By Audrey Lichter
I loved David Phillips’ recent article entitled Mergers, Acquisitions and Talking Tachlis! in the November 30th edition of eJewishPhilanthropy. As the Executive Director of a small not for profit Jewish engagement program I think about our value proposition all the time, including the unique space we occupy, who we are similar with and where we are differentiated, the amount of time we spend on R&D – creating new materials and programs versus marketing and publicity, and the amount of time we spend acquiring funds for our organization. With full disclosure, our Board chair and founder is dedicated to raising funds, which spares me the grueling work of looking for funding on a regular basis.This allows me the opportunity to work with a team to build a solid (although modest for national standards) program. However, we do hold major fundraisers every other year or so which consumes our entire small staff for at least a third of the year.
In this time of COVID, there are emerging some interesting challenges and opportunities that have surfaced around the issues David raises. Here a just a few:
- The boundaries of community have expanded seamlessly. We can now feel a part of organizations that have opened themselves up virtually. So one prominent synagogue in NYC had 6,000 people tune into their zoom High Holiday services. So what do we mean by community? How do we define the “community” we serve?
- As consumers of Jewish content, we now have access to many more conversations from notable scholars and leaders that were previously only accessed by those who either attended a conference or were part of an elite group. Organizations have democratized their content in exchange for exponentially more people attending their events. How do we evaluate the value of numbers versus true engagement?
- It is easier to see the replication and competition of programs since the internet is the preferred form of marketing and it is very public. We seem to be headed into a more competitive environment where larger organizations look for best practices and instead of reaching out to collaborate, they just replicate. It feels like a Darwinian survival of the fittest environment. As David points out, the idea of mergers and acquisitions can be a difficult path to go down. Who has the authority to convene conversations about the efficacy of mergers and acquisitions? Is there the will?
- The Jewish community is obsessed with new, different and entrepreneurial. We are firm believers in Synagogues, Federations and JCC’s and our program is always in partnership with these legacy organizations. Legacy organizations are under siege ( as they have been for years). Now in addition, they have had to pivot to serve their congregations in this time of need in a whole different format. Who is asking what the unintended consequences are for this relentless need for innovation?
David raises many interesting and provocative points. However, I fear that they will be read and ignored unless we are all serious about doing a real Cheshbon HaNefesh. Maybe we will just stay true to what Jews do… asking questions, while not necessarily having answers. However, the article deserves serious consideration in every community. It would be refreshing to see local and national organizations take to heart the issues raised and see if we could truly build better.
Audrey Lichter is Executive Director of Chai Mitzvah.