“Openness is the chief virtue of the digital age.”
- Virginia Heffernan, "Magic and Loss: The Pleasures of the Internet"
Transparency itself isn’t a new concept. In the US for example, nonprofits must publicly file 990s annually. This ensures accountability, and is a requisite for tax-exempt status. But transparency does not begin and end with financial information. There are new dimensions, new imperatives emerging from technology, and perhaps most profoundly, transparency is now a critical leadership skill. That feels pretty new to many of us.
But today’s leaders need to understand that transparency is no longer optional. When the rules of the game have changed, leaders necessarily need to adapt their approaches. What roles does transparency play here? According to Charlene Li, author of Open Leadership, “transparency is not defined by you as a leader, but by the people you want to trust you and your organization. How much information do they need in order to follow you, trust you with their money or business?” (pg. 193). It’s all about trust -- and trust (and its corollary, attention) are the currency of our current attention economy.
Understanding that transparency is a critical value and essential element of effective leadership has powerful implications for organizational sustainability too. Previously, organizations literally served an ‘organizing’ function. Institutions held the data, finances and authority. Today, individuals are self-organizing and shifting the power center. Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms decode this in their HBR article “Understanding ‘New Power’”. Simply, “the goal with new power is not to hoard it but to channel it.” As society is increasingly skeptical and rejecting of old structures, transparency becomes even more important. It becomes a way to activate and channel new power.
Some people mistake transparency for cracking open your financials and letting it all hang out. But it isn’t just about opening up your books or making leaders function as if they are naked. Transparency (of any sort) is values-based, centered on respect (hakavod), virtues (middot), and, the big one, truth (emet). Think about your relationships with your spouse, business partners, and good friends. Yes, there’s the planning -- taking kids to soccer, paying the bills, making doctors appointments. But what if you didn’t trust your partner, and had little input in decisions? The logistics would be joyless. Strong relationships are built on respect, honesty and open communication (transparency). So too relationships with our donors, members, volunteers and advocates.
Jed Miller, who helps human rights organizations align mission and digital strategy, says that “Institutions may be afraid that by opening up about internal processes they give critics a map of their weak spots.” He warns that this kind of initial fear is inherently limiting. “The key,” he says, “is to think about your public—however you define them—as participants in your mission, not as targets or threats.” What kind of insight -- into processes, decision making, etc. -- is needed for them to trust you as a champion of the cause?
When we, as leaders in the Jewish world, hold ourselves and our leadership apart from the community, how can we expect to engage our communities with full and sanguine spirit? We cannot hide or disable conversations, or operate in a vacuum and expect the public to consistently trust us with their dollars. Those days are over. Today, we need to embrace these values of open leadership.
Organizational transparency is where Jewish wisdom nests with innovative thought. I’ve spoken to rabbis about salary transparency, and searched Jewish orgs with high ratings on charitable indices. Comparing synagogue websites, I’ve sought open plans, board minutes and budget spreadsheets. While there are bright spots, the norm is much more closed and opaque. In the Jewish professional community, we tend to compare ourselves to each other to establish a norm, when in fact we need to be widening our gaze to understand the role and importance of transparency in today’s marketplace. My sense is that the Jewish world is not keeping up, or worse, we are not pushing ourselves forward. It is time that we recognize the shifting norms, acknowledge the benefit to our organizations and community as a whole, and take real steps to integrate transparency into our normative business practices.
In a time when many Jewish organizations are seeking to get more people to trust and follow them, we must heed Open Leadership author Charlene Li’s words of wisdom. Transparency is the information people need in order to follow and trust you as a leader, or as an organization. While leaders may be initially resistant to the idea of transparency, we must all take it seriously to build strong, sustainable and vibrant communities.
Stay tuned for future posts on specific examples of how various leaders are putting this ethos into action.
Gina Schmeling is a non-profit consultant based in Brooklyn. Find her at @nyginaschmeling or in the park with the runners.
