Marc Newburgh

Why Invest in Coaching and Mentoring? Find Yourself a Teacher & Friend

After spending 30 years of my professional life as an entrepreneur, business owner and volunteer in the Jewish Community, I left the private sector and spent nearly a decade as the CEO of a Jewish nonprofit.

I was privileged to take on the responsibility of running a visible and important organization in our community, and to be able to seek counsel and guidance from professional colleagues and experienced volunteer leaders about a myriad of issues that Jewish organizations and the professionals who run them are confronted with daily. Elliot Karp, a former Jewish nonprofit CEO, and accomplished executive, working for Jewish Communal Organizations his entire professional career was one of those colleagues.

After having many conversations these last few years, Elliot and I decided it was time for us to collaborate and write about a subject that keeps coming up in our discussions. Why it’s so important for Jewish nonprofits to continue to prioritize people and their investment in professional and volunteer leadership development.

The fast-paced digital world in which we live today, coupled with a significant shortage of staff and financial resources, is negatively affecting the Jewish nonprofit community. Professional staff at all levels within our organizations are tethered to their smart phones and laptops consumed by what seems to be endless emails, text messages, voice mails and zoom calls that are literally increasing demand on their time 24/7/365. While technology has made the world much smaller, creating greater efficiencies and providing us with unlimited possibilities of connections and information, it’s also had a dramatic and negative impact on professionals working for Jewish communal organizations.

What is that impact? Jewish organizational professionals find themselves with insufficient time to seriously think about and develop policies and programs. The ability to devote time to nurture deeper and more meaningful relationships with volunteer leadership, prospects, donors, and staff is increasingly limited. The ability to properly and adequately orient, supervise, counsel and mentor volunteer leadership and professional colleagues is constrained; and the ability to reflect on and give thought to issues is limited by immediate concerns, crisis, and challenges at the expense of being able to look towards and plan for the future.

The demands and pressures facing contemporary Jewish nonprofit organizations and their professional staff are enormous. Burn out is serious and significant. Mental health issues are on the rise. The impact has led many outstanding professionals to “drop out” and leave the field, while deterring others from even considering professional opportunities with Jewish nonprofits.

The Torah Parsha Yitro, which we recently read in synagogue, contains many important lessons that can help today’s Jewish professionals. In the portion Yitro, Moshe’s father-in-law, warns him that he is undertaking too many duties and responsibilities; and that he is being consumed by the time it takes to lead the Jewish people. To avoid burn out Yitro admonishes Moshe to develop a system of counselors and advisors to help him share the responsibilities of leadership on behalf of the people and community.

Today’s Jewish professionals, their organizations and volunteer leadership would be well served to take Yitro’s advice seriously…seek help, guidance, and counsel. Share and explore the challenges they face with others, enabling our professionals and their volunteers to address the most serious of issues including the ability to look beyond the “here and now” that will help them lead their organizations to the future.

Many professionals share responsibility looking to empower colleagues as well as their volunteer leadership. However, they must also learn to be able to seek counsel, guidance, and advice beyond their inner circles. Professionals can and do turn to their colleagues for support by participating in calls and conferences with peers, and while those opportunities are important, substantive, and fun, they are infrequent and limited to address specific concerns and issues. Most importantly, these opportunities are sporadic and periodic and do not afford professionals with regular and ongoing feedback.

While we as a community have made significant strides, the development of professionals and volunteer leadership remains a much overlooked and underinvested function at most nonprofit organizations, and this is especially true in the Jewish community. Placing a focus on nurturing and developing human resources expertise, and best practices, by investing both in our professionals and volunteer leadership positively impacts engagement and retention, institutionalizes values and culture, facilitating a pipeline where our community organizations become “employers and volunteer leadership opportunities of choice”, ultimately affording us a greater opportunity to achieve organizational success.

Coaching and mentoring in particular, even for the most seasoned professional or volunteer leader, is an important and integral way to become better equipped to face challenges. Participation in a coaching and mentoring program, and having conversations that are “agenda driven, open and transparent” enables us to work together effectively to not only nurture a professional or volunteer leaders’ growth and development, but also to better prepare them to address concerns and issues. Working regularly with a coach and mentor affords us the time necessary to devote to a wide range of issues including staff and leadership development, board governance and strategic planning. Investing time with a coach and mentor can help our professionals and volunteer leaders address the myriad of issues confronting them daily, and then help them look ahead and plan for their organization’s future.

In Pirkei Avot (Chapter 1; Mishna 6), we learn that Yehoshua ben Prachya said: “Make for yourself a teacher; acquire for yourself a friend; and judge all people favorably.” Wise advice that will serve Jewish community professionals and volunteer leaders well as they guide our Jewish communities and organizations forward to both their individual and our collective Jewish futures.

About the Author
Marc is the former CEO of Hillel Ontario, the largest regional Hillel in North America supporting 13,500 Jewish students at nine universities across the province of Ontario, Canada. Marc spent 30+ years in the private sector as a business owner, entrepreneur, and CEO and more than a decade holding volunteer leadership positions in the North American Jewish Community as a board member of Hillel International, the Union for Reform Judaism, the Leo Baeck Day School and as a past Chair of URJ Camp George. Marc and his wife Cheryl live with their dog Plato, have two sons and daughters-in-law, Zach, and Natalie, and Jonny and Dena, and a beautiful granddaughter Maya Rose.