What We’re Hearing from the Field
May 9 – May 22, 2020

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

Many of you have continued to ask what we’ve been 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 across the Jewish community. The following is a synthesis of the prevailing themes we heard most frequently and urgently during the past two weeks (May 9 – May 22). For our last summary of themes, see here.

Across the Community:
In recent weeks we, and others, have shared a growing concern about a backslide in programs and services focused on engaging Jews of Color (JOC). At the same time, there has been recent commentary about the diversity of North American Jewry, including the number of JOC in our community.

While hurtful and harmful to many, this exchange has brought the issue to the forefront of our communal conversation and engaged a vast swath of organizations and individuals in raising up the needs of Jews of Color. As of end of May 20, over 250 organizations and more than 2500 individuals have added their names to the #JOCsCount SignOn Letter. April N. Baskin, a diversity, equity and inclusion consultant and originator of the #JOCsCount hashtag said, “And now is the time to double-down on efforts to advance our vision of a vibrant, equitable multiracial Jewish community. Jews of Color count and we’re here to stay.”  

We, the undersigned, are deeply committed to representing the diverse voices and experiences of every member of our Jewish community – across race, color, sex, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, age, or ability.

CEOs’ Top Concerns and Needs:

  • The decision to close camps was a welcomed – albeit devastating – “known” in a world of “unknowns.” This reality emboldened leaders to re-imagine summer programming and look to the long-term of their organizations with renewed energy for their mission. Many are continuing to evaluate the purpose of their offerings and reconceiving them for a virtual universe.
  • With a mission focus, some leaders are doing exploratory work around collaborations and consolidation to ensure they can achieve the impact they seek. Whether through sharing resources, reducing redundancies, or other strategies, these leaders are focusing on sustaining their mission not necessarily their organization.
  • As some organizations look toward the end of their fiscal year and the expiry of the PPP funds, layoffs and furloughs are front of mind. We see these decisions being handled in a variety of ways. Many strive to downsize with dignity,” placing attention on appropriate transparency and support for those laid off while being mindful of the technical and emotional needs of those left behind. Other organizations are more challenged with these tasks, failing to provide clear communication, not offering meaningful severance, nor conducting exit interviews. Most of all, we see creative approaches to staffing emerging which are aimed at preventing furloughs or layoffs. Organizations are asking themselves: Can we wait to furlough staff? Are there two part-time jobs that can be combined? Can an employee’s skills pivot to another role, even if they’re offered lower pay for a time? 

Professionals Top Concerns and Needs:

  • There continues to be profound fatigue among professionals. Many have been working at an unprecedented pace while also managing challenging personal situations and the emotional toll of this time. That, combined with fear of impending furloughs/layoffs, as well as the summer without programming for school-aged children, has exacerbated the overwhelm we are all experiencing.
  • To both combat this fatigue, as well as strategically manage costs and accrued vacation time, some organizations are taking creative approaches to work schedules. Some have decided to shut down, anywhere from one to six weeks over the summer, while others are closing every Friday.
  • We also hear about layoffs and furloughs from the perspective of those affected. Employees are sharing a range of experiences, from panic about how they will pay their bills to anger that some employers prioritized non-disclosure agreements over employee welfare. Still other employees say they feel relief in having a hard decision made for them about whether or not to leave a job where they weren’t happy. 

BoardsTop Concerns and Needs:

  • Overall, there seems to be a lack of recognition that board members also need support in navigating the toll, duration, and complex challenges of this new reality. As a colleague of ours put it, “Board members are people, too.” Board members recognize that professionals have received significant support, but those learnings are not always being shared with the board. In some cases, this is causing a gap in knowledge between board and staff, and serving as another source of tension.
  • Board members are also concerned as some organizations move toward the end of their fiscal year (June 30). Without access to resources to help with financial planning, scenario planning, employment law, HR, capacity building, communications, etc., organizations will be forced to make decisions with incomplete and possibly inaccurate information. PPP was a brief lifeline, extending the runway for some organizations, but that runway is very quickly running out and will demand immediate and decisive action. 
  • Boards that were not initially in crisis-mode are beginning to understand the fragility of their organizations as they budget, or re-forecast budgets, for next year. If leaders have not fully communicated or properly prepared their boards for the financial and programmatic implications of the last 10 weeks, significant frustration results. Professionals are getting pushback from their boards for lack of transparency and failure to bring them in sooner to potentially existential conversations.

As we head into Shavuot, we are drawing strength and optimism from the ways our community is standing together in this moment – as we stood together at Sinai.

Chag sameach,

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