Of the many inspiring Passover messages that I read this year, the one that most caught my eye was by Rabbi Jill Jacobs,"Where Slavery Ends and Freedom Starts.", March 30, 2015. Rabbi Jacobs, Executive Director of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, shares "it's not always so clear where slavery ends and freedom starts. Did the Israelites become Pharaoh’s slaves only after he set taskmasters over them? Or did we lose our freedom when we became dependent on Egypt’s largesse? Did we become free when we crossed the sea, or only when we established a homeland of our own? ... The line between slavery and freedom is not always clearly marked by a parting sea." Rabbi Jacobs applies this to the context of oppressed workers in the modern economy, people who are bound not by shackles and chains but by poverty, fear, emotional abuse, or lack of education.
Freedom is not only about our physical reality, but also our mindset. Even while the Israelites were physically free, they reminisced that “in the land of Egypt, when we sat by pots of meat, when we ate bread to our fill!” (Exodus 16:3). It’s hard to let go of what we know, what’s our “normal” even if it’s not ideal, or even serving our interests.
People (and collectively, organizations) who think they are “free” can also be “enslaved” by old ideas and ingrained patterns of behavior. Whenever we keep doing things in a certain way because that is the only way we’ve know to do them, we run the risk of self-enslavement. This is especially true when the old ways aren't working anymore, and the need for change is increasingly clear. Let’s look at this in three areas of American Jewish congregational life.
For a hundred years or so, most American synagogues have been organized with a dues-based membership model. This model has been nearly universally adopted, and the norm for multiple generations -- such that, just like in Egypt, it’s hard to imagine any other way. But today there is abundant evidence that this model isn't working as well or reliably as it used to for many congregations. There are, however variations, changes, and new and different models that some are successfully utilizing. While different synagogues may need different approaches designing how their communities support them, across the field we are starting to feel the questioning and active pushback that are hallmarks of a new kind of freedom to explore different kinds of synagogue funding models.
Most American synagogues have also shared the idea that if we build the biggest building, create the best programs, boast the most creative religious school, and hire the right rabbi, then the Jews will come running to become members. But for Americans today (and especially for younger generations), the whole notion of membership (to any organization) doesn't seem quite so certain or resonant. Those of us who do care about our synagogues, who do find meaning, purpose, and connection in this kind of social and religious organization have to find new ways to make other people see that value and spark, and to care too. That means seeking out, creating, and experimenting with variations, changes, and new and different models of engagement. Too often our mindset is that “engagement” equals “membership” and “attendance”, but engagement is as much about a mindset and relationships as it is about attendance. Here too, let’s free ourselves of assumptions about our engagement models, and explore a new normal.
Most American synagogues rely on boards and committees, volunteers, lay leaders, and professional staff who spend hours and hours in meetings and parking lots making important and not-so important decisions, and then making them again on phone calls and in more meetings. We struggle to find new leaders and new volunteers in part because our current leaders are feeling over-burdened, and in part because the structures of our leadership (multi-hour meetings on weeknights that conflict with kids’ activities, sports games, and other interests) are out of synch with the ways prospective leaders organize their time and attention. What if, just what if, we ask ourselves to consider variations, changes and new and different models of leadership? Remember when Yitro, Moses’ father-in-law, pushes him to think differently? “'The thing you are doing is not right; you will surely wear yourself out, and these people as well. For the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone" (Exodus 18:17). Let’s free ourselves of these structures, and instead look afresh at what makes the most sense for our needs today.
As we count the omer and move from a celebration of the exodus to the receiving of the Torah, may be take the opportunity to recognize, with 20/20 vision, the places where we may be limiting ourselves, even “enslaving” ourselves to old ideas and previous models that are no longer in our best interests. As the Israelites wandered the desert, there were many questions, few clear answers, and plenty of “figuring it out as they went”. So too are congregations today in a time of pioneering a new era. Let us embrace the questions, explore possibilities, and be free to pioneer the future.
This blog post is cross posted on the Connected Congregations website. Learn more about Connected Congregations here.
Debbie Joseph is president and founder of Debbie Joseph Consulting, Inc. She is a nationally recognized expert in working with synagogues on exploring alternative dues and membership models, strategic planning and leadership development. She is a contributor to UJA-Federation of New York’s “Are Voluntary Dues Right for Your Synagogue?” report and a contributor to “New Membership and Financial Alternatives for the American Synagogue” by Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky and Rabbi Avi S. Olitzky.
