Russell F. Robinson

Leadership with JNF is about time– and dedication to Israel

I write this article about our lay leadership at Jewish National Fund to praise them, not because I am the CEO. Ok, maybe that would have been reason enough, yet it is not the reason.

I am writing this article because I am amazed at the amount of time, energy, effort, and involvement our lay leadership gives to our great organization. Our volunteers make Jewish National Fund strong and I am so proud of their efforts that I want to share with you how they do it.

We have a national Board of Directors of 41 members. Right away I know some of you will say, “You can’t have a Board of Directors of 41 members! That’s too big.” I disagree.

Our Board comes together on a monthly basis and we have a 96% attendance rate. Our meetings are just two hours long and no agenda item can go over 15 minutes. It is a rule.

What is the rationale? The rule was set by the Board itself.. They make decisions and set policy. Agenda items that do go past the 15 minute limit require committee assignment, and that is not the purpose or role of the Board of Directors. Nonetheless, our 41-member board is engaged, informed, and involved.

At their monthly meetings, they debate and decide, and it is an amazing phenomenon to witness as folks around the table set policy and exercise oversight of Jewish National Fund, all the while being mindful and focused on our greater vision and core values. There is serious oversight, deep conversation, and each director gives of their time and, of course, a large minimum financial commitment to have the right to lead this esteemed organization.

Then there are the committees, from Campaign to Budget and Finance, and everyone participates on at least one. Our board asks questions, gets involved, is knowledgeable and driven. There is much transparency at JNF, yet the transparency is only one part of it.

The engagement and involvement of our lay leaders makes it a partnership, between the professionals, our volunteers and our cause. We talk and debate about everything, yet we are always focused on the cause and mission, not individual personalities and egos.

“Jewish National Fund gives all generations of Jews a unique voice in building a prosperous future for the land of Israel and its people.”

There is also a strong separation between hiring and firing.

The only one that they can hire or fire is me. However, the opportunity is always there to have an honest and open discussion on the strengths and weaknesses of any staff member. If they are not happy with results, the “buck” stops with me.

One particular committee that always astounds me is our Legal Committee, comprised of 21 lawyers from throughout the United States who come together every month to discuss our needs and take on all of our legal work pro bono. A few years ago, our entire legal costs were only $5,000. For a $100 million-plus corporation with 171 employees, that is truly remarkable.

This committee litigates JNF’s leases, contracts and estate work. Our Legal Committee undertakes all these assignments with zeal and passion, and all for free.

It is an impressive and gratifying feeling to depend on these dedicated volunteers who all contribute to have the opportunity to take a pro bono case. Sometimes, there is even a little bit of jocular fighting between them as everyone wants the opportunity to have more to do. It’s not uncommon to hear conversations like, “She got it the last time, what about me?” What a wonderful sound, lay leadership debating on making sure that they contribute more time and effort for Jewish National Fund. Remarkable!

Equally remarkable is that this past week, 82 lay leaders went to Israel, not on a mission, but on a working trip. Our Budget and Finance and Israel Relations oversight committee visited all of our partnerships and sites, as they do every year, to make sure everything is being done right, that projects are progressing, and our relationships with all of our partners are sound. They ask in-depth questions and get in-depth answers, after which they absorb the information they have gathered and outline new policy decisions.

JNF has task forces and committees that work in the communities of the Arava, Eilot regions, Yerucham, Western Galilee, Ofakim, Arad, Beit She’an, and Valley of the Springs, and in the areas of environment, education (via the Alexander Muss High School In Israel), housing development, and water, all in partnership with the people of Israel. These tireless and selfless individuals make sure our priorities and vision come together to develop goals and objectives for our many campaigns. They are, as well, the fundraising mechanisms to make our dreams for the future a major reality.

JNF lay leaders give a lot of time, money, and passion to have a seat at the table. Through their actions, they give life and strength to Jewish National Fund and amplify their voice in Israel. They give strength to all the Jewish people in the Diaspora everywhere. They help build a strong secure Israel.

I thank them every day. We all should.

About the Author
Russell F. Robinson is JNF’s chief executive officer. Under his leadership, JNF has developed successful far-reaching programs that play a significant role in the quality of life for all Israelis, such as community development, environmental work, sustainable development of the Negev, and solutions for Israel’s water crisis.