‘It’s too good to be true.”
That’s how Rachel Lederman describes the opportunity she now faces. Lederman, a 23-year-old program director for the Jewish youth group BBYO, is waiting to hear if she’ll be among the 20 young professionals from the organization who will be awarded a full scholarship to earn a Master of Business Administration degree, as part of a new professional-development plan.
The scholarship program is a result of a partnership between Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business and BBYO — which has more than 130 employees and is headquartered in Washington, D.C.; the Jim Joseph Foundation provides funding. The purpose of the program is to build a new generation of leaders in the Jewish professional world who will be both committed to communal work and knowledgeable of modern business practices.
“When our leadership looked at how it could put together a package to attract the best and brightest, offer a new skill set to its young professionals and better serve our constituency in the long term, investing time and money into human resources was the obvious answer,” said Matthew Grossman, executive director of BBYO.
The need for professional- development programs is felt throughout the not-for-profit world. While the commercial sector has long understood the advantages of career-building as a means of keeping professionals in the organization, not-for-profits have lagged behind, resulting in difficulties keeping skilled professionals in their jobs. At BBYO, for example, the average tenure is less than two years.
As part of the new program, which will begin this fall, the 20 selected employees will join a three-year plan in which they will simultaneously study at Indiana University (in most cases, remotely and online) and work at BBYO. Since teen activities usually take place in the afternoon and evening, studies will be scheduled for the morning hours, leaving the rest of the day available for work. In order to make sure the grants are used to benefit the Jewish community, participants will be required to continue working while studying and to stay with BBYO or any other Jewish communal agency for at least two years after graduating.
“It is important for us as an agency to have our team develop in their jobs,” said Rachel Hochheiser Schwartz, director of BBYO’s professional-development institute. Hochheiser Schwartz points out another benefit of the program: It will supply the broader Jewish community with a pool of qualified professionals, since BBYO has traditionally served as a starting ground for professionals who later moved on to other agencies.
The decision to offer an MBA program is a result of studying the needs of Jewish not-for-profits. “We found this is the best way to prepare our professionals,” Hochheiser Schwartz said. “Jewish agencies are moving in the way of professional management, especially in the medium and high levels.”
But the plan will not provide the usual profit-oriented MBA program. Scholarships will be used for studies in the University of Indiana’s program specializing in philanthropy and public administration. Students also will be allowed to replace several business-finance courses with finance courses specifically tailored for the not-for-profit sector. During the three years of studies, participants will have personal mentors helping them develop within the organization, and they will attend retreats and seminars specific to the Jewish communal world.
The grant that is making this scholarship possible represents one of the Jim Joseph Foundation’s earliest attempts to make its mark on the world of Jewish giving. With more than half a billion dollars in assets, the San Francisco-based foundation — established in 2006 — is slowly becoming a major player in the Jewish philanthropic scene, focusing on Jewish education and leadership. Its allocation of funds is based on a study it commissioned that mapped the needs of the Jewish educational world; conducted by Amy Sales, associate director of Brandeis University’s Maurice and Marilyn Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies, that study pointed out the need for professional development among providers of Jewish education as one of the means of improving the system. In 2007, the foundation allocated $46 million in grants that supported Birthright Israel, Jewish summer camp activities and programs aimed at keeping young adults involved in the Jewish community.
The foundation’s initial grant of $2.5 million will cover the first class of BBYO employees entering the three-year MBA program. It is still not clear if the program will become permanent and if funding will be found for future generations of young professionals. For BBYO, however, the scholarship program is seen as a possible model for all other Jewish agencies struggling with difficulties keeping staff on board and competing with the private sector. “We want this to be a challenge for all agencies. We think it will help everyone make their professionals as talented and capable as possible,” Hochheiser Schwartz said.
Lederman, who is currently in charge of two BBYO chapters in the Los Angeles area, sees her future in the not-for-profit sector. So for her, the MBA program primarily represents an opportunity to develop professionally. “All my friends are jealous,” she concluded.
Nathan Guttman, staff writer, is the Forward’s Washington bureau chief. He joined the staff in 2006 after serving for five years as Washington correspondent for the Israeli dailies Haaretz and The Jerusalem Post. In Israel, he was the features editor for Ha’aretz and chief editor of Channel 1 TV evening news. He was born in Canada and grew up in Israel. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.