We work on capacity building for organizations seeking to align their organization with the revolution in modern communications. In fact, we think this is so important that it has become a central part of all of our consulting work and this work on capacity gives the best long-term ROI of any activities we can do. But what do we actually mean by capacity building? What does capacity mean in the context of a nonprofit organization?
The Tsunami of Tactical Advice
All of us are overwhelmed every day by articles, blogs posts, slide presentations, emails and workshops that focus on the tactics of communication. Whether it is about image size or frequency of posting on Facebook, or whether Pinterest is worth investing in, or the top donation page design, there is no shortage of information about the latest thinking in digital communications tactics. And while this information is useful —it is not the central difference between those who win online and those who think they could be doing a lot better. It is hard to absorb all that information and rarely do we see the information we need when we most need it. Overlooked in all of this advice is the capacity of organizations to make use of it, to integrate it into their plans and to see the bigger picture about how tactics ladder-up as part of strategy.
When we talk about capacity, we mean PPTC, which stands for People, Process, Technology and Culture.
In order to have the capacity to be effective, you need to align these four areas of your operations. Once aligned you don’t need to sweat the tactics because they naturally flow into the organization through the people paying attention, the continuing improvement in process and the technology you’ve adopted to get the job done.
Let’s look at each of these areas a little more closely:
Having your 20-something office admin who loves SnapChat does not mean you have capacity to succeed with social media. The people who can do a particular body of work are critical and it is almost never one person. Your whole team needs to understand how digital communications is part of a “theory of influence” that moves your issues forward. An important rule of thumb: don’t let front-line staff make business decisions on the fly. Imagine, for example, you have a crisis and this needs to be communicated. The young intern who knows how to use social media would be great to post things and respond to people asking questions — but only if the leadership decided what to say, how to say it and how to navigate the minefields and nuance of the story. Bottom line: When we talk about People and capacity, we mean the whole organization understanding the principles behind these new digital communications tools and being able to give organizational leadership on the approach. And we mean having strong, technically savvy front-line staff able to execute and understand tactical best practices and analytics.
While “rock stars” can have a lot of success with heroic efforts — all nighters, last minute deadlines, a brilliant idea — it does not represent capacity. Capacity is about enabling the same high quality results over and over again. And this consistency of results can’t be achieved without process. Process sets a baseline where we ask the same questions, have check-lists and a well-honed step-by-step approach. The content changes, but the process remains consistent.
The process also has a built-in feedback loop for continual improvement. What worked on this campaign? How can we do better? We ask these questions every day and when we find ways in which the process can get improved, the improvements get incorporated.
Nonprofit communications and operations require technology. Technology is used from the basic — can we answer the phones? — to the complex — can we share data between online and offline donors? Having technology that is aligned with the business goals is an important part of capacity. Sometimes, organizations are spending far too much money on technology that has marginal benefit and not enough on technologies that are core to the long-term vision of success. For example, there is simply no way to treat your donors and constituents as individuals without technology that allows you to monitor, track and be able to respond to them individually. If your content management system doesn’t allow for updating critical content in a timely way, you have a business problem. In the world of dominant digital communications, this technology is critical.
For many consultants, they don’t see culture as a capacity issue, but we do. In fact, we think it’s the most important one. In many ways, the people, process and technology are a prisoner to the organizational culture. A culture that is old-school and slow, timid in its approach to communications, and where employees fear risk and failure will never be a top performer in digital communications. They can hire the best people, publish books of standard operating procedures, and buy top-of-the-line technology and it won’t do them any good. The new initiatives will collapse under the weight of an outdated culture.
Here, we create plans that help organizations:
-Find and train the right people as well as educating people through-out the organization
-Institute continuous improvement processes
- Support and manage the time consuming and sometimes painful process of technology alignment
But how, you might ask, can we influence culture? We’ve given that a lot of thought and field testing. For us, it’s similar to the military counterinsurgency “oil spot” theory. In this approach, the military seeks to hold a small territory, build trust and commitment there, and then build out from those strengths until it encompasses the whole town or society. Similarly, we focus on the design and implementation of strategic projects whose often unstated purpose is to create new pockets of culture inside an organization. Often, we label these projects as experiments, which takes the pressure off of them and allows for a greater range of action. These pockets of new culture energize the organization and become a magnet for people wanting to get involved and other internal investments. The follow-on projects bring the culture change to more people internally and eventually, it’s the tail of the new culture wagging the dog of the old organization.
