After years of working with some of the most promising organizations in the rapidly expanding field of Jewish nonprofits, the staff at one of America’s largest Jewish family foundations noticed a disturbing trend: While dynamic and creative groups were cropping up everywhere, injecting Jewish communal life with renewed passion and commitment, the people needed to keep those very organizations going — the fund-raisers and development professionals — were in noticeably short supply.
Without talented professionals to refill their coffers, the organizations responsible for revitalizing Jewish life could easily falter, and ultimately fold, professionals at the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation concluded.
“We began to think about what we could do as an organization to help create an environment in which there were a greater number of fund-raisers,” said the foundation’s executive director, Sanford Cardin.
So what could they do? Find out what was driving the problem in the first place, said Cardin.
Last winter, the foundation commissioned Amy Sales, a social psychologist who directs the Fisher-Bernstein Institute for Jewish Philanthropy and Leadership at Brandeis University, to conduct a study that would lay out the scope of the problem and attempt to get to the bottom of why so few quality Jewish fund-raisers are to be found.
The result of six months of work by Sales and Nicole Samuel, a research analyst at the institute, is compiled in “Developing the Developers,” a 23-page academic paper — set to be released at an April symposium sponsored by the Schusterman Foundation — that examines the various factors that contribute to the shrinking pool of what are known as “FRD” — fund raising and development — professionals in Jewish or ganizations.
Sales explained the questions that served, in a sense, as her point of departure: “Is it that people aren’t coming into the field? Is it that they aren’t staying in the field? [Or] is it that the field isn’t attracting the best and the brightest?”
The conclusions that the study comes to, said Sales, offer no easy answers.
What the analysis found “didn’t have the simplicity that a problem-solver would hope for,” she said. “The problem is along the entire career path, it’s both recruitment and retention, and it’s at the entry points, mid-points and at the highest levels.”
What this means, Sales explained, is that there is enormous competition at all levels of the profession, and Jewish nonprofits aren’t just competing with other Jewish groups. The dearth of quality fund-raisers, she said, is endemic to the entire field of nonprofit organizations. As a result, the study found, organizations like B’nai B’rith and Hillel are competing with museums, universities and medical charities like the American Cancer Society to garner and retain top development talent. The information is not all new, Sales said, but it is the first time it has all been compiled in one place. Researchers conducted interviews with 13 experts on fund raising; reviewed all existing literature on the field published in the past 16 years, and looked at current postings for fund-raising jobs in the Jewish community.
A research assistant in her mid-20s was even tasked with seeking out an entry-level development job. “We almost lost her to one,” Sales said, with a laugh.
Part of the problem, said Sales, derives from the fast-paced proliferation of Jewish non-profits in recent years. Essentially, she explained, the demand for effective fund-raisers has far outpaced the supply. According to the study, between 1990 and 2003, 36 new organizations opened up, while only four closed their doors — an overall increase of 8%.
Moreover, the study found, high demand for development professionals has spawned high turnover rates. And in the Jewish sector, overall job satisfaction is actually lower than in the broader field. A 2005 study cited in the report found that a third of those working at Jewish organizations were open to going to a new organization, and for the most part, they were interested in working in the larger non-Jewish world. In terms of competition with other Jewish groups, nearly half of the development professionals had been offered positions at other Jewish organizations in the past two years.
Another factor in the equation is the disproportionately high number of women working in the nonprofit field. In Jewish organizations, the percentage of women in development jobs reaches up to 80%. But despite this predominance, men still hold two-thirds of the top-ranking fund-raising positions. And in general, women are paid far less for their work than their male counterparts.
But, said Sales, other “feminized” profes- sions like nursing and teaching that have been considered low-status as a result of being dominated by women, have had success with altering perceptions of their field. Fund raising can change its image too, she suggested.
Other solutions to the multi-pronged problem, said Sales, are debatable. While some say that great development professionals can be produced with the right training, others say that it is an innate skill-set that people simply have or don’t have. Sales said she tends to agree with the latter view.
“I came down on the side of saying it’s about finding really good individuals who we can mentor and motivate as opposed to it being about getting people into programs,” she said.
And ultimately, said Sales, no one foundation can tackle the problem on its own. As a result, the Schusterman Foundation is planning to host a conference this spring in New York to publicize the paper’s findings and engage people in a discussion.
“It’s possible,” said Sales, that “foundations and philanthropists could determine in some collaborative way that they want to address the issue.”