May 25, 2012

Jewish organizations face transition anxiety

The New York Jewish Week has a timely article about the untimely lack of succession planning in American Jewish organizations. Sure, Communist China has more organized and frequent turnover at the top than do most of our communal institutions over here. But to be fair, when success is measured by market shares and fundraising numbers, keeping a charismatic leader in place becomes imperative. And why rock the boat, since status quo is a close second to charisma as a guiding consideration. 

[Full disclosure here: I still have latent aspirations of my own...] 

It would be nice if success were primarily measured by transparent results against a clear mission ("ROI" evangelism notwithstanding). But our community is based on voluntary participation and support, so using familiar and brand-tested personalities can be very important to keeping the Jewish public engaged. 

Reportedly, some major organizations also prefer to wait on lining up a successor until after the chief executive announces retirement, so the search process can become an opportunity to reassess the organization's mission and structure. So, in many cases, the only opportunity for a top-down review and realignment is when the chief executive (or a Higher authority) chooses his own departure date, possibly three decades out? This seems a bit antiquated, and wouldn't meet the standards of the business leaders who fund the organizations or the taxpayers who subsidize their tax-deductible donations. 

If one individual is so popular and effective that only he (still very few she's at the top) can make the organization work, then he has not done such a great job building an institution. Despite all the consultants and Planning Professionals employed by Jewish nonprofits, it's not succession planning we're missing -- it's succession and planning. 

It is what it is. (It's certainly not changing anytime soon.)

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