What We’re Hearing from the Field
June 6 – June 19

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

Each week, and during this period of crisis more so, we speak with hundreds of funders, volunteer leaders, and professionals at all levels from across the Jewish community. The following is a synthesis of the prevailing themes we heard most frequently and urgently during the past two weeks (June 6 – June 19). For our last summary of themes, see here

Across the Community:
It has been over 100 days since many of us were last in our traditional workplaces. More than 100 days since we easily met a colleague for lunch or hopped on a plane for a convening. For more than 100 days, we have been in crisis mode, with new emergencies eclipsing the previous ones at a rapid pace. This week was different. For some at least, this week brought a subtle shift toward equilibrium – accepting our new reality and directing energy toward the future.  

In the last 100 days, organizations have (re)focused on their mission and articulated their values and principles. Teams have figured out new ways of working together and maintaining strong relationships.

Funders have sought to be more flexible and responsive with some increasing their funding, and relaxing certain policies, restrictions, and reporting requirements, which has been a great source of support to the organizations they fund.

Leaders are now thinking differently about pacing the work to ensure that their organizations can remain sustainable. They are closing offices, pushing for vacation time, and seeking creative ways to nourish their teams. Many individuals have been buoyed by recent decisions from the Supreme Court. 

These 100 days have been more difficult than any in recent memory. It has tested each person and organization. The subtle shift we are seeing does not take away from the deep exhaustion, anxiety, and fear that we see rippling across our community, but it offers hope – a spirit of collaboration not often seen, a deep commitment to our people, and an inspirational level of empathy and caring for those in the Jewish community and in the world at large.

CEOs Top Concerns & Needs:

  • Responding to Racial Injustice: Executives continue to struggle with how to meet this moment, in a way that is both authentic to their leadership and responds to the urgency of now. There is a deep understanding of the need to address structural racism, along with the realization that this work is long-term and systemic. Many leaders are feeling a sense of guilt or shame that they did not awaken to these issues earlier. Many understand that they must go beyond statements and that there is no quick fix to becoming an anti-racist organization and community. Some CEOs are feeling paralyzed by a fear of doing or saying the “wrong” thing, despite good intentions. In an earlier posting, we shared concerns from members of our community that the Jewish community’s response to the pandemic diminished the work on and funding for work related to diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice (DEIJ). In recent weeks, many organizations have doubled down on DEIJ efforts, showing that this work is essential to the future of our community. 
  • Fielding Questions about Job Security and the Future: As official announcements are made and rumors circulate, CEOs are experiencing a significant uptick in anxiety from their teams around both layoffs and the future of their organizations (e.g. will they merge or close). The bright spots in this area are that (1) CEOs and senior leaders are communicating with their teams more than ever before, and (2) a tremendous amount of collaboration and experimentation is happening across the sector as organizational lines are blurred.
  • Receiving Mixed Messages: Executives are struggling to balance the mixed messages they are receiving from major funders. While some funders are looking for “big ideas,” others are suggesting organizations simply “tread water.” Reconciling this survive or thrive dichotomy adds additional pressure to CEOs. The disparity in these messages is not necessarily different from pre-pandemic concerns, but this period has magnified it.

Professionals Top Concerns & Needs:

  • Needing Help with Prioritization: Professionals are feeling overwhelmed by the demand to respond to Covid-19, racial injustice, and continue the ‘usual’ work of the organization. While the recent articulation of values and priorities that many organizations have made has been helpful, professionals feel a constant pressure to redirect their efforts. As a result, there remains an even greater need for guidance from leadership on priorities and support for mental health and work/life balance.
  • Returning to the Workplace (or not): More and more organizations have announced plans to significantly delay the return to the workplace, alongside announcements that there will be no in-person programming until (and in some cases deep into) 2021. These decisions have a tremendous cascading impact on core mission and workflow, operations, and culture.
    • Professionals remain concerned about workloads during this period of remote work. Are organizations sufficiently flexible with each employee? Are they providing additional resources to those working overtime? Organizations need to continue to recognize and adapt to the variability in each employees availability and ability as some are able to work much more and others far less.
    • As organizations continue to build the muscle of working and programming remotely, they are considering how to leverage what has gone well (both operationally and programmatically) in the last few months when they do eventually return to the workplace.

Board Members Top Concerns & Needs:..

  • Responding to Racial Injustice: As with CEOs, board members are thinking about their role in building a more diverse, equitable, inclusive, and just community. As boards think about recruiting new members, many are examining how and who they recruit to join their boards. Many are looking to think beyond their usual processes and circles and actively seeking resources to help them.
  • Clarifying Roles and Responsibilities: As some organizations return to the workplace and/or offer limited in-person programming, many are codifying policies and procedures that more clearly delineate the roles and responsibilities of board members and senior staff. This is particularly related to the process by which decisions will be made and the types of decisions which must go before the board, since the board is ultimately responsible for the organization from a fiscal and liability perspective (which varies state to state).
  • Planning for Succession: The past three months have revealed gaps in many organizations around both board composition and the leadership bench. Boards are paying much more attention to their own succession planning, which brings into focus the importance of the role of Vice Chair. Many are seeking to make this role increasingly more defined, strategic and involved. In some cases, immediate past chairs are being asked to stay active in order to ensure continuity and maintenance of institutional knowledge.

The next Snapshot will be published Monday, July 20th.

Leading Edge
Board Member Institute
Jews of Color Initiative
Jewish Social Justice Roundtable
JPRO Network