Culture change also benefits greatly from leadership buy-in and the bully pulpit that encourages a set of new values, such as taking risk and failing fast. But we cannot overstate the challenge of bureaucratic silos, where incentives are aligned against change and cross department projects are the exception. The bottom line is that if you really want to win in digital communications, if you really want to become high performing and raise more money, if you want your cause to be one that people rally around, you have to go headlong into the complex world of organizational culture.
Portions of this blog were cross posted on the See3 blog.
As organizations invest in building online networks and deeper engagement with constituents, we constantly need to refocus on how that engagement leads to mission-centric action. It’s not just enough to have eyeballs, or even likes. What does it look like to design and implement an online strategy that has on the ground impact? Specifically, how can your content jump offline?
One primary driver of this jump is value. What content is of value to your audience, and what will they do with that value? I like to think about this as a Venn diagram -- one circle is your mission and goals, and the other are the very specific and honest needs of the people you’re trying to engage. Only when you are able to create content in that “sweet spot” in the center can you really move the needs. For your content to travel (online and offline), it needs to build the social capital of the people who are going to share it. Why would someone want to claim your content as their own? What does it say about their identity, values and/or interests? Being brutally honest about this intersection is the first critical skill to solve this part-art-part-science question.
The second driver of traveling content is momentum. What is happening on the calendar, in politics, in local or world events that has created momentum in the news and in social media? How can you surf that wave? Remember when the lights went out at the Superbowl in 2013? Within minutes Oreo had launched “You can still dunk in the dark” -- a fantastic example of taking advantage of the momentum online at that moment. Where is there natural moment that aligns with your mission and goals, and how can you create content to surf that wave?
The Jewish community at this time of year is a great example of such a wave -- everything is about Passover. The Passover seder is the most widely observed tradition in Judaism today. As we recall the exodus of the Israelites from centuries of slavery in Egypt, themes of renewal, redemption, and freedom illicit a kind of surge of content from Jewish organizations of all types. Individually, people are planning their seder -- who to invite, how to make it special, and how to stretch the themes of the seder to be applicable to our modern world (and a diverse group of people around the table).
Many organizations publish Passover seder inserts - readings to complement the traditional Haggadah (book that tells the story of the exodus and sets out the order for the seder). It used to be that these came in the mail to donors (and prospective donors). Today, they are published online and emailed as well as circulated through social media. This approach is both cheaper (no printing and mailing!) and also allows the content to reach farther than an organization’s own mailing list.
American Jewish World Service (AJWS) has always been one of my go-to Passover sources. Their mission to realize human rights and end poverty in the developing world aligns so well with the themes of the holiday, This year, they published a seder supplement written by Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Rabbi Lauren Holtzblatt focusing on the role of 5 women in the exodus. Not only did the content align AJWS with the themes of the seder, but it capitalized on the theme of women. This resources has been shared more widely in Facebook than anything I’ve seen lately. As you can see here, 22 shares from the AJWS main Facebook page, and countless more links to it through individual profiles and organizational pages.
Users then print the PDF and read from it at the seder, carrying the AJWS brand and mission to the table. (I even once sent the PDF to FedEx Office to have it printed and laminated to use year after year.) AJWS leverages the alignment of their mission with opportunity of the seder, and offers value to the audience by bringing a highly relevant and much adored voice -- the Supreme Court Justice -- to your own table. A very smart and effective effort.
This year, Interfaith Israel is thinking about how to market their new summer Israel trip for teens from interfaith families. They realize that educating people about the opportunity, plus making the case to send a teen on an overseas trip for the summer is not easy. Their best success has been a very high-touch approach at in person events -- but it’s very hard to scale. They realized that there’s a larger conversation underlying their program. “Why this summer in Israel?” which echoes in the line from the Haggadah, “Next year in Jerusalem!”
Building off of this connection, Interfaith Israel has developed a seder supplement that simple seeks to cultivate a conversation about how we can be on a constant journey to explore our heritage, roots and values. Their addition to the seder invites reflection at multiple levels. What does Jerusalem represent for you? For your family? For the World? And then progresses to ask about modern Jerusalem today, and how visiting this center of multiple religions is an important experience for all Jews, and perhaps especially those with multiple heritages in their family. By providing a widely accessible and applicable value-added resource, Interfaith Israel is getting their brand and their upcoming teen trip into the homes of thousands.
