Making the Pie Bigger for Jewish Professionals and Organizations

By Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi

I’m one of more than 3,000 Jewish women, and allies, who are a part of the Facebook group Year of the Jewish Woman (And Allies). The group is an outgrowth of frustration by women working in Jewish communal organizations about a lack of gender equity and appropriate guardrails for safety and respect. A lot of the posts in its Facebook thread are about women who want to be paid more to work in the Jewish community. This is an important goal.

At the same time, it’s important to recognize that while mega gifts from billionaires get a lot of press, fundraising for nonprofits overall is down. Fewer people are giving, and many people are giving less. Indeed, a recent study from the Indiana University’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy highlights that 20 million Americans who gave to charity in 2000 had stopped giving by 2016. True, some giving is done directly through crowdfunding that does not go through nonprofits. But fundraising today is very challenging. Add to that mix that Americans overall are spending less time at their place of worship (and many stop supporting a place of worship as children grow up and for other reasons). This puts huge pressure on Jewish organizations who, in many cases, face a real scarcity of resources.

We need to be realistic that many Jewish groups are going to need to merge and/or redefine CEO compensation, or they will go out of business. I do not believe that CEOs of Jewish or other nonprofits should be paid north of $400K, no matter how great these men (and they are almost all white CIS gender men without disabilities) are. This is especially true when front line workers can’t afford to pay their children’s medical bills or to get their cars repaired.  This leads me to two hopes: 1) that as CEOs retire or rotate out of their positions in Jewish organizations, we see more diverse leaders hired for these open CEO positions; and 2) unrelated to the demographics of those hired(!) – that the incoming CEOs of many of these groups will be paid salaries more appropriate to the nonprofit sector so that resources can become available to competitively compensate junior staff members for their extraordinary work. This can result in recruiting and retaining high quality staff and feeding the pipeline for CEOs further down the road.

We must also be honest about the fact that some Jewish nonprofits in this era will need to cut staff. This makes it vital for people who want to remain employed in the Jewish communal sector, and/or for those who seek raises or promotions, to be highly qualified and to create superb value in their institutions.

To all Jewish professionals and boards: When was the last time you really drilled down on your “theory of change” and performance metrics to be sure you are not just doing things right, but are also doing the right things? I took a great very short course at Harvard for nonprofit leaders that I highly suggest to others. You can find it here. It’s time and money well spent.

YOU NEED TO BE A FUNDRAISER NO MATTER WHAT JOB TITLE YOU HAVE. This is true even if your job technically is not fundraising. When you teach Jewish values to fabulous Jewish children, do you communicate what is happening in your classroom or camp to their parents or grandparents in a way that will make it easier for your fundraising team to raise money for the program? Do you let the development team know the great things happening in your work and the outcomes they can talk about in their communications?

When was the last time you looked at your own 990 on GuideStar or at others in your sector? How does yours compare? Have you gone to the Platinum level on GuideStar? Have you taken the online courses offered or looked at the resources from CANDID? Do you use the tools from BoardSource, JPRO or Leading Edge?

How recently have you polished up your fundraising skills at a training seminar by the Foundation Center, Candid or The Chronicle of Philanthropy? There are tons of webinars on these topics. Do you and your staff take the time to watch the webinars together and then brainstorm about how to bring more money in the door?

When was the last time you went to the Ted Talks website and watched some of their most popular videos on marketing, fundraising, leadership etc.? Have you seen the one with Prof. Cuddy whose TedTalk focuses on how your body language impacts how people perceive you?

There are a lot of discussions about how to get a bigger slice of an existing pie. But a real need is also to make the pie bigger, so everyone’s impact can be stronger. I recently took a very short and intense course at Georgetown Business School on revenue diversification for nonprofits. When I left I had a few new ideas to generate money for our nonprofit. Using those ideas, we’ve already brought in a few new funders. We made other tweaks as well that will help us retain funders.

One of the low hanging fruits for making Jewish organizations stronger and more successful is to welcome, respect and serve people with disabilities – and to ensure that they can bring their talents to the success of your organization. Soon RespectAbility, with literally dozens of partners, will be offering free training online to help you in that journey. Stay tuned.

We live in challenging times when the climate crisis literally presents an existential threat, hate crimes are on the rise, and the political cycle is under way with big stakes. Many of us who care about tikkun olum are working as hard as we can. Time, not money, is our most precious asset. It’s like we need to turn every second into a day of impact. Thus, we must use our minds and collaborate with others so we can all achieve success. 

Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, who is dyslexic, is co-founder of the Mizrahi Family Charitable Fund and the CEO of RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization that fights stigmas and advances opportunities for people with disabilities. She can be reached at JenniferM@RespectAbility.org