We should strive to see all of our colleagues, whether they are on an equal level or subordinate to us, or whether they are professional or volunteer leaders, as deserving the same attention, respect, and recognition as the people who make it possible for the communal organizations to exist, survive, and develop for the good of our community.

by Stephen G. Donshik

Over the last several weeks I have written about themes having to do with the Yomim Noraim – the High Holidays – and Jewish communal work. Now as we are about to begin the joyous celebration of Sukkot, we are also planning for the period referred to as “after the holidays.” We all face this question at this time of year: After experiencing a period of self-reflection in which we may have decided to change the way we interact with others in our professional roles, how do we go about implementing those changes?

In the course of our average workday we come into contact with colleagues, members, clients, and/or donors in the Jewish community. Each interaction requires us to develop and maintain positive and helpful relationships. However, in our roles as professional or volunteer leaders, we tend to be much more conscious of the way we engage with members of that last group, the donors.

We might say we have more of a “sales relationship” with these people because we are either trying to market the community and its services to them or trying to renew their past support for the agency. We are much more likely to be aware of how we speak and respond to prospective and current donors because we ultimately want them to give their financial support to our community or our organization in a generous way. In most cases we are much more conscious of the words we use with these donors as well as how we educate them about our programs than we are in our interactions with colleagues or clients. We tend to be cautious and not want to pressure them or to appear to take their support for granted.

If donors have questions or want more information, we are aware of the importance of getting back to them in a timely fashion. Often we exhibit a great deal of patience and understanding in these relationships because we want to communicate a sense of care and concern for their ideas, thoughts, and questions. Often our conversations with donors include discussions far beyond the organization or the community, touching on issues dealing with their Jewish identity, the Jewish people, our community, and Israel.

We are well aware that we cannot always satisfy all prospective donors or resolve all of their complaints. However, we make the effort to provide them information and to frame our responses to them in a way that strengthens their confidence that we are using their funds in the most appropriate way to meet community needs. In addition, we want them to know we are interested in them as people, not just as supporters of efforts on behalf of the Jewish community. We try and engage donors in a way that satisfies their interest as well as their questions.

Often it is easier to do Tshuva, to get the relationship back on track, with donors and potential donors than it is with others whom we relate to in our professional roles. We tend to lose patience more often with people who are not donors, whether they are members of a JCC, parents of children in our school, or the colleagues we work with in the community. If we have made the commitment to develop better relationships with all the people we work with, then we need to apply the same care and sensitivity to interactions with clients, members, and colleagues that we do with donors. Here are some things we should keep in mind as we move further into the Jewish year.

It is not easy to change how we respond to people once we have a history with them; often it takes a great deal of willpower to change our patterns of communication with those we work with on a daily basis. If during the past two weeks we took the opportunity to speak with them about our relationships as part of the process that defines this period in the Jewish calendar, then they and we are aware of our desire to change the nature of the way we work together. If we have yet to speak with them about how we work together, it is never too late. The last thing we want for ourselves and for those we work with is to view the work we do on behalf of the community as a burden because of the poor working relationships we have with other people.

In the Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Shabbat 31a, it says, “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow,” and this should be a guideline to our work in the community as much as it is a “Golden Rule” in Jewish life. Interpolating this principle into communal life means we have to think about how we respond to people so that we do not respond to them in a way that we would not want them to respond to us. Applying this principle to our daily interactions should cause us to think twice about the way we respond to requests, questions, and complaints, as well as how we handle other exchanges we have during the course of the day.
Just as we need to be aware of how we respond to others, we also have to be conscious of the kinds of requests we make of others and how we ask for something to be done or for information to be provided. There are always two parties to the communication, and we are often more sensitive to how we might have felt offended or misunderstood than to how we might have offended someone else. We need to focus both on what we communicate and how we communicate it to others.

One guideline we could follow would be to conduct our interactions with others as if each individual is the president of our organization or a million-dollar donor. We should strive to see all of our colleagues, whether they are on an equal level or subordinate to us, or whether they are professional or volunteer leaders, as deserving the same attention, respect, and recognition as the people who make it possible for the communal organizations to exist, survive, and develop for the good of our community. We have now made the transition into a new year, and if we have made decisions about changing how we do our work, let’s all make the effort to implement those changes in the relationships we have with people on a daily basis in our professional lives.

Stephen G. Donshik, D.S.W., is a lecturer at Hebrew University’s International Nonprofit Management and Leadership Program and has a consulting firm focused on strengthening nonprofit organizations and their leadership for tomorrow. Stephen is a regular contributor to eJewish Philanthropy.