Editorial: Help Wanted, But For What?

We envision the following job posting in national publications:

“Wanted: An experienced nonprofit, corporate or other professional needed to serve as CEO of a community-wide organization with a $10M operating budget, that oversees a $100M+ endowment, interacts on a regular basis with over 50 community agencies, has an extremely high profile in the Jewish community, and a high profile in the overall metro area. Skills and experience include: Substantial fundraising, administrative, managerial, business, public relations, strategic planning, board interaction, social service, Israel contacts, and knowledge of American Jewish organizations and landscape. Must have clear vision of how to nurture, support, encourage and maximize financial and operational potential of Jewish community and organizations, negotiate collaborations, all the while supporting existing strategic direction of organization. And oh, by the way, there will be about a million opinions about how you are performing, and every one of them will be voiced ardently and frequently, both inside and outside the organization.”

Yep, that’s about it.

Such is the role of the professional leader of the Jewish Federation of St. Louis, a position meritoriously held by Barry Rosenberg (under the title of Executive Vice President but de facto a CEO role) over the past two decades. Any search firm exec having to place someone in that job description might find the nearest rock under which to hide.


Nevertheless, the position will be filled sometime between now and when Rosenberg’s current contract ends in 2013, and the opportunity to look forward to the next phase of professional leadership poses serious considerations about the role Federation will play in the community going forward. We don’t pretend to have the answers, but the questions alone are terribly daunting:

• How important is it that the new leader have significant knowledge of our St. Louis Jewish community versus coming in from another city?

• How critical is a background in Jewish communal service?

• Which attribute(s) of the new leader’s experience and skill set are most important?

• How does a new leader both cultivate resources above the line (revenue) and encourage efficient expenditures (expenses) throughout the community? Are collaborations among Jewish organizations to be simply encouraged or is a more explicit carrot/stick approach (ie, Federation support in exchange for collaborative behavior) merited?

• How does a new leader deal with and cultivate a new generation of lay leadership within the community while respecting the accomplishments and desires of those who have so ably grown our institutions to what they are today?

• Is it reasonable to expect that the kind of leader who is sought – accomplished, energetic, intelligent, savvy, driven – will be willing to adhere to the parameters of the recently created, ambitious Federation strategic plan?

• Where should the lines be drawn between what the Federation does programmatically and what its component organizations do programmatically?

• How should funds be allocated among the local Jewish community, the broader national and international ones, and Israel?

There are of course dozens of additional questions, but these alone demonstrate how difficult the task is for those Federation committee members charged with overseeing a search.

We read every week in the Light and elsewhere about the challenges Jewish communities are facing. Organizations suffered substantially in the aftermath of the recession (and in some cases due to the Madoff scandal, though fortunately our Federation and Jewish Community Foundation remained unscathed by that fiasco). The next generation of Jewish adults may perceive leadership and commitment, both financial and otherwise, in a wholly different way than their predecessors. Connections to a broader Jewish peoplehood are at risk.

Amidst these issues, an immense challenge (and consequent opportunity) lies in building lasting institutional support for agencies and organizations. The Federation is engaged in this effort with the Leave a Jewish Legacy program, which we trust will successfully encourage the community to ensure solid longterm footing for its valued institutions.

All in all, we don’t envy the Federation its task, but it is no doubt an essential one. Without in any way minimizing the importance of all the Jewish professionals at Federation and elsewhere, the new leader’s tone and gravitas will play a major role in where our community goes and grows.

One thing we believe is absolutely essential is that the Federation broadly consult with local Jewish agencies, synagogues, leaders and community members at large about which attributes of leadership are most essential. The process of soliciting input is critical to creating the perception that the next leader belongs to the entire community, and not to a limited sphere of insiders.

We wish the Federation great success in its search, and eagerly await the next steps in the process.