What We’re Hearing from the Field
April 6-24, 2020

By Leading Edge, JPRO Network, UpStart, Jewish Social Justice Roundtable, and Board Member Institute for Jewish Nonprofits

Dear friends,

Many of you continue to ask what we are seeing and hearing from Jewish nonprofits on the ground.

Each week, we speak with hundreds of funders, volunteer leaders, and professionals at all levels from all parts of the Jewish community. The following is a synthesis of the prevailing themes we heard from leaders and professionals most frequently and urgently during the past few weeks (April 6 – April 24). 

Please note, this situation is changing day by day. This summary provides a pulse of what we see at this moment in time, with an emphasis on new developments. What follows is not an exhaustive list of themes nor is it ever-green. (For previous summaries of themes, see here and here.)

CEOs top concerns and needs:

  • Among CEOs, we see a shift toward thinking about the next fiscal year and beyond. The SBA/PPP and other emergency assistance have extended the financial runway of some organizations. That, along with a sense of routine and cautious optimism about the state of the virus, has created an opportunity to think more broadly and long-term. Specifically, CEOs are:
    • Focusing on purpose and values to ensure decisions, staff structure, and programs and services align with the organization’s mission and unique value proposition. 
    • Using the time away from “regular programming” to examine the critical issues of staff support, inclusion, and racial equity within their organizations and in our community.
    • Shifting operating strategies to plan and budget for reopening, return to quarantine contingencies, scenario planning, etc.
    • Evaluating the lessons learned during the crisis and using them to make strategic changes, i.e., new virtual offerings getting wider traction and bringing in significantly more revenue.
  • For those who have not received emergency funding, the focus remains immediate. Organizations are confused by the multitude of available new resources. CEOs hunger for guidance and coordination about the various options, the priorities and criteria for each, and how to access them. 
  • Many CEOs are overwhelmed. Early in this crisis, they realized that this would be a marathon and not a sprint. But now it seems this is a triathlon in which they are still in the first stage. Many need thought partnership from their board chairs and expert technical support from outside the organization. As an example, those CEOs with executive coaches find them to be a critical support right now.

Professionals top concerns:

  • In more and more organizations, we are hearing about a growing gap between senior professional and lay leadership, and the rest of the organization. Executives are enmeshed in crucial conversations about the future of their organizations and need to make quick decisions in those regards. Without access to these discussions or information, employees do not feel empowered to take the initiative at a time when they are most motivated to act in support of their communities.  
  • Many of the professionals focused on the talent within their organization (the “people people”) are developing scenario plans for returning to work amid concerns of ongoing risk. In these efforts, we see critical thinking in:
    • Health and safety-related issues related to the physical office space (questions around common area use, desk placement for open concept workplaces), equipment readiness (masks for employees), commuting challenges (especially if mass transit is involved), and travel policies. Relatedly, how to provide health insurance and similar resources in light of staff reductions (decreased hours rather than layoff).
    • Echoes of this trauma will play out in the workplace for quite some time, talent professionals are thinking about psychological safety and supporting their team’s mental and emotional health needs with resources like employee assistance programs.
    • The liability and legal ramifications, as well as the moral and ethical issues of staff who need to/choose to remain in a remote workspace when others return to the office.

Board members top concerns:

  • As the end of the fiscal year (June 30) for many organizations approaches, board chairs and members are looking at this natural transition time. Boards are evaluating whether it is more effective to bring on new board members (and if so, how to vet/onboard) or to hold current board members for an extended-term in an effort to bring stability to a highly volatile time.
  • For those that are able, boards are using this period to conduct expedited board development. They see that weaker boards are struggling at this time and understand that this investment will deepen board engagement and net a culture that is prepared to navigate future challenges.
  • Since the crisis began, there has been a varied response by lay leadership to the lay-professional partnership. In some cases, it is strong and supportive but in others, there is tension between board leadership and senior staff, which seems to be manifesting most saliently in some board members being uncomfortable with, and in some cases being unwilling, to engage in fundraising activities despite the strong need.
  • We are seeing an increase in board and CEO coaching services as a useful option to support organizations at this moment. Whether to manage the lay-professional interpersonal dynamics or to support CEOs individually, boards are amenable to providing this kind of aid. The specific issues may vary, but there is a growing understanding that this would be a benefit for board chairs and CEOs across the Jewish community.

As we reflect upon the past few weeks, we know that this moment in time is like no other. The way through and out of this crisis does not have a ready playbook. We have the deepest respect for every staff member, executive, and volunteer leader who is striving to navigate through this crisis each day.

Leading Edge, Gali Cooks
JPRO Network, Ilana Aisen
Board Member Institute for Jewish Nonprofits, Alicia Oberman
Jewish Social Justice Roundtable, Abby Levine
UpStart, Aaron Katler