Sharing a Development Director

Texas_flagBy Rabbi Matt Rosenberg
and Rabbi Kenny Weiss

Those of us involved in development and fundraising often exhibit territorial behavior reminiscent of the animal kingdom in which we focus on self-preservation rather than cooperation. These instincts become especially intense in the Jewish community because of the relatively small pool of potential donors, particularly in smaller Jewish communities.

Considering the environment, it seems counter-intuitive for two separate Hillel foundations within the same geographic area to share a development director, but that’s exactly what we have been doing since last April.

Sharing a development director works for a few reasons. Economies of scale work in our favor, and Hillel at Texas A&M needs a development professional in Houston, which has more A&M donors than in the college town of College Station, Texas. It is also beneficial that Hillel at Texas A&M and Houston Hillel have few donors common to both.

But the real reason the arrangement works is because as two executive directors, we collaborate well, enjoy each other’s company, and trust each other. Complete transparency is essential to collaborate at this scale, when we are sharing one staff member charged with raising funds for two “competing” organizations. On one hand, having a shared development director means that she can share information about grant or funding opportunities with each executive director. On the other hand, it means that each Hillel might submit a similar grant proposal or reach out to the same potential donor prospect.

Last spring we hired Lena Lieb as our development director. Lena most recently served as a development associate at our local Jewish Community Center. She holds a masters degree in public administration from the University of Houston and is a 2008 graduate of Texas A&M University, where she served as president of Hillel. Following graduation from Texas A&M, Lena spent two years as an education fellow with the Institute for Southern Jewish Life, based in Jackson, Mississippi.

Clearly, Lena is a great candidate for a joint position that requires knowledge of two very different campus communities. Lena thoroughly understands the unique culture of Aggieland and, at the same time, she’s thoroughly connected to the Houston and Texas Jewish philanthropic communities.

Right now, Lena has very different tasks on each Hillel’s agenda. But tasks change over time, and our vision transcends whether one of us wants to focus on increasing grant revenue and the other on scheduling more in person meetings. It might seem that Lena has two, half-time development jobs. But, that’s not how we see it. Rather, we truly consider our development director as part of a combined Texas at A&M Hillel / Houston Hillel Development Department. In fact, Lena’s business card lists the Houston Hillel address, where she offices, as the combined development office for both organizations.

Our shared development director may seem counter-intuitive, but our vision was validated when our Hillels jointly received an award for Innovation in Fundraising at Hillel International’s Global Assembly two months ago in Orlando, Florida. The award recognizes the cooperation between our two organizations that the position entails. In making the award Hillel International President Eric Fingerhut specifically acknowledged our two Hillels “taking a bold and trusting step toward collaboration and the sharing of resources yielding new gains for both partners.”

While building a shared development department might not work for every smaller Jewish nonprofit organization, in the case of our two Hillels, with the same ultimate mission and goals of serving Jewish college students, combining resources to broaden our ability to raise funds has been a success.

Rabbi Matt Rosenberg is Executive Director of Hillel at Texas A&M University and Rabbi Kenny Weiss is Executive Director of Houston Hillel.