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Jewish Journal

Jewish Innovation’s Obstacle Course

by Rabbi Yonah Bookstein

June 4, 2012 | 5:31 pm

Jewish organizations that are on the cutting edge are having a hard time making it to the next level. It’s a worldwide phenomenon. Instead of getting to sustainability, they cannot access bridge or mezzanine funding to take themselves out of start-up mode.

As anyone in business will tell you: you can’t stay in start-up mode. It’s sink or swim.

In a brilliant article in the Forward, Dana Raucher the executive director of The Samuel Bronfman Foundation, demonstrates the significant challenges that Jewish innovation is facing, and a solution. “Organizations on the cusp of this “second stage” must find a way to professionalize their systems and staff, and to do this they often need additional financial resources just at the moment when the luster of their novelty is dimming/”

Raucher’s article also highlights a comprehensive study commissioned by Bikkurim, From First Fruits to Abundant Harvest: Maximizing the Potential of Innovative Jewish Start-Ups. The study was overseen by an impressive study group and list of partners including The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, The Samuel Bronfman Foundation, NATAN, Lippman Kanfer Family Foundation, PELIE, and the UJA Federation of New York. 

I wish that I could say that here at Jewlicious we know nothing of these obstacles. However, that is not the case. In fact, there are the exact issues that Jewlicious is facing now.

Over the past decade, the Jewish community has fostered these types of organizations, which often try out groundbreaking forms of outreach and mix contemporary culture with tradition. But ironically, especially when these initiatives become successful, they encounter new obstacles that demand they rethink how they can best achieve their missions….

This also echoes my own experience at The Samuel Bronfman Foundation, where we make long term, deep investments in nonprofit organizations. We have learned again and again that no organization’s life cycle is completely linear. There are key points of inflection that present unique challenges and opportunities. Because we have been able to witness our grantees as they evolve, we have been involved in identifying and addressing these moments….

Second-stage growth requires nimbleness on the part of funders and organizations. By focusing on the mission and not the form through which it is driven, organizations are able to promote their institutional goals during each phase of their development. A commitment to a consistent set of core values may require shifts over time in both program orientation and organizational structures.

It is the responsibility of all stakeholders, including funders, professionals and lay leaders, to engage more publicly in this conversation. Today we are confronted with an opportunity to address an important need in the Jewish community, and together we must exchange ideas, share best practices and continue our support for this sector. Through collaboration and adaptability, we can better equip these organizations so that they don’t falter as they transition to their next stage.

Read the whole article here:

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Yonah Bookstein, a leading voice of the Next Generation of American Jewry, is an internationally recognized expert in Jewish innovation, founder of Jewlicious Festival, and...

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