Our Greatest Assets Are Our People … Right?

whats_next-e1393865294702-300x194As a mid-life Jew, what are my options to reignite my Jewish identity and parlay my private sector experience and skills to benefit our community?

by Cari Immerman

There’s a lot of talk about how initiatives like Birthright and Hillel successfully engage young people and forge greater self-awareness of their Jewish identities while identifying ways they can contribute to our communities locally, throughout the United States, and in Israel. Given some of the discouraging findings from the recent Pew Research Study, successful initiatives like these and others to come must be supported.

But what about people like me? While I have moments where I feel like a 20-something, my driver’s license keeps reminding me otherwise. As a mid-life Jew, what are my options to reignite my Jewish identity and parlay my private sector experience and skills to benefit our community, here and in Israel? Twenty years ago, the Wexner program opened many doors. I was asked to serve on local boards, co-chaired a federation campaign division, and helped build a new day school. Now, I’ve joined more than 50 other Wexner alums in embarking on an “encore career.”

An “encore career,” meaning a for-pay career in Jewish life after time spent in the private sector, is an exciting option for many Wexner alumni. After all, the program immerses us in Jewish values and thinking while focusing on building foundations for the future. While I remain a lay leader with several organizations, I’ve now turned my primary focus toward making my mark in the nonprofit professional ranks. I was (and still am) excited, rejuvenated, and brimming with ideas that will help the Jewish people and Israel.

This sparks two questions: Is the professional Jewish community ready for folks like us? And, does it recognize and reward the value we bring?

I’m at my core a private sector-trained marketing, sales and brand professional. That’s still my modus operandi the last four years as director for Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan, and Western Pennsylvania at American Friends of Magen David Adom. We’ve had some great successes raising money for Magen David Adom, Israel’s national emergency medical response and blood services organization, through the private sector concepts we’ve applied to our fundraising. My organization rewards risk-taking and empowers its team to pursue innovative means to excel. What a fabulous “encore career” opportunity.

However, I almost never left the private sector. I knew there would be many adjustments needed to switch from the business world to the nonprofit one, including salary, yet I was starkly reminded of how little we often invest in our Jewish professionals. Eight years ago, a community leader asked me to consider several development positions. When the discussion turned to levels of compensation, she laughed. My inquiry did not include stock options or equity, rather a salary and benefits package that rewarded the huge risks needed to achieve the stated goals. Recently, I saw this posting: Chief Development Officer needed to drive $40 million budget. Salary: $140,000. Would the private sector only offer $140,000 to their VP of Sales who delivers $40 million?

A study by the MetLife Foundation states that the private sector correlates 15-30% of its value as “human capital.” This is certainly seen in the private sector transition from human resource departments to newer models based on “talent acquisition,” “development,” and “retention.” Also from this study:

  • Between 2009 and 2016 all nonprofits will have 650,000 senior management positions to be filled, and
  • Approximately 66% of all executive directors plan to leave their jobs during 2009-2016 and only 13% have succession plans

The good news for Jewish nonprofits is that studies show we compensate higher overall than the general community and CEO compensation is on the rise. However, the Pew Research Study and others note these very significant challenges:

  • Decreased institutional affiliation
  • Greater giving to non-Jewish charities, and
  • An environment where talented and passionate professionals below the CEO or most senior levels are often treated as disposable expenses vs. assets to be nurtured and rewarded

Given these hurdles, isn’t it time to re-envision who we want on our team, how to recruit, develop, and retain them, and be ready for these seismic shifts? Recognizing organizations are often facing financial challenges and revenue to expense ratios are highly scrutinized by lay leaders, donors, industry monitoring groups, and more, we, as Wexner alumni, must address the need to actively invest in human talent strategic initiatives, locally and nationally.

Let’s put our brainpower to best use. The consequences of not doing so are enormous.

Cari Margulis Immerman, a Wexner Heritage Alumna from Cleveland I, is currently the Director for Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan and Western Pa. for the American Friends of Magen David Adom. She has extensive experience in the areas of marketing, sales and product launches working with Ford Motor Company, Citicorp, and McDonalds and as the Director of Marketing for Cole Vision Corporation, a $300 million company. She lives in Shaker Heights, Ohio and has served in leadership on several local boards, including the Gross Schechter Day School, and as co-chair of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland’s Annual Campaign-Business Division. Cari can be reached at cmimmerman@gmail.com.