From the Professional Staff

Launching an Investment Strategy in Jewish Educational Leadership

By Seth Linden on April 25th, 2017

How might the Jewish world create, nurture and develop the next generation of Jewish education leaders? The professional staff and board at the Jim Joseph Foundation for the last 18 months have closely explored this question—drawing on 11 years of experience investing in Jewish educators, in Jewish learning experiences for youth, and in building the field of Jewish education to inform our answer. Through this exploration, we have gained an understanding that  supporting talented leaders is mission-aligned with supporting effective Jewish educators and helping to build the field in which they work. Specifically, investing in current and future leaders in Jewish education organizations is a leveraged strategy to achieve the Foundation’s broader mission.

Many are now familiar with the troubling statistic that in the next 5-7 years, 75-90% of Jewish organizations will have to find new executive leadership. This is the leading cause of what many refer to as a “nonprofit leadership deficit” in the field. Others observe this trend and suggest that the more appropriate way to define the challenge is a leadership investment deficit – there are plenty of leaders ready to lead, but there is a paucity of investment in talent development. By some estimates, foundations spend a meager 1% of their grantmaking dollars on talent development.

Whether it is a deficit in leaders or a deficit in investment, action is needed. As part of my onboarding process at the Foundation last year, I was charged with researching previous Jim Joseph Foundation grants to identify trends in our investments related to funding leadership training programs. I found a significant amount of funds helped to support programs or organizations that run leadership programs, whether for emerging leaders, mid-career leadersservice learning fellowseducator trainers, and senior executives. I was also fortunate to go on a “listening tour” to hear from funders, academics and practitioners who are steeped in this field of leadership training. I found examples of programs that provide sabbaticals to Executive Directors (Barr Foundation, Durfee Foundation); customized support for core grantees to develop internal leadership capacities (Walter and Elise Haas, Jr. Fund, Kresge Foundation); and programs focusing on leaders of color, LGBTQ leaders, and other dimensions of diversity, equity and inclusion (Hewlett Foundation, Irvine Foundation).

The development of the Foundation’s leadership investment strategy has been thoughtful and deliberate, guided by an overarching goal to learn more about the field of Jewish leadership and have greater clarity around the most effective ways to invest. From the Foundation’s research in this space, four strategic components emerged:

1) Continue learning from and with current grantees already in the leadership space.

2) Learn from and with new grantees, in part by releasing the Foundation’s first-ever open Request for Proposals (RFP) for Leadership Development.

3) Provide additional leadership capacity support to our current grantees so they can deepen the skills of their own staff.

4) Broaden the Foundation’s role as a convener in the field, bringing together professional and lay leaders of nonprofits, foundations and other experts.

In the mid- to long-term, we hope these new initiatives that the Foundation may fund will expand the pipeline of excellent talent to fill leadership positions, increase retention and advancement of Jewish education leaders, and create more successful, sustainable Jewish organizations.

My colleagues and I are learning important lessons from the research and discovery phase of this new strategy area for the Foundation. For example, most successful leadership programs include these Four C’s: Coaching, Cohorts, Collaboration and Convening. Leadership programs also can have many audiences and different goals – it is critical to identify these up front with Logic Models and/or Theories of Change – and Grantmakers for Effective Organization’s (GEO) leadership investment matrix provides helpful suggestions depending on whether the target outcome is the individual, organization, or ecosystem. Similarly, a program can focus on everything from general leadership development (empathy and strategy), to management skills (board and staff), to technical knowledge (finance and fundraising), or some combination of them all. This should be identified in advance as well. Finally, there are opportunities for the Jewish world to partner with the secular world in the leadership arena, and some of the most effective programs are already doing this, including Wexner Foundation & Harvard’s Kennedy School of Public Policy, Weinberg Foundation & Aspen Institute, and Bend the Arc & Rockwood Leadership Institute, to name just a few.

The Foundation is working to uncover some big ideas and to tackle some big questions in the world of leadership development: How might we make working in the Jewish community as attractive as some people find working in the Tech sector? Would a bold strategy that includes more professional development move the needle in this direction? How might we support the arc of a career Jewish professional? Maybe by providing advancement opportunities and transitions within the organization and within the Jewish ecosystem? How might we provide for an ethical approach - a Jewish character, Mussar - to Jewish leadership development, and what are the values of Jewish leadership? Finally, how might we approach the Sabbath - the Shmita - to acknowledge the rest we all need, by providing a sabbatical year to re-energize, re-invigorate, and support the overall growth of senior executives, lay leaders and the teams who support them? Certainly there are no quick fixes or simple answers. But the Jim Joseph Foundation looks forward to working with other funders, key stakeholders, and practitioners to help us on this exciting new journey.


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The Jim Joseph Foundation invests in promising Jewish education grant initiatives. We partner with effective organizations that seek to inspire young people to discover the joy of living vibrant Jewish lives.