I Say What I Think

Happy and healthy New Year to you and your family.

Earlier this week, I was flattered when a professional colleague commented that he enjoys reading my weekly email because he gets a sense of what I am thinking. I hope you do, too. At times, however, I am unsure if I am direct/concrete enough. Well, as we begin the new year, I want my thoughts to challenge each of you, and our community, as we build for a stronger future. 

·         Jewish life is just so darn expensive! Membership, tuition, fees, etc. all add up very quickly. I hear about it all the time. And with a down economy it makes things even tougher! I pitched an idea when I first came to Portland to create a business model where $1800 per family per year would provide full access to almost all Jewish communal programs and institutions (synagogues, camp, Jewish schools, etc). It was met with interest, curiosity, and of course, many naysayers.  Yes, the finances need to be reviewed, a governance structure put into place, and major communal participation is needed, but we have many brilliant people in our community who can make this work. For many organizations, they are worried about “what they could lose” in this model instead of amplifying what our community as a whole will gain. This idea is alive and well!  Portland can become the most affordable Jewish community in all of America!

·         Federation, Jewish communal organizations, and synagogues all need to work more closely together. The current “Balkanization” (as one colleague describes it) and “turf issues” that exist have to end. Consultant Adam Gaynor recently wrote, “When the environment is this tough, organizations need to see themselves as part of a larger, integrated communal structure. They need to focus on both vision and capacity. They need to be less proprietary about their constituents and need to collaborate with others on community needs-assessments, long-term strategic visioning exercises, intelligent financial and business planning, partnerships that reduce overhead, and the re-alignment of “catchment areas.” Mergers, shared resources, and efficiencies are not dirty words.

·         Today, it is all about Jewish experiences! And not institutions. We have lots of communal buildings (that cost a tremendous amount of money to maintain); yet Jewish life is all about what happens inside and outside of them. The experiences we provide people must become lasting memories and joyous opportunities that will motivate return participation.

·         Except for Jewish ritual practice, Jewish education, and Jewish culture there is almost nothing our Jewish community offers that cannot be found elsewhere. If someone else can provide a unique service or program better than we can in the Jewish community, then we need to look at partnerships, collaborations and perhaps even cease certain communal offerings. Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, started his tenure leading the company by saying if GE was not #1 or #2 in the world in a certain business segment then they would no longer be in that business. Why shouldn’t this be our mantra, as well?

·         Community organizations need to focus on their mission. Only Federation and the Oregon Jewish Community Foundation have financial resource development/fundraising in their mission statements. Instead, our organizations spend an enormous amount of time and money on fundraising activities (yes, I know, to provide mission-related programs and services). Recently, I had three conversations with people from various Jewish organizations where I asked what their focus was in the year ahead – interestingly, each responded – more donors. Money cannot get ahead of mission fulfillment. More mission will equal more dollars.

·         Federation (read that community) needs to raise more dollars. That is on Federation (and the Oregon Jewish Community Foundation) -- I understand that. It is our mandate and the role we have played for 90+ years in Portland. Yet over time, the demands of the Federation agencies grew at a faster pace than Federation’s annual campaign and agencies (understandably) went out on their own. By developing a new collaborative communal fundraising model, where the meshing of community needs with donor interests come together, we can be more successful than the current “my donor” mentality. Yes, we need greater financial support from YOU. Yes, we need increased permanent endowments for operating support, building maintenance, “field of service interests,” and specific projects to reduce the burden on annual fundraising efforts. And, yes, Federation must do its job better to enable the agencies to focus on and fulfill their missions.

To paraphrase Brian Solis in a recent blog posting, “Change is inevitable, but rarely is it easy. Among the greatest difficulties associated with change is the ability to even recognize its need at a time when we can actually do something about it.” NOW is that time – it is no longer business as usual. We must focus on our relevance by looking into the future, listening to the needs of community members, and delivering experiences that are worth repeating and sharing. Therefore, all options are on the table.

How is that for starting the year? I realize what better time than now, during this reflection period, to open our hearts and minds, relax our defensive posture, and commit ourselves to making changes that will benefit our entire Jewish community for today and for generations to come. Join me in that change process!

Shabbat shalom – and best wishes for a thought-provoked, easy and meaningful fast.


PS – As always, your feedback and input is welcome!


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