“Takeaways” from WRJ’s Assembly and URJ’s Biennial: Women and Youth Lead the Way

by Robert I. Evans and Avrum D. Lapin

In our recent posting about the just concluded 2011 Biennial of the Reform Movement, we lovingly chided the Union for Reform Judaism’s successful conference for focusing inadequately on preparing its leaders and constituents for the challenges of not just understanding philanthropy, but doing it. That is not to say that charitable giving is not happening, but philanthropy should be happening more and be more central to the ongoing functioning and vision for the Movement and its components.

Amidst a dynamic conference where “batteries were recharged” and Jewish spiritual energy renewed and replenished, we note two national efforts which, we are certain, are the harbingers of the future.

We witnessed the first at the exciting Assembly of the Women of Reform Judaism (WRJ), as WRJ pressed forward with their ongoing 100 year commitment to leadership development, tikkun olam, and Jewish education and training. Formally announcing the WRJ’s Centennial, which will occur in 2013, and the WRJ Centennial Campaign, WRJ’s recently inaugurated effort to raise $5 million to expand its endowment and provide permanent support for critical programs, and through that to realize its vision for its second century, WRJ has once again led the way for the Reform Movement.

Announcing almost $2 million in commitments, obtained through the generosity of its members and leaders, and including a transformative gift of $1 million, the WRJ Centennial Campaign served a fundamental component of the WRJ Assembly and of the historic gathering of the Reform Movement. In fact, the meeting of the Centennial Campaign’s North American Campaign Leadership Team was the first meeting of the Assembly and was a matter for discussion throughout the Assembly and Biennial calendars. Kol Hakavod to the Women of Reform Judaism for their determination and dedication to their mission and to the Jewish people and for the pace-setting model it created!

The second transformative element of the 2011 Biennial was Campaign for Youth Engagement (CYE) and its determined focus on youth and on the need to make the development, education and retention of Jewish youth a central and fundamental mission for the Reform Movement going forward.

Stemming from research that told us the staggering fact that up to 80% of Jewish youth are at risk for losing their connectivity to the Jewish community after their bnei mitzvah, the CYE will marshal human, organizational, and financial resources and set forth a North American initiative to create opportunities for Jewish engagement from childhood through adolescence and adulthood. A visionary CYE will successfully establish PEOPLE, PARTNERSHIPS and PATHWAYS, setting the goals, and creating the programming, leadership expertise and capacity to bolster the commitment of the Reform Movement to its dynamic future by engaging Jewish youth and developing leaders for tomorrow.

But communicating about the initiative was not nearly enough. URJ coupled the “roll out” of the CYE with an announcement of gifts totaling $1 million to date to inaugurate and propel the program. This funding, clearly just the beginning, will enable the Reform Movement to implement its initiative across North America and attract other funders, benefactors, supporters and advocates.

So what were the “takeaways” from WRJ’s Assembly and URJ’s Biennial?

  1. Giving is a fundamental part of the Reform Movement on all levels. It bears discussion and recognition for its role in not only making programs and activities possible, but for building community and enabling people from across our continent to unite behind a common purpose.
  2. The “first principle” of fundraising is that people give to people. So talk about accomplishments, like the WRJ Centennial Campaign and the Campaign for Youth Engagement. The more people who know about it, and the more people who are involved in leading and doing it, the more people will participate and give at increasing levels.
  3. Philanthropy will be a growing and increasingly public dimension of the life of the Reform Movement in the months and years to come. Keeping it “front and center” and talking about it represents a true challenge. While we saw more announcements of gifts at this Biennial than in the past, the notion that philanthropy is “implied” should be no more.
  4. Confidence is built by learning and doing, so the next challenge to congregational and movement leaders will be to create opportunities and to do give more prominence to successful campaign efforts that are transformational. Wisdom says: highlight successes on congregational, regional, district and national levels. Intersperse “how to’s” and “how come’s” and “how we did it’s,” utilizing combined knowledge and expertise of the many leaders throughout North America who have made it happen. This way there are options for everyone as they seek to understand about approaches and strategies and pathways to success.

The WRJ and CYE announcements made history and are shaping the future of the Reform Movement and of the North American Jewish scene. Hopefully, there is more to come.

Be sure to also read Reflecting on URJ’s Biennial: Where Is Encouraging Philanthropy?

Robert I. Evans, Managing Director, and Avrum D. Lapin, Director, are principals of The EHL Consulting Group, of suburban Philadelphia, and are frequent contributors to eJewishPhilanthropy.com. EHL Consulting works with dozens of nonprofits on fundraising, strategic planning, and non-profit business practices. Become a fan of The EHL Consulting Group on Facebook; TWITTER: @EHLConsultGrp