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Some Guidelines for the 21st Century, Otherwise Known as the 'New Normal'

April 29, 2010 By:
Misha Galperin
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 Times are changing dramatically in the nonprofit world. In the past year-and-a-half, I have watched once vibrant Jewish nonprofit entities fold or struggle to survive. As a CEO of a large Federation, I had to make some very difficult decisions about how we were going to confront the "new normal" of today's economy.

As we mapped out a plan with our senior leadership, we knew that the economic downturn would have an enormous impact on our professional staff. Many Jewish organizations are in denial, trying to hold on to staff they can't afford and programs they don't want to let go. We were determined to face the brutal truths. There was no more business as usual.

When I went to our board, I explained to them that we needed to act as a community, and that our whole staff needed to sacrifice as a group. That is the meaning of shared leadership.

We had to make staff cuts and halt raises. We cut down our pension plans and put all professional development on hold. We furloughed everyone for two weeks in April at Passover. To avoid layoffs, we shifted from a five-day work week to a four-day, 32-hour week, and everyone took a 10 percent salary cut. This is the new normal.

I don't know if we are ever going back to what the world used to look like financially. We all hear reports about how the economy is picking up, but that doesn't tell the whole story -- and it doesn't tell our story. Tell that to the person on the end of the phone on Super Sunday who says that he can no longer give a $1,000 donation. In fact, he wants to know if there is a number he can call to get vocational training through the Jewish community because he's 54 and has just lost his job.

How does this affect morale? I really believe in the people who work for me, and I have tried, in the absence of being able to give them additional financial incentives, to create a place to work that is humane, family-friendly and fun. Gratitude goes a long way in creating normal, healthy work environments, especially when sincere thanks is all you may have to offer people.

Morale and effectiveness are not and have never been about money. There is plenty of research to show that people work hard -- not for the pay, but because they believe in a mission, and because they are well-treated and liked by those they work for. Pay can be a "dissatisfier," but it is not a positive motivator. More than any other factor, feeling valued makes employees produce results.

In a recent study, Jack Wertheimer from the Jewish Theological Seminary compiled answers to questions posed to 6,700 young people. Among his findings, he concluded that the younger generation of Jews is opposed to particularism; "tribal" is a turn-off to them. While many may be better educated Jewishly than their elders, their Judaism is individual, not communal. They give less both in time and money to the Jewish community.

Jewish communal professionals are a key group in getting us through this age of individualism. We need the new generation to inspire people to care more, give more, learn more and volunteer more. Such professionals are not only employees, but role models and teachers of shared leadership and sacrifice in the new normal. We are also change agents. And when times change, we feel an even greater push to make a difference.

Tough decisions: Pay-cuts. Freezes. Furloughs. These words have to be balanced by other words: accountability, responsibility, thoughtfulness, gratitude and inspiration to help Jewish communal professionals stay in the field, and grow in these times and at any time.

Misha Galperin is outgoing CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, and will soon become president of the Jewish Agency for Israel. He will open the May 6 conference of the Jewish Communal Service Association of North America in Philadelphia (info@ jcsana.org).

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