Paying It Forward

Jewish community agencies and boards operating with fiscal responsibility and accountability should compensate their professional leadership appropriately to attract and retain exemplary talent.

by Brenda Gevertz

I vividly remember the staff meeting I attended as a young pro when the Chairman of the Board addressed the us, sincerely expressing the regret that his son could not afford to enter Jewish communal service. He went on to tell us how much he admired and appreciated the work that we were doing. With all of his good intentions, none of us left that meeting feeling acknowledged or rewarded.

When The Forward published its annual survey of salaries of American Jewish leaders, it created a storm of reactions, as is predictable. I truly admire The Forward’s innovative, intelligent and gutsy Editor, Jane Eisner; she is doing a remarkable job bringing important topics to journalistic scrutiny. Now it’s time for The Forward to investigate and write a very different article, this time focusing on the salaries and benefits for newer career and entry level positions.

Jewish community agencies and boards operating with fiscal responsibility and accountability should compensate their professional leadership appropriately to attract and retain exemplary talent. These executives are the face of their organizations and work extraordinarily grueling schedules. If we attract the best talent because we pay better than other organizations, it is to the benefit of our community.

In general, the problem is not that we pay our executives too much, it is that we pay our entry and junior staff personnel too little. We are not keeping pace with other sectors and we are not nourishing the development and retention of earlier career professionals financially or in other ways. We are currently attracting wonderful young talent, in part because of programs such as birthright and Masa. As the economy recovers, will we see these exceptional young professionals leave the field? Are we paying them sufficiently to participate in the Jewish communities they help to sustain? We expect young workers to be available during evenings and weekends, yet many of our agencies do not offer compensatory time off, supervision or insights into career growth. While appropriate salaries and benefits should be on everyone’s desirable list, there are additional supportive ways to help professionals in our field. Will a foundation help establish a data bank of salary levels linked to accompanying skill and knowledge levels? This would begin to set benchmarks for achievement. Certification would also be a major step forward to firmly establish our professional attributes. Guidelines for organizations to provide supervision, professional development and career growth would help all career professionals. Recognition and awards for exemplary service, such as our JCSA Young Professional Award, are important ways to acknowledge the contributions talented professionals are providing.

Let’s showcase and applaud the organizations and agencies that are moving ahead with these initiatives. Yes, our Execs earn their salaries, and they are supported by team members who are also deserving of appropriate compensation. Perhaps if we nourished our younger career professionals better we would insure future generations of top talent. Now it is time for our Jewish communal organizations to look at the totality of professional compensation, not only from the top down, but at all levels.

Brenda Gevertz is Executive Director at Jewish Communal Service Association of North America.