My business partner recently returned to the US after five years living and working in Israel. Yesterday, she sent me the following email:
I am shocked and dismayed by the state of affairs within the US Jewish community. In my 15 years as a fundraiser, I have never before encountered the challenges that now plague the non-profit world. Every phone call I make, every community I approach, the response is always the same: “Now is not a good time. We are struggling to support our school and synagogue.”
This sentiment is all too familiar to those working with or for a non-profit organization in Israel. Add to this the fact that Federations and private foundations are now distributing the funds they collect from within their Jewish communities almost exclusively to local projects, the increased scrutiny non-profits are facing from donors in Israel and abroad, and recent scandals in funds management — and you have a fundraising crisis in Israel’s third sector.
So, what can Israel’s amutot do to sustain themselves?
As I see it, the non-profit community must make three major adjustments in order to take charge of its own destiny.
First, Israeli non-profits must make a commitment to excellence, overhauling all programming that doesn’t measure up. At the same time, each organization must work on rebranding itself by focusing on that which makes it truly unique.
Second, the community as a whole must raise the level of professionalism. If organizations are run like businesses, with a mind toward sustainability and growth, if they take themselves seriously, they will be treated accordingly by others.
And finally, all of Israel’s non-profit organizations must band together and demand their rightful place beside the business and government sectors. Simply put, the third sector cannot survive if it is always seen as a third wheel.
Ironically, but not surprisingly, much of the work ahead focuses on a change in perspective on the part of the non-profit organizations themselves. The onus is on Israel’s amutot to take what they already know – that they are vital to the health and success of our society – and stand by that truth and own its value.
Non-profits are constantly under pressure to spend less, earn less, and do more with less, all while maintaining their commitment to “the cause.” It is a recipe for failure and a source of constant angst and consternation among the hardworking employees and volunteers of countless amutot across the country.
Non-profit organizations must view each other as colleagues and collaborators, rather than rivals and usurpers. (Even at the cost of acknowledging that certain programs are more capably covered by other organizations.) They must always put their best foot forward and work diligently to build their public images and expand their professional networks.
And those in the driver’s seat must stop taking the easy way out, and start paying professionals to do professional work.
Most importantly, non-profits must always be willing to learn and broaden their base of professional knowledge. Like businessmen, they must keep track of the trends in their field, including the available tools and demands from their investors, and always look out for their customers’ best interests.
If non-profits remain complacent and are content with their roles as society’s custodians, slogging through the social refuse and picking up after the government and business sectors, they will be pegged as such forever.
Only members of the third sector can move the third sector forward. Once they recognize and own their true worth, others will recognize it as well and opportunities across the world of Jewish philanthropy will present themselves accordingly.