Success is About Partnerships

On the CNBC reality show "The Profit," business executive Marcus Lemonis, who helps struggling businesses, often says, “Business success is about the three P’s: People, Process and Product.”

It’s a good mantra for the nonprofit world as well, and certainly relevant for Jewish Federations. But I’d add a fourth P: Partnership.

Our biggest asset is our people—our volunteers, our donors, our professionals, our agency partners. We’re also big on process as we work to ensure that many have a voice in decision-making. And we lend considerable support to projects that have had success on the ground floor and are ready for the next level. For us, product equals our case for giving—the profound and meaningful work, funded through our Federations, that touches so many lives. And when it comes to partnership, Federations engage with and support a network of local and international partners that leverage and deploy resources we generate, stepping in at the mezzanine level, serving as distribution channels and helping bring projects to scale.

There’s a myth that Federations and philanthropic foundations aren’t great partners, that they aren’t truly collaborating to better the Jewish future. I think the evidence points in the opposite direction. Foundations have been a reservoir of entrepreneurial spirit in both seeding and investing in new organizations and have made a tremendous difference in Jewish lives. And in many cases Federations have been partners both in the creation of new models and in the scaling of foundation-generated “product” across communities.

Just look at some of the organized Jewish community’s most successful national projects, and you’ll see private foundations behind their genesis: PJ Library, Moishe House, Taglit-Birthright Israel, Foundation for Jewish Camp, Wexner Heritage Program and the Jewish Teen Initiative from the Jim Joseph Foundation. 

Each is a fabulous program that started small but in an area closely aligned with Federation priorities—engaging young families, reaching young adults, encouraging deeper Jewish engagement. As each showed promise—sometimes at the very beginning—local Federations, with strong infrastructures in place, partnered with foundations and the projects took off, soon reaching the continental level. In the case of Birthright Israel, Federations collectively have been core partners in this effort from the beginning. In every case, the partnership between foundations and Federations has brought an increased market share, targeting and attracting specific consumer segments.

In some cases, local Federations have brought their own creativity and investment to leverage a foundation-created platform to take it to the next level. We see numerous examples of Federations organizing Birthright Israel buses and later Birthright Israel follow-up events for their own alumni. The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, for instance, has a leadership mission to Israel exclusively for Birthright Israel alumni. Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston’s IACT (Inspired, Active, Committed and Transformed) program has demonstrated an approach to intertwining Birthright Israel recruitment and follow-up within single university campuses. The effort has boosted the impact of the Birthright Israel investment, dramatically expanding student participation and helping engage communities on and off campuses.

In other cases, Federations themselves drive social entrepreneurship, creating programs that then pick up foundation support. These include the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ NuRoots, which connects with adults in their 20s and 30s on the fringes of Jewish life; JUF jBaby in Chicago, which organizes new parents into playgroups and offers vouchers to families enrolling their children in a Jewish infant, toddler or preschool program for the first time; UJA-Federation of New York’s Emerging Leaders & Philanthropists, which provides various philanthropic opportunities for people in their 20s to early 40s; and the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington’s Jewish Food Experience, which uses food-related events to engage broad audiences.

We applaud foundations for developing and investing in creative, inventive programming, for collaborating with Federations to bring those programs to more markets, and for boosting Federation-developed initiatives. With 151 Jewish Federations across North America, Federations are uniquely positioned to implement and bring to scale projects that are successfully piloted by foundations.

So to the three P’s that Lemonis of "The Profit" advocates, let’s remember to add that fourth: Partnership. By working together, foundations and Federations can dramatically enhance our collective impact on Jewish life.

Jerry Silverman is president & CEO of The Jewish Federations of North America


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