The Importance of the Why

Earlier this week, I spent several hours with community leaders discussing the next century for the Jewish Federation. Our focus was on how to better tell our story. During our 100th anniversary year we have an incredible opportunity to look at our past, present, and future. What have we accomplished this past century? Who are we as an organization? What are we doing to best benefit the Jewish community? How can we do our work better? What does success look like?
In reality, these are important questions, but the real challenge is explaining the "why" we do what we do.
There is a popular Simon Sinek TED Talk video (the most popular TED video of all time) about “Start with the Why?” The focus is on how organizations think of their audience and ways to connect with them. He explains his concept of focusing on the “why,” “how”, and “what” via “The Golden Circle.”
The challenge is that answering these questions for organizations is not so simple. In fact, most organizations start with their "what" and then move to the "how." Most neglect to even mention "why."
In his TED Talk, Sinek uses the example of Apple. The company starts with the “why.” It is the core of their marketing and the driving force behind their business operations. To help illustrate this point, imagine if Apple started backwards by creating a marketing message that started with "what."
" We make great computers. They're user friendly, beautifully designed, and easy to use. Want to buy one? "
While these facts are true, people are not sold. They want to know why they are great and user-friendly. Turns out Apple has figured this out over the years. Here's what a real marketing message from Apple might actually look like.
" With everything we do, we aim to challenge the status quo. We aim to think differently. Our products are user-friendly, beautifully designed, and easy to use. We just happen to make great computers. Want to buy one? "
See how different that feels? Sinek explains that by Apple starting with "why" to define its company it is able to attract customers who share those fundamental beliefs.
All Jewish organizations need to do the same. We need to think of our work differently – not via the programs and services we offer – but the “why” of the work we do. And then convey that better to our community.
Here are just a few slices of Sinek’s wisdom that hopefully inspire our Jewish community, including the Jewish Federation, to innovate, improve and change its “business” to achieve better results.
1) “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.
Many organizations are focused on selling the features and benefits of membership, programs and services. In reality, what motivates people the most is the mission and vision of what the organization hopes to achieve.
Apple is not about selling personal computers, it is about “thinking differently.” Airbnb is not about short-term rentals. It is about connecting people so that you can belong anywhere. The Jewish Federation is not about raising money. It is about strengthening our Jewish future.
2) “The goal is not to do business with everybody who needs what you have. The goal is to do business with people who believe what you believe.
In other words, if you try to please everybody, you will please nobody. But this is a challenge for all Jewish organizations as we aspire to involve and engage the entirety of the Jewish community. It feels instinctive to try and reach every Jew. But can we? And, serve everyone well?
Airbnb founder Brian Chesky said, "It is better to have 1000 customers who love you, than millions who ‘kind of’ like you.”
3) “If you can clearly articulate the dream or the goal, start.
My hope is that people will love and appreciate the various missions and values of our Jewish organizations. To do this, we must effectively communicate them first. It is one thing for people to know “what we do/offer.” It is a very different thing to know “why we do what we do.”
I am not a marketing expert, nor do I understand all the jargon that gets thrown around, but going through this process earlier this week really made me think deeply about our work at the Jewish Federation. What is our “why? 
So, tell me your thoughts about the “why” of the Jewish Federation or your favorite Jewish organization. Just hit reply to this email and feel free to share.
Your input is important as we plan for our next 100 years.
A few announcements:
JOTV has another wonderful video for your enjoyment. It is an interview recorded with Rabbi Joshua Stampfer (z”l) prior to his passing. It is quite a treat to watch and a wonderful way to honor his memory and teachings.
The Cascade Pacific Council of the Boy Scouts of America is inviting Jewish boys and girls ages 5-17 to join scouting with an introductory program on January 22 at 6:30 p.m. at the Mittleman Jewish Community Center. The brand new Cub Scout Pack (boys and girls 5-10), boys troop (11-17), and girls troop (11-17) will serve the needs, interests and faith traditions of all Jewish families. For more information, please contact Jason Macpherson at
There are limited spots available for the Weekend in Quest sponsored by the Institute for Judaic Studies. The program will be held in Astoria March 6-8, 2020. This year’s Scholar-in-Residence is Professor Evlyn Gould of the University of Oregon. The topic is Friends, Foes, Fanatics and Proto-Fascists: The Dreyfus Affair in fin-de-siecle France (1894-1906) . Learn more and sign up here.
Shabbat shalom and I look forward to hearing your “why.”


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