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Innovation and leadership are key at ELS


As the professional leaders of the JCCs of North America, JCC executive directors are the critical link to implementing a vision to increase Jewish engagement and strengthen Jewish life. To support this objective, 80 JCC executive directors met together for the 2015 Executive Leadership Seminar for four days in Weston, Florida the last week in January to learn and share together. Sessions included presentations by experts in board governance, management and leadership as well as by executive directors sharing their best practices and successes from their local communities.

Outside presenters offered three-hour workshops on the topics of innovation and board fundraising. Jonathan Vehar, founding partner of New & Improved works with organizations to develop novel leadership solutions, presented on driving improvement in the JCC and how leaders create a culture of innovation. Chuck Loring, a senior governance consultant for Board Source, shared insight on how building powerful boards equals powerful fundraising, and offered tactics and strategies for board development to achieve these results.

Steven Albert, executive director of the Portland Jewish Academy and the Mittleman Jewish Community Center, attended ELS for the first time and came away wanting to figure out ways to participate in the JCC Maccabi Games and ArtsFest. Learning about the new brand, better governance and fundraising also left him with ideas to take home. But it was meeting his colleagues that really inspired him.

“As a first-time attendee, the most valuable aspect of the ELS was the opportunity to meet other executive directors and hear about their ideas and initiatives,” Albert said. “It is very inspiring to be surrounded to such a talented group of Jewish professionals.”

Leslie Fishman, the executive director of JCC New Orleans, couldn’t agree more.

“There is no doubt that the ELS seminar makes me a better JCC executive director,” Fishman said. “After spending several days networking with colleagues and learning from professionals on a wide range of topics relevant to the field, I return to the New Orleans J re-energized and excited to continue to move the JCC forward providing the best in program and services for our community.”

There is no doubt that the ELS seminar makes me a better JCC executive director.

Several session formats encourage sharing of key insights and greatest opportunities for capturing the successes of other JCCs including JTalks, size-of-city cohorts and speed networking. JTalks featured four executive directors who presented in a TED Talks-style format about how they have implemented new approaches through leadership in management in their communities. Size-of-city cohort sessions offered executive directors the opportunity to focus in smaller groups with JCCs of similar size on the type of issues and opportunities their community is addressing. Speed networking patterned off the speed dating concept offered execs the opportunity to meet five new execs, exchange ideas and identify what skills and expertise are available from their colleagues in the future.

Some of the ideas that executives identified as take-away action items included:

  • Board engagement and development
  • Engage board more effectively in fundraising
  • Engage staff, board and donors more
  • Take more risks and remember every new idea has value
  • Clarifying organizational goals with all levels of staff and board
  • Leverage social media presence and impact
  • Use data and metrics to make better business decisions

The conference planning involved seven JCC executive directors who assisted staff from JCC Association in identifying priority content and developing program sessions that offered the greatest opportunities to leverage impact in their home communities. The JCC executive directors involved in planning for the 2015 Executive Leadership Seminar included: Les Cohen, Cherry Hill, Todd Rockoff, Tucson and Gary Bomzer, North Miami Beach, Phil Berman, Charlotte, Sue Fox, Brooklyn, Dan Cardonic, Scranton and Mark Weintraub, Schenectady.

For Fishman, who has attended for the past five years, ELS is a must. She always comes away energized and brimming with insights and innovation being done in the field.

“My take away of knowledge is tremendous. I enjoy spending time with colleagues, learning from each other and sharing experiences, both good and bad. Each year, ELS is definitely a priority on my calendar.”

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