Jewish Federation achieves ‘Collective Impact’

By Barry Rosenberg

Last week, Jewish Federation’s 2012-13 Planning & Allocations Committee recommendations were presented and approved by the Board. (See story on page one.) These allocations were guided by Federation’s strategic plan. Crafted in 2010 with extensive community input, it defines a common agenda for St. Louis, built around six priorities: 

• Ensure the Jewish identity of future generations 

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• Support and attract young adults and young families with children 

• Care for the most vulnerable

• Advocate for Israel and Jewish security 

• Develop excellent volunteers and professionals  

• Optimize our infrastructure for effectiveness and efficiency.

“Collective impact,” the hot topic in nonprofit management today, is at the heart of Jewish Federation’s unique role in the Jewish community. John Kania and Mark Kramer in the Stanford Social Innovation Review described collective impact as, “… the commitment of a group of important actors from different sectors to a common agenda for solving a specific social problem.” This goes well beyond the idea of collaboration. It is considered essential in order to tackle complex social issues. These are challenges that single organizations — no matter how capable or innovative — cannot take on alone. 

Sustaining a thriving Jewish community and ensuring the Jewish identity and engagement of future generations are the types of challenges that require collective impact. It will take all our Jewish organizations — congregations, agencies – local and national — as well as key leaders doing their part in order to succeed.

Indeed, the Federation network is a prototype for achieving collective impact. The article describes five conditions essential for collective impact:

• Common agenda

• Backbone support organizations

• Continuous communication

• Mutually reinforcing activities

• Shared measurement systems 

Common Agenda: As an example of how we facilitate collective impact, let’s look at one aspect of that common agenda: the challenge of engaging young Jewish adults, post-university to mid-30s. Many are uncomfortable or turned off by mainstream Jewish organizational politics and fundraising. Most feel they lack the financial resources to join congregations or the JCC. Others are focused on other interests such as social justice.

Backbone Support Organization: Federation’s committee on Ensuring the Jewish Future takes on the backbone role: focusing attention and energy; facilitating planning, decision-making and action; mediating conflicts; funding and sometimes managing new ventures.

Continuous Communication: Many organizations such as the JCC, Hillel, congregations, Federation Young Professionals Division, NextDor, Moishe House and JCRC already work in this area. A first step is bringing the professionals together to collaborate and support each others’ efforts. 

Then together, gaps are identified and new programs are developed to respond to young adults’ diverse interests. For example, the Karen Solomon Young Adult volunteer initiative capitalizes on social justice interests by giving young adults a way to help the homeless in a Jewish context. It is a collaboration between the JCRC, NextDor and JCC.

Mutually Reinforcing Activities:  This condition allows important programs to be even more impactful. Birthright Israel, which has sent 300,000 young Jews to Israel, is the most successful identity-building program in decades. But the trip is just the first step. So Federation employs a young worker — a concierge — to meet with Birthright alums and help them identify more opportunities to participate in Jewish life, throughout the community. 

Young adults want to make a difference and have opportunities to lead. So the Millstone Institute for Jewish Leadership provides special programs to give them the information and skills necessary to serve on organizational committees and boards. And without jobs, young people aren’t likely to stay in St. Louis. So our Employment Assistance Program offers referrals and coaching to young adults who have lost jobs.

Shared Measurement Systems: Together, Federation and its partners work to define success. In order to receive funding, Federation asks organizations to specify measurable outcomes. Our Planning & Allocations department monitors results and compares them to best-practice benchmarks.

Individually, the efforts of various organizations make an important difference. But there is an enormous multiplier effect achieved through Federation’s backbone role: facilitating communication, joint planning and collaboration, supporting new initiatives and providing connective services that transcend any one organization or program.

 As exemplified in the allocations presented, the programs fostered by Federation are making a difference — and having strong “collective impact.”  Taken as a whole, we are building a community that will attract and serve young Jewish adults.