What We’re Hearing from the Field August 14 – September 11

By Leading Edge, Boardified (formerly Board Member Institute), Jewish Social Justice Roundtable, Jews of Color Initiative, JPRO Network, and UpStart

Each week, we speak with hundreds of CEOs, funders, volunteer leaders, and professionals from across the Jewish community. The following is a synthesis of the prevailing themes we have been hearing most frequently and urgently over the past few weeks (August 14 – September 11). For our last summary of themes, see here.

Across the Community
As we look ahead to the High Holidays, there is a mix of apprehension and excitement. Many in our community are disappointed by the loss of summer opportunities, horrified as wildfires ravage California and the Pacific Northwest, and frightened as it becomes apparent that there is no end in sight to the pandemic. With this, there is a deep sadness about the lack of traditional holiday celebrations, diminishing this season’s restorative nature. At the same time, there is a sense of optimism ahead, an opportunity to reset with the Jewish new year, and energy to create new ways to connect with community and family and find the needed joy and solace.

Organizations are experiencing this moment in much the same way as individuals. Some are looking to the last quarter of the year with concern for their organization’s future. Others are focused on how they will seize the opportunities that are coming next.

What were hearing that’s working well:

  • No matter their age, career stage, or personal circumstance, every professional and volunteer leader has been profoundly affected by this pandemic. Though people are in “different boats” of this storm, there is a growing understanding that we must take collective responsibility for one another and our community – in and beyond this crisis.
  • As organizations better understand how to operate during this time, many are able to bring people back from furlough and some have begun hiring again.
  • Organizations are acknowledging the importance of the upcoming election and are devising ways to make space for people to participate in pre-election activities, vote in the appropriate manner for them, and create spaces to come together to react to the election outcome.

What we’re hearing that remains a challenge:

  • Race relations in North America and within the Jewish community continue to be complicated. With anti-Semitism on the rise, Jews of Color are often asked to serve as bridges or “choose sides” in ways that are both challenging and unfair to their identities as Jews and People of Color.
  • There are organizations facing viability questions, particularly those with reduced funding or those unable to carry out their missions during the pandemic. The boards and professionals of these organizations are struggling to find meaningful strategic collaborations, without which they may be forced to wind down their operations.

CEOs’ Top Concerns & Needs:

  • CEOs continue to toggle between the short- and long-term needs of their organizations, including: 
    • There is a growing realization that many organizations won’t have a full return to the workplace for quite some time, if at all. 
    • Many CEOs are thinking about operating with fewer staff, as they focus on their organizations’ financial needs. 
    • They continue to adapt to their funders’ evolving abilities and interests, noting that some have remained open and flexible as they were back in March. Others have reverted to requiring the same metrics and reporting as they had in the past.
  • There is some concern among leaders that their organizations have entered into a mode of coastingAmidst Zoom fatigue, managing caregiving, social isolation, and generalized stress, some teams are merely maintaining the status quo and have lost the drive or even desire to move new things forward. 

Professionals Top Concerns & Needs:

  • Professionals have expressed a desire for greater transparency and, to the extent possible, greater predictability from their employers and supervisors around the following areas:  
    • When are we returning to the office?
    • Are there specific expectations for remote work?
    • What decisions are emerging from senior leadership?
  • While Zoom fatigue is very real, we are also hearing of people putting that aside in the interest of building connections and taking significant time to focus on their learning and development. There is also a felt sense that colleagues are continuing to support one another intentionally – whether by managing workloads, providing coverage when someone is out, or being present for emotional support.

Board Members Top Concerns & Needs:

  • The board’s role and purpose remains a live question for board members and professionals alike, and many are working to clarify decision-making and appropriate lanes of engagement. In some cases, boards have transitioned from crisis management to filling in the organizational gaps that have emerged. While it is not traditional for the board to be in the operational “weeds,” organizations that are cutting development, marketing, or other departments are grateful when skilled board members step in to help in this way.  
  • Even with so many unknowns, boards are asking professionals to engage in scenario planning to ensure they fulfill the organization’s mission as time goes on. For example, if in-person programming does not return for another year, what are the organization’s strategic priorities? If there is a 20-30% decrease in fundraising, how does an organization build its budget? Boards are pushing professional teams to make more concrete assumptions about how they will fulfill their missions, even with ongoing programming, staffing, and funding changes.

As we enter 5781, we wish to express collective gratitude to all of you for your tireless efforts over the last six months in service of our community. We hope you and your loved-ones find time in the coming weeks to celebrate and restore.

Shana Tova,

Leading Edge
Boardified (formerly Board Member Institute)
Jewish Social Justice Roundtable
Jews of Color Initiative
JPRO Network