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Reading the “Oldspaper”: What HASN’T Changed in the Jewish Nonprofit Sector

by Gali Cooks

Our Employee Experience Survey shows our sector is changing in many ways. In others… not so much.

Cross-posted to LinkedIn

In his 2003 book The 2% Solution, Matthew Miller argued that newspapers should have a front-page feature called “Still True Today.” Instead of focusing only on what’s newest and most sensational, he argued that the media should remind readers of facts that are massively important but decidedly not new. How many people live in poverty, for example? Poverty didn’t show up overnight, but it’s an important problem, and the media shouldn’t create a narrative that what’s new is the only thing that matters.

Since that book was written, newspapers with physical front pages have become mostly obsolete. Yet the idea behind “Still True Today” is itself still true: sometimes “the olds” matter as much as the news.

The importance of “the olds” struck me this year as I dove into the data revealed in Leading Edge’s 2021 Employee Experience Survey. Since Leading Edge fielded the first Employee Experience Survey in 2016, much has changed in our sector, and this year’s report contains many insights about how our field is changing—not only in response to the pandemic, but based on generational changes that long preceded it. For example, our data shows that more than ever before, employees are prioritizing things like well-being and how much they feel they belong when considering how long they want to stay at their organizations. 

But despite these new shifts, many important things have also stayed the same—some of them great! ...And some of them, well... otherwise.

First, the good news (or, rather, the good olds): People in the Jewish nonprofit field are pumped up about their missions. Employees at Jewish organizations are overwhelmingly proud to work at their organizations (90%). They know how their work contributes to their organizations’ missions (90%) and they believe their organizations provide quality services to their communities (91%). They also feel respected by their managers (90%).

These strengths are worth celebrating, and shouldn’t be taken for granted—especially as the rising generations of workers make values and a sense of mission more important than ever for engagement and retention. As Deloitte has written, “To win the hearts of Generation Z, companies and employers will need to highlight their efforts to be good global citizens.” This is something the Jewish nonprofit sector is already doing remarkably well.

Now it’s time for the bad olds. Only a minority of employees (46%) say that their performance review process actually helps them grow and improve. Employees largely feel that their organizations are understaffed, with only a minority (42%) reporting that their organizations have enough people to do the work they need to do. Only a minority feel that their salaries are fair relative to similar roles in their organization (42%) and even fewer (37%) say that they understand how salaries and raises are determined at their organizations. Only 38% of employees feel that they have opportunities for advancement at their organizations. 

None of this is new. But that doesn’t make it unimportant. The opposite is true! The longer these problems hold back the Jewish nonprofit sector from doing its most outstanding work, the more urgent it should seem to leaders, boards, funders, and everyone else in our sector to prioritize these problems. Truly useful feedback; clear ways to advance in a career; feeling properly valued and compensated in a way that is clearly communicated and makes sense—these are fundamentals, not luxuries. Our field can and must improve.

For my own part, I take the persistence of these problems as a gauntlet thrown down. These are areas in which Leading Edge, my organization, needs to create more practical, immediate tools that leaders and managers can bring into their everyday operations at Jewish nonprofits across North America. We also need to do more work to persuade leaders who are drinking from a firehose of competing priorities that putting employee experience first will help them with the rest of their deluge as well.

As I write these words, it is Hanukkah, a festival whose name means “dedication.” As we bask in the light of the menorah this year, and reflect on the truly vital and incredible work that Jewish organizations do every day, let’s rededicate ourselves to supporting employees in our field with effective feedback, professional development opportunities, salary transparency, and everything else they need to thrive. Our institutions are our people; that’s why the importance of supporting them will never get old.

About the Author
  • Photo of Gali Cooks

    Gali Cooks is the President & CEO of Leading Edge.

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