Thoughts about Networking and the Building of the Nonprofit Community

The Other Side of the Desk: Thoughts about Networking and the Building of the Nonprofit Community
by David Eckstein

I applaud Stephen G. Donshik’s recent article on “Responding to Requests for Networking,” as well as Avi Rubel’s article on “Who’s going to Lead the Jewish Community of the Future.” As a young professional currently in the Jewish nonprofit job market, I have a debt of gratitude toward people like them and others who have been gracious enough to invest their precious time in providing me with the guidance and support I am seeking.

While I have just begun my career, I cannot imagine where I would have been without the inspiration of the mentors I have met, and the many networking meetings I have attended. Spending the last three years in graduate schools, I have had many conversations, networking opportunities, and informational meetings, which have provided me with much growth in my career. These experiences have helped me realize what I want to accomplish professionally, and have given me the tools to navigate setting proper goals and pursuing them.

Using Mr. Donshik’s ideas as a springboard for discussion, I propose a number of lessons I have learned from the other side of the desk. Five tools mentors can provide for young professionals:

  1. Role Models – the need for good role modeling in a generation with tremendous technological advancement is crucial, especially within a society that is built upon the online relationship models, such as Facebook, Twitter, and/or GChat. We need role models to show us that their path can be taken and it can be successful. We need to be able to ask questions, and we need responses that are thought through and accurate. We need to be shown the aspirations and goals of others, and how they attained and worked towards these outcomes. We need leaders who lead by example, and with integrity. We need to emphasize the importance of passion and the vision of hope, for the future of a bright Jewish community.
  2. Putting yourself in our shoes – the world of nonprofit may be different now than when today’s professionals entered the field. However, if you put yourselves in our shoes, and you think of the current nonprofit community, there is much you can educate us about.
  3. Advice – Many of the classes, summer programs, and papers I have written over the last few years have been influenced through advice of people who are currently in the field. People who were able to see far past where I can, and who attempted to help me transform my ideas into actions.
  4. Diversity – while a strength of the Jewish community is the diversity of organizations, the challenge is learning about all of them. Through networking meetings, one can learn about different organizations, different ideas, and different ways to get involved in them. Additionally, by providing us with learning resources and opportunities, you show us what is important to our community.
  5. Creating a database of contacts – by spending a few minutes with us, passing on our resumes for productive meetings and continuing the process of our networking, you are providing us with some of the most important tools for a job. When a person interviews for a job, they come with different resources and contacts. By meeting with us, you are helping grow the field, while at the same time you are making it more cohesive and connected.

The greatest way to pass the torch onto the next generation is to do it personally. I have heard many times that the nonprofit “bench” is weak, and we lack strong young leadership in many areas. Whether this is or is not true, the leaders of the current generation need to teach us what has worked, what has failed, and what our generation should be focusing on. We need passionate leaders who can step-up and encourage us in a tough job market, showing us the importance and impact of nonprofit work. This is what helps us progress as eager and developing participants in the field.

With the number of jobs on the market in this field at a low, and the 21st century mentality of a constant busy lifestyle, we need to work extra hard to help build the next generation. If we want our children to live in a diverse, social-action minded society with a passion of working with the Jewish community, then we must invest the time. I am glad to say, that I see a bright future, and have learned many lessons.

Maimonides (Laws of Gifts to the Poor 10:7) lists a hierarchy of 8 levels of charitable giving. He notes that the highest level of charity is the gift of a job.  Thank you for passing on the torch, and for teaching us the great mitzvah of Maimonides. Now it is our job to pay it forward to the next generation!

David Eckstein is graduating in June with Rabbinic Ordination from Yeshiva University, while simultaneously finishing a Master of Public Administration at Baruch College. He can be reached at DavidEckstein1@gmail.com or on twitter @DavidEckstein.