Not all human needs are the result of a crisis.
Hurricanes, floods, fires, car crashes — these are dramatic events, with apparently easily defined storylines, acts of God or nature or human error. Those horrifying, cataclysmic things create victims, and most of us want to help.
And well we should. Those are Jewish values, American values, at work.
But to repeat, not all human needs are the result of a crisis.
Some result from bad situations that gradually grow worse, from problems that remain unsolved and morph into problems that seem unsolvable. Some are the result of bad planning, bad luck, ill health, job loss, mental illness, a bad economy, bad relationship skills, and a whole host of other cumulative, festering problems.
These are human needs that the community must address; needs that are not at all foreign to the Jewish community, no matter how much we try to shove them out of sight. They’re not dramatic, but they are real.
They are among the needs that the Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Northern New Jersey, a beneficiary agency of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, works to meet.
The agency provides a wide range of services, including but not limited to its food pantry, its job retraining program, its support programs and groups for people with substance abuse or mental health issues, its help to Holocaust survivors, its afterschool programs — but few of those services are exciting to outsiders, its CEO, Susan Greenbaum, said. They’re not particularly sexy. But they are important.
And the infrastructure that supports the agency as it meets those needs — the staff, the hardware and software and training and planning — is even less glamorous, she continued, even though all of that is necessary if the agency — if any agency — is to be able to fulfill its mission. “Trends in funding show that everyone wants to fund services, but no one wants to fund administration,” she said. “When you are giving your philanthropic dollars, you want to know that it is going directly to the people who need it.”
That makes sense. But “If they give $100 to the food pantry, they want us to spend it only on the food pantry. In nonprofits, a 20/80 ratio” — that’s 20 percent going to administrative costs, and 80 to the programs — “is responsible and efficient.” It’s also hard to maintain. The organization is too small for what is called capacity building. “Smallish organizations like ours, with budgets under $10 million, don’t have the capacity to do a lot of things that it needs,” she said.
If you do not build the capacity, for example, to hire people who specialize in fund-raising or grant-writing, you are doomed not to be able to raise much money or get many grants. It’s a circular, self-perpetuating problem.
And there’s about to be a solution.
About a year ago, the JFCSNNJ was chosen as one of 15 Jewish organizations from around the country to become part of the first cohort of a program called Preside, which brings teams of three leaders — a triad, they’re called — to a series of four three-day workshops, as well as conference calls and other educational and bonding efforts, over the course of 18 months. (Preside is the program of a foundation that has elected to remain anonymous; for reasons that are unclear to outsiders, its beneficiaries are not permitted to disclose the name of their benefactor. JFCS’s press release calls it “a well-respected national foundation.”)
As part of Preside, the 15 agencies were able to apply for matching grants from Preside’s nameless but supportive foundation; last month, JFCSNNJ announced that it won one of the grants.
That will change almost everything, Ms. Greenbaum said.
(Not absolutely everything, she added. The agency already has been updating its hardware and software, and launching its electronic medical records system. But the grant allows it to take a quantum leap forward.)
Because the agency is working with Preside in two ways — the leadership training and the matching grant — the help has two distinct elements.
Last Sunday, its triad — Ms. Greenbaum; the vice president of the agency’s board, Sari Gross of Wayne, and its president, Debbie Harris, until recently of Demarest and now of Cresskill — went to Chicago for Preside’s second three-day workshop. The first was in Boca Raton, Florida; it is not accidental that the workshops are held around the country.
The other part of the program, the grant, is a two-to-one match; the agency must raise two dollars for every one dollar it is given; it can get up to $250,000. That is both exciting and galvanizing.
“It’s been a long process,” Ms. Greenbaum said. Even before the agency was accepted as part of Preside’s first cohort, its leaders began to work on applying for the grant; once it joined Preside, the foundation provided coaching. And given the merger, the timing was perfect. “It was like God showed his hand in this,” she said. “The timing could not be more ideal.”
In order to get the grant, JFCSNNJ must rise to the challenge of the two-to-one match. “We have to raise $500,000, and we are going to raise it through major gifts,” Ms. Greenbaum said.
The plan also is to write a needs assessment and a strategic plan. The matching funds will pay for “two years of a development director and other staff; a key component is a grant writer. And we want to get the relevant software and technology that we need to do this effectively.” The goal is that at the end of the two-year matching grant, the agency will have raised enough money to be able to continue to fund these positions, and that more money will come in through the gifts and grants the development director and grant writer will be able to secure.
“This is our opportunity to create these functions, to sustain them, and to grow them,” Ms. Greenbaum said.
The triad’s two lay leaders, Ms. Harris and Ms. Gross, both say that they have learned a great deal about leadership, both professionally and personally, from Preside.
“As a new leader of this organization — I’ve only been board chair for a few months — I cannot imagine a more fortuitous opportunity than this one,” Ms. Harris said. “This gives us the chance to become more self-aware, and aware not only of your weaknesses but also of your strengths, and it helps you maximize the strengths and work on the weaknesses. It helps you learn how to engage your board and make it as effective as possible, and that in turn helps make your agency successful.
“The leadership training I am getting, combined with the grant-matching opportunity we are receiving for capacity building, has the unique power to transform our agency at a time when we are already undergoing new growth and new scope. I don’t think I can say enough about the incredible opportunity we have been given.
“In the end, we always measure our success by how many people we serve and how well we serve them,” Ms. Harris said. “That is how we will continue to measure it. And in the end, we will measure the success of the program in the same way. How well does it help us achieve our goals?
“The success of this opportunity depends on our own success in raising the funds that Preside will match. We are very hopeful that the philanthropic leaders in our community will appreciate the need for our agency, that they will recognize the unique opportunity this presents, and will support JFCSNNJ in this effort.”
Ms. Gross has found the workshops remarkably useful. As a member of the third cohort of Berrie Fellows, she has been trained to recognize good leadership training; she saw it then, she said, and she sees it again now.
“We all were really honored to be selected, and the more we came to know about the program, the more we realized how great an honor it is,” she said. “And I was honored personally to be part of the triad.
“When we met the people from the other groups, we saw how diverse they are, and how impactful in their communities.” The workshops have encouraged participants to meet each other and to develop strong relationships; the more firmly they are in a network, the more they can give to and get from each other.
It’s a kind of magic, Ms. Gross said. “It’s really been life-changing for me.”
Preside’s staff includes a rabbi, David Jaffe, a writer whose work is about social justice and personal growth, and how those two things intersect. He teaches mussar, a spiritual, practical and deeply Jewish way of looking at the world and making both it and yourself better; he’s also won a National Jewish Book Award for “Changing the World From the Inside Out.” Rabbi Jaffee is using the mussar method to have the participants examine character traits, one at a time, starting with humility, and including equanimity, enthusiasm, and patience.
“We look at where we are right now and where we aspire to be,” Ms. Gross said. Each day starts with “a meditation on Torah or some other Jewish text. In the middle of the day participants take action, and then at the end of the day you reflect on what you’ve seen, been, done, and felt.”
The program also includes mentoring and coaching, including a coach on staff. “It’s about leadership, but it will affect us for the rest of our lives,” Ms. Gross said. “Leadership and personal life will meld.”
The agency knows about melding. The Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Northern New Jersey is the result of the 2016 merger of the two agencies that were left from the merger of two federations that happened years earlier. The agency covers a large area — including Hudson County, which now is part of the federation’s catchment area. It’s about 400 square miles, Ms. Greenbaum said. And with the help of the training and the matching grant that Preside provides, the agency will be better situated to give the community in that large area the help it needs.