The Layleader Pipeline:
The Discussion Continues

By Rebecca Youngerman

[A posted comment to “What about the Lay Leader Pipeline? Another Call to Action

Thank you for this insightful piece and for inviting conversation and collaboration on such an important topic. You ask pressing questions, the discussion around which will shape the effectiveness and direction of our community’s most valued organizations and their leadership.

Through my personal lens as a past Jewish communal professional, and currently as a lay leader and consultant in the Jewish nonprofit sector, I believe your point about pipeline invites us to answer this need in one of two ways: we can either focus on finding strategies to draw more people into the pipeline, or, perhaps more significantly in the long term, we need to find ways to widen the pool of people we want to attract to the pipeline in the first place.

Currently, I believe that our Jewish community pipeline is generally built to draw a certain type of qualified candidate who is often already on the radar of Jewish organizations, serves on other boards, and may even have a family legacy of lay leadership. What this may do, inadvertently, is exclude or overlook people based on all kinds of factors – socioeconomic status, time availability, existing connection to the “mainstream” Jewish community, or past board service, for example.

As our community becomes more diverse, organizations more niche, and issues more complex, we need to recruit lay leaders who reflect the true make-up of today’s Jewish community. Let’s make sure we have representation in our lay leadership pipelines that includes intermarried Jews, men and women, members of the LGBTQ community, Jews of Color, and religiously, socioeconomically, geographically and professionally diverse individuals, to name a few. Let’s make sure that we are finding ways to get younger voices to the table – and let’s train our lay leaders, not just about the issues of the day (importantly), but significantly about the job description and role a nonprofit board member, as is starting to happen in high level ways.

In the Jewish sector, as in the private sector, many organizations are thinking about gender. We know that Fortune 500 companies with the highest percentage of female representation are shown to have higher performances. Let’s not stop there. Efforts towards building more diverse and inclusive boards, including and beyond gender, yield better results for an organization’s performance and for the communities we serve.

What would happen if funders included guidelines to prospective grantees that require their boards to reflect today’s richly diverse Jewish community? The NY Jewish Women’s Foundation smartly created a grant requirement for paid parental leave for their grantees. What if we treated diversity on Jewish organization’s boards not as a “nice to have” or an afterthought, but rather as a key ingredient to setting up a board to succeed?

Naturally, a diverse approach to widening the pipeline also requires a diverse approach to training our community lay leaders. Through my role as a Senior Schusterman Fellow, I am grateful and honored to join the second cohort of the Board Member Institute at Kellogg next month, where I know I will learn and gain skills that I can bring back to the Jewish nonprofit sector. How can we also create equally thoughtful, high level training opportunities for those aren’t participating in such a program because they didn’t know about it, can’t afford to, or don’t have the luxury of time to attend?

In addition to the many important and effective recruitment and training programs mentioned by you and others, how can we also be certain that our lay leadership recruitment pipeline reflects the same diversity that we will no doubt read about in the next Pew study?