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Why This Is the Right Time to Build a Better Non-Profit

Within days of mandatory shelter-in-place orders, the COVID-19 pandemic plunged the JCC Movement into grave uncertainty. When the majority of the continent’s 164 Jewish Community Centers (JCCs) closed, their income streams—nearly 80 percent of which come from fees for service—dried up immediately.

Like millions of other Americans, employees of JCC Association of North America, the umbrella organization of JCCs and JCC camps across the continent, began working from home and convening online, offering North America’s JCC professionals timely resources and support to navigate closures, layoffs, and furloughs; apply for relief loans; maintain facilities; and more. A few weeks later, we, too, were forced to reduce the hours of 75 percent of our staff substantially while cutting compensation for every member of our team. When we received our SBA loan, we reinstated most employees to a minimum of four days a week, in keeping with the understanding at that time of how best to sustain our staff while maximizing the likelihood of forgiveness of the loan.

It’s not business as usual, though. We’re seizing this unique time—while we’re not “in the weeds” planning and implementing in-person events—to set aside the agendas and silos of individual departments. Instead, we’re focusing on new, agency-wide priorities and, with staff from all levels reorganized into cross-functional teams, charging each team with near-term deliverables tied to priority-related goals.

These challenging days present a window of opportunity to consider making strategic improvements in your own organization. Here’s why:

1. Our work is all about our mission.

Wrapped in the everyday minutiae of our responsibilities, it’s easy to lose sight of the mission-driven nature of our non-profits. Whether focused on camp, arts and culture, Israel engagement, communications, or human resources, it’s really all about the mission. The same is true for the staff of our JCCs and camps, especially as these entities look to optimize their newly downsized workforces and deal with a lost or modified summer camp season.

Today, more than ever, we recognize our mission isn’t the programs, the buildings, or even the organizations themselves. The mission is the community. According to Larry Clark, in “Innovation in a Time of Crisis,” on the Harvard Business Publishing Corporate Learning site, “crisis can create the organizational courage to take actions in support of a purpose [mission] that would be unthinkable in times of calm.” Our shared community is the JCC Movement, and we do what we do to further its mission: to advance and enrich North American Jewish life.

2. Creativity is king.

Uncertainty can be crippling, compromising our sense of direction, undermining our confidence. But, it also offers opportunity to capitalize on potential. In the midst of this crisis and its many unknowns, creativity can be king. According to Clark, “Crises present us with unique conditions that allow innovators to think and move more freely to create rapid, impactful change.”

In fact, temporarily relieved of many work-a-day routines and siloed responsibilities, our work team members are free to brainstorm in imaginative ways, to ask what-if and why-not questions, and to consider the people and entities in our spheres—the builders, the helpers, the givers, the thinkers—who have the greatest potential to be outstanding partners, allies, and collaborators. Are there opportunities to lean-in assertively and proactively with other entities to inspire Jewish connectedness and create meaningful Jewish life and community together?

This newly unleashed creativity is helping us reimage and (re)invent many facets of our organization by rethinking large and small gatherings; connecting previously siloed individuals and cohorts to cross-pollinate ideas; and assessing our staff members’ hard and soft skills and talents to best leverage them for maximum benefit. We’re also refreshing our digital assets, refining our data resources, revisiting how we fundraise, and more. What segments of your organization could stand to be revitalized?

3. Culture matters.

In “How COVID-19 Is Reshaping Corporate Culture,” Chuck Crumpton, author and head of Medpoint, LLC, a consulting firm specializing in quality assurance and regulatory and clinical affairs says, “The pandemic unquestionably will have lasting effects on corporate cultures.” Devoted to making Jewish organizations great places to work, Leading Edge believes “[c]ulture starts at the top and belongs to everyone…. Everyone has a direct impact on workplace culture, and everyone is directly impacted by [it].” With silos deconstructed, creative juices flowing, and interdisciplinary teams at full throttle, now is an ideal time for our people to create the workplace culture they’ve always envisioned.

Unquestionably, the unique business conditions created by the Covid-19 pandemic have presented our agency—and perhaps others—with a rare opportunity for everyone to participate in reconfiguring how we work and where we focus our efforts. Bending with the  wind, thoughtfully and creatively, in this unforeseen and unprecedented moment can help all of us raise our game, make our whole greater than the sum of its parts, and advance our organizations in ways that were not previously feasible or possible.

Although we don’t know precisely how our reshaped agency will look, feel, or function on the other side, I am confident it will emerge more fluid, flexible, and dynamic—a stronger Jewish communal engine and partner—than it was before the pandemic. I look forward to telling the remarkable story of our experience almost as much as I do to guiding our enhanced organization onward into the better days that lie ahead.

Doron Krakow is the president and CEO of JCC Association of North America.





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