awareness beyond practice in the Jewish community. Sherri has 3 grown sons and lives in Los Angeles, California.