So the lessons here for you? First, make sure you’re insightful about what is TRULY valuable to your target audiences. Second, develop content that rides the wave of attention, capitalizing on holidays, social trends, or other big events. Third, to jump from online to offline, create content that real applied, practical value in offline settings.
Stay tuned for a future post about designing for engagement that starts offline and jumps online! Have a good example? Share it with us!
When I started working as a Rabbi in 2009, there were a number of decisions that I had to make: Would I be Rabbi Danny or Rabbi Burkeman? Would I wear a suit every day? And would I set up a professional Facebook account?
According to Facebook guidelines, a person is only supposed to have one account; yet I was aware of a number of rabbinic colleagues who were maintaining a personal and professional account. After much deliberation, I decided that I would set up a second professional account. And so in the world of Facebook, I existed as two different people: Danny Burkeman and R Danny Burkeman.
There were a number of reasons behind my decision. I was concerned about having my entire personal life on display to everyone. Not out of fear of what people would find on my page, but rather because I wished to maintain a degree of privacy for my family and myself. I was also conscious that on occasions, my friends have been known to write posts that are intended to be funny, but may sometimes be perceived by others as inappropriate. I also knew that many of my personal Facebook friends would be uninterested in all of my Judaism-related posts, and I wondered if it was better to have another avenue for sharing these (ultimately Twitter has become that means).
It was complicated and resulted in quite a few missteps. I would post comments to the wrong account, send friend requests from the wrong account, and I would often neglect one account at the expense of the other. Yet at the end of the day, I appreciated that I could have a public rabbinic persona while maintaining some semblance of online privacy.
But there were challenges. What was I supposed to do with Jewish colleagues who were simultaneously friends and people with whom I shared a professional connection? Where was I supposed to direct the congregants who became friends? And how was I to decide what to post on which account?
So now, five years into my life as a rabbi, I have decided to return to my roots with a singular Facebook account. The process is not easy, as Facebook has no system for merging two accounts I shouldn’t really have had in the first place (I’m happy to share my experiences if you’re in a similar situation); but it is something that I want to do, and something I have been leaning towards for the last few years.
Three events have moved me to this position. The first was leaving my first community in London to come to Port Washington. My congregants were no longer congregants, and over our time in London, many had become friends. In my new situation, as their former Rabbi, I felt unsure about where they now belonged in my Facebook world. Then, when my daughter was born, I wanted to share photos and updates with everybody. I am blessed with a community who were very supportive of us during that time, and who were excited to greet our new arrival. Many of my posts belonged in both accounts, but with the pressures of a newborn it was increasingly challenging to keep both accounts as updated as I wanted.
But the final impetus for merging the accounts, and leaving R Danny Burkeman behind, is a project I am currently involved in called the #ElulMitzvahChallenge. I wanted to make sure that this campaign got the most exposure possible. Having realized that my personal and professional networks had become intertwined over the years, I could not imagine posting this on one account and not the other; it belonged on both pages. And more than this, it was a reminder that in many ways, the division between the personal and the professional had become artificial.
As a Rabbi I have come to understand that I am (at least to a limited extent) a public figure, and Facebook is another medium for engaging with the community and sharing my Torah. We need to recognize that it is another tool in our arsenal, and as such we have to decide how to use that tool. The challenge for all of us in ‘public’ positions is how can we share our authentic selves with our communities while also maintaining our private lives for the sake of our families and ourselves. In this way Facebook may be more than just a tool; it can also be a gauge for measuring what we are willing to share online, what we prefer to save for our offline community, and what we keep just for our families.
So as complicated, and at times as irritating as it has been, I have now reached the stage where I have dispensed with my dual Facebook identity. In my Facebook world I am now just Danny Burkeman – in fact one could say that I am now no longer “two-faced(booked).”
Rabbi Danny Burkeman is a Rabbi at The Community Synagogue in Port Washington, New York. He has been an important influence in helping his previous and current congregations' online presence through Twitter and Facebook, among others. He launched #elulmitzvahchallange this fall, which has inspired hundreds of people across the world to video and share their mitzvot.
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