Hard for me to believe – On June 1, 1994, 18 years ago today, I started my professional career in the Federation movement at THE ASSOCIATED: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore (yes, that is what it is called). It was an incredible time as I had the privilege of learning from many incredible colleagues and most of all, an inspiring director. Darrell Friedman, the then CEO and my mentor (an incredible professional leader who just became the interim CEO of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee), truly energized me each and every day. He educated me about the value of community, the power of the “collective,” the importance of trying to be a “communal cheerleader,” and the incredible difference Federations make in Jewish life.
I am honored and proud to work in the Federation movement. Federations continue to lead change in North American Jewry through its care and commitment for the entire Jewish community and for all Jewish people. I think the CEO of the Hartford, Connecticut Federation recently said it best, “The Federation movement has made a promise to the Jewish people and our Jewish communities that we will look out for their interests…we will protect their values…we will rescue them if they are in peril…we will Jewishly educate their children…we will feed them if they are hungry…their parents will live in dignity…provide for the well-being of the people of Israel…and ensure that all Jews have a place in our Jewish community.” This is an awesome responsibility and one I/we do not take lightly.
Here are several other key lessons I have learned that have shaped my thinking:
Focus on relationships, not on transactions. Due to our fundraising efforts it often feels that Federation “just wants your money,” especially when you receive a telephone call or mail solicitation letter. You make your gift and thank you very much – like a checkout counter at a store. Moreover, once you make your campaign commitment it feels as though we care little until we call you again next year.
I will not deny that a major focus for Federation is to raise financial resources for our community. But we are more than that. It is our goal to provide you with communal services, events, programs, and ways for you to engage with our Jewish community. In addition, my personal goal is to develop a long-standing relationship with YOU. I am available and accessible to anyone – ready to discuss a vision for our community, brainstorm creative ideas, and hear feedback and input from you.
Be proactive and execute. Federations, like many non-profit organizations, are slow to change while the world around us is moving at “light speed.” We can spend multiple years developing strategic plans – yet, by the time our work is complete, we are often further “behind the curve” or perhaps the “perceived path” has changed. At that point in time, however, we often feel we are “too far down the road” to change direction or to start again. We cannot afford to think this way. We need to be proactive and think about where we need to be – not where we are coming from – and execute in a much faster way.
Promote transparency. We are happy and willing to share anything about Federation. I try to be as open as possible each week in these communications. We are proud of the work that we do and honored to be stewards of your philanthropic dollars – our work is on your behalf.
Volunteers possess incredible talent, knowledge and infectious energy. Volunteering is an important means by which to address societal issues, demonstrate investment in the work of an organization, and create advocates for those organizations. Volunteers are truly the lifeblood of every non-profit and our Jewish organizations are always looking for great people willing to help move our community forward.
Speaking of volunteers, I would be remiss if I did not mention the 20 th annual Song of Miriam Awards brunch this Sunday. This event, sponsored by The Jewish Women’s Roundtable, recognizes outstanding women volunteers representing Jewish organizations and congregations in Oregon and Southwest Washington. All of the honorees are helping to strengthen Jewish communal organizations and bringing our community together to celebrate Jewish life.
The Jewish Federation of Greater Portland is pleased to recognize Barbara Cohen as its 2012 Song of Miriam honoree. Barbara has served as an active member of the Federation in many capacities since arriving in Portland in 1997. She was a member of the Young Women’s Board, chaired many Federation events, including Opening Night and Super Sunday, and has served on both the Allocations Committee and the Overseas Special Projects Committee. She has served on the Federation Board member for the past six years. Many of you know her best for having founded and successfully chaired the Federation’s Women’s Philanthropy Committee, which resulted in bringing hundreds of women together on behalf of the community.
Mazel tov to Barbara Cohen and all the other honorees – our community is grateful for your leadership and commitment.
Finally, one last encouragement, please join us for Federation’s Annual Meeting on June 5 at 7:00 p.m. at Congregation Neveh Shalom with our special honored guest, Natan Sharansky.
I am amazed that I have been doing this work for 18 years. I am still filled with the same passion and energy as I was the day I started. It is easy – because true success is knowing you make a difference in people’s lives each and every day. May our Jewish community and each of us continue to go from strength to strength.