What we have to pay for

Toilet paper . . .

This scroll endowed by . . .

With 2+ decades spent working in the Jewish world, I’ve seen a lot of  things come and go. Ideas that were considered the epitome of best practice come into vogue, run their course, and become passé.

Agencies and innovative think tanks slip away due to failure to create, implement, and execute strategic sustainability plans. Iconic thought leaders tire and fail to notice that the landscape is changing and passing them by. Then what? Now what?

Funding innovation was the rage in the ‘00s. At the time, the idea that we should prioritize innovation seemed exciting. Sexy. We were told donors wanted to follow their dollars. Innovation funding was a way to honor the passion and interests of philanthropists.

It was/is unarguably worthy. It is also quirkily counterintuitive. After all, it’s one thing if the innovation dollars are “plus” giving. But when the dollars are redirected from donations that help sustain agencies, it erodes and depletes their ability to perform the work. At the most basic level, who will be left to process your check or take your credit card?

At a recent meeting of JproNJ (formerly the New Jersey Association of Jewish Communal Service), Professor Steven M. Cohen said, “If the only dollars you can get are innovation dollars, then you should take them.” I challenged Professor Cohen on this, citing it as dangerous. Professor Cohen asserted that the innovation dollars provide money for infrastructure as well as innovation.

He is not wrong. He is not totally right either.

Our work is critical. As a community, we have finite resources. Redundant agencies (or needlessly independent ones) stretch and stress these resources. There is a worthiness in funding undesignated dollars.

Meanwhile, trusted, proven, long-term non-profits find their historic donor bases dwindling as they fail to capture the attention of new philanthropists. But the truth is that without those trusted institutions, there is so much in our community that will fall by the wayside. In my experience, at some point, the disinterested become interested when they have a need arise, or when life circumstance brings them to a classic entrance point. And please be assured, there is a real need for these historic cornerstone institutions. And a real relevance of those that have evolved, and continue to evolve.

By giving undesignated dollars, institutions have money to invest in research to find the most impactful way to achieve our goals. They can then innovate and evolve into what today’s landscape demands.

Which leads me back to the toilet paper.

I think that every institution should seek an endowment for toilet paper. After all, how welcoming can any of us be without it? It’s as high a profile opportunity as it gets — every user, every participant will need it at some point. As a consumable product, the need cannot be satisfied but it can be planned for. Imagine the possibilities . . . A plaque in every stall . . .

“This scroll endowed by Lisa Harris Glass, in appreciation of a community that is there for us when times are great and when times are “______.”

Lisa Harris Glass in the managing director of community planning and impact for the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey.

About the Author
Lisa Harris Glass is the Chief Planning Officer of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey; and is a frequent lecturer to religious non-profits. She resides in Springfield, NJ.
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