Leading Change in the Jewish Nonprofit Ecosystem

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

From left:  Jordan Fruchtman, Chief Program Officer, Moishe House; Allan Finkelstein, President Emeritus,  Jewish Community Centers of North America; Jay Geller, Chair, Advisory Council, Zelikow School of Jewish Nonprofit Management; David Cygielman, Chief Executive Officer, Moishe House; Gali Cooks, Executive Director, Leading Edge, the Jewish Pipelines Alliance; and Erik Ludwig, Director, Zelikow School of Jewish Nonprofit Management 

Jewish organizations are experiencing a period of dynamic change in leadership. The Bridgespan Group in its research on the Jewish leadership pipeline has suggested that in the neighborhood of 75% of Jewish nonprofits will need to find new executive leadership within the next 5-7 years and many organizations are finding it difficult to attract and keep quality talent. [1] “An existential challenge facing how we as a community build sustainable Jewish organizations is the need to develop innovative leaders who have the right set of tools to lead change,” said Erik Ludwig, director of the Zelikow School of Jewish Nonprofit Management.

Frequently, the greater community narrative sets up what I believe is a false dichotomy that places established organizations and startups at odds with each other. We should spend more time revealing a practice where both are learning from each other and building models that strengthen the relevancy of Jewish life. As innovative leaders we must challenge ourselves to be incredibly inquisitive, to not be afraid of failure, and to see what is often overlooked. We must move our sights beyond the 3-5 years that strategic plans limit our thinking to and in doing so we will make dramatic change positively impacting the generations.

These are the big challenges that our students grapple with in the classroom at the Zelikow School. The Geller-Gallagher Leadership Institute (GGLI) provides an important forum for us to expand the conversation, reaching beyond the walls of the classroom and boundaries of the campus in deepening knowledge and providing thought leadership to the greater Jewish community.

Our inaugural GGLI program of the Zelikow School for Jewish Nonprofit Management (ZSJNM) hosted an evening of interactive conversation and hands-on learning at the UCLA Hillel in Los Angeles on August 8,2016. Our speakers, Allan Finkelstein, president emeritus, JCCA, Gali Cooks; executive director, Leading Edge; David Cygielman, founder and CEO, Moishe House, and Jordan Fruchtman, CPO, Moishe House presented an arc of learning that optimistically shared the need for leaders who can lead change, a data driven understanding of how communal structures hinder developing innovative leaders, and what happens when we take a chance on new leadership models.

Allan Finkelstein encouraged the group to think about ways to “reinvent the structure of Jewish life to continue to do the business that still needs to get done.”

For Gali Cooks, nonprofits play an increasingly important role in maintaining and building our civil society. “They take care of our most vulnerable while developing ways to evolve and grow,” she said. Her organization, Leading Edge, is at the forefront of supporting Jewish nonprofits in sustaining and cultivating present and future leaders. “Leaders are at the helm of these organizations doing critical work. They chart a course, inspire a team, and captain the journey that makes it all happen.”

Moishe House, whose mission is to support young leaders in developing meaningful homegrown communities, are an example of innovative leadership in their using a human centered design approach to launch and scale a Jewish startup. The insights drawn from their experience provide a new model for understanding how the decisions and products of innovative leaders can dramatically alter the course of history.

The probing questions and exchange of ideas were valued by HUC-JIR Board member, Jay Geller, who established the GGLI with his husband Lowell Gallagher with a $1 million gift to HUC-JIR. “Our goal in creating this Institute was to give the Zelikow School and the community at large the ability to cross-pollinate ideas and experiences in order to inspire leadership at every level,” he said.

David Cygielman, Moishe House’s founder, thought this discussion was fruitful because, “by focusing on leadership and nonprofits, we are investing in all of our futures,” he said.

[1] Dikoff, S. & Landles-Cobb, L. (2014) Leadership Pipelines Initiative: Cultivating the Next Generation of Leaders for Jewish Nonprofits. The Bridgespan Group..

Founded in 1875, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is North America's leading institution of higher Jewish education and the academic, spiritual, and professional leadership development center of Reform Judaism. HUC-JIR educates men and women for service to North American and world Jewry as rabbis, cantors, educators, and nonprofit management professionals, and offers graduate programs to scholars and clergy of all faiths. With centers of learning in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, and New York, HUC-JIR's scholarly resources comprise the renowned Klau Library, The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, research institutes and centers, and academic publications. In partnership with the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, HUC-JIR sustains the Reform Movement's congregations and professional and lay leaders. HUC-JIR's campuses invite the community to cultural and educational programs illuminating Jewish heritage and fostering interfaith and multiethnic understanding. www.huc.edu