Jewish Journal

Craigslist Sampling by Federation for Next Big Jewish Idea - $2 million

by Pini Herman

July 13, 2011 | 4:52 pm

.............Launchbox.........Where Are You?

$100,000 in direct and in-kind resources to the TNBJI winner has been announced. Launchbox.  Its a perhaps laudable program of delivering a box of Orthodox oriented content to to the lesser-practicing Jew to launch them rightward in the continuum of Jewish identity and practice.

$100,000 to Chabad might have been a bit more efficient.  $100,000 buys much more when channeled through a large existing organization than when its channeled through a start-up organization. A lot gets eaten up in start-up costs.

A competition was created. The competitors had to dig into their own pockets to compete. Even the in the book of Esther, the king bore the costs of primping the beauty contestants.

This is the equivalent of displaying a bag of money in the street and making the needy fill out forms as they swarm to reach it. The money bag target is so amorphous and vague, that forgotten is that its the Federation’s mission to research and plan so that money can be distributed in a planful manner.

The cash honeypot was modest, $100,000 for the Federation, an organization with a $40,000,000 yearly budget,  Federation staff easily burned through that amount of money in a few months of their TNBJI overhead.

The applicants spent at least $1.7 million in kind and cash pursuing the $100,000 and the Jewish Federation of Greater LA will have conservatively expended $0.3 million to give away the $100,000 to the winner, Launchbox.

The use of information gathered from unsuccessful applicants for a study is way to use administrative data.  I call it “Craigslist Sampling.” The cost of information provision is borne by hopeful applicants.  The crowd of applicants provided this data about what they thought was important enough to spend their meager resources on.  Unfortunately the other data in the Federation’s possession regarding community votes and judges votes is, so far, secret.

The 306 applicants were classified into an average two or more categories by the Federation on its TNBJI website.  Community and Jewish Identity came out on top as the most popular themes of The Next Big Jewish Idea applicants. Interfaith, Health & Fitness, College, and Special Needs were the least popular. Israel was ranked in the middle.

Rather than the enticing Craigslist-like Internet come on, “Work From Home,” the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles used the siren call of “Work From An Office in the Jewish Federation building.” Individuals grasping for legitimacy of a real office and a real budget in these recessionary times and Jewish agencies grasping at a way to make up for cuts in Federation funding stuffed a lot of electronic envelopes.

If the Federation doesn’t have any more information about communal needs than its TNBJI applicants, then everyone is in the dark.  TV game show logic sets in. TNBJI is described by the media as an open submissions contest with a $100,000 prize.  The judging process is tantalizing long, but on TV, more transparent. 

The light that legitimate Jewish communal needs research would provide is missing. Jewish communal Leadership does not mean keeping the lights off in a dark room and having the only box of matches around.

Most responsible Jewish communities have known, since the 1920s, having valid actionable information is like paying the light bill.

Pini Herman is immediate past President of the Movable Minyan a lay-lead independent congregation in the 3rd Street area. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) pini00003@gmail.com

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Bruce Phillips is Professor of Sociology and Jewish Communal Studies at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Los Angeles. He has conducted Jewish population...

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