Healthy Jewish Collaboration & Reciprocity

Jewish collaboration requires a courtship to understand synergies and opportunities, overcome pitfalls, and create mutually beneficial collaboration.  It’s about creating something new and great neither organization could do themselves. We reach new people, build different and better programming, or simply help nurture and support each other’s existence.  This kind of authentic collaboration is the Holy Grail of greater engagement of the Jewish people.  It’s what makes the difference in good to great, in rote vs. inspiring and it’s what feeds our Jewish soul and invigorates us.

Jewish partners take risks, sharing their resources, but also planning reciprocal programs and marketing the benefits for both or all of the organizations involved. They are committed, courageous, and have an enthusiastic desire to see an improved landscape of Jewish experiences. Foundations in making grants often encourage collaboration, but there is no road map that suggests best practices on how to do it.

Without the training or best practices to guide us, many Jewish organizations – in fact, many Jewish entrepreneurs – don’t know how to pave the path.  There are local and national collaborations, even secular, Jewish and Israeli to consider.  Each can bring unique resources, opportunities and open important doors, not only to recruiting and outreach, but also to programmatic improvements and continuity.

Collaborative Pitfalls – Don’t Let Them Get You Down!

Each of the following represents pitfalls that are surmountable.  Like love and marriage, it takes work to make collaborations successful.  It also takes two willing and interested parties.

Better My Way:  We do things our way, if you do it this way, we can partner.
Answer: Don’t assume a partner or collaboration can only be one way and then take the highway. And don’t let a partner do so, either.  Collaboration begins with a conversation that considers community needs and partner needs. Listen, give and take feedback, share advice, consider community historical data (i.e. learning from what’s been tried), and craft an artful creation well-tailored to your community needs.

FUD:  Fear, uncertainty and dread. We might lose participants or members; we can’t afford that. Maybe they’ll like the other program better, their staff or rabbi more.
Answer: We need courageous, risk-taking Jewish leadership, especially in communities with ridiculously low Jewish engagement and significant Jewish populations.

Scarcity of Resources:  We’re too busy to work on that, to give them attention.  They have to pay big money to be a Partner. We have costs to cover.
Answer:  Use your staff or volunteers better; let them impact more people. Use your building better; Jewish buildings were meant to be full of Jews. Develop a reasonable rental plan or, better yet, in kind use with a plan for collaborative or joint programs.

Programmatic Differences:  We’re different because of the languages we speak together, levels of observance, culture or age.
Answer: Encourage mingling, to meet and learn from each other.  It’s interesting and healthy to build bridges; to be with people speaking Spanish, Hebrew, Russian; hearing and experiencing their Jewish cultural traditions. Most Jewish community members want to make new Jewish connections. Work together and help them.

Marketing Limitations:  “Just send out our event flyer/fundraiser but, oh, by the way, we can’t reciprocate and share yours”, “Our Board won’t let us”, “My boss won’t let me”, and/or “We don’t think our people will be interested in yours.” (Translation: “We just want to use you, not collaborate with you.”)
Answer:  Healthy Jewish collaboration requires reciprocity. Be aware there are labor and tangible costs for quality marketing and know that someone needs to cover those costs. Recognizing one partner or another may bear the brunt of this should be considered and made up for in other ways to make it work.

Courtship & Collaboration – This is the Fun Part!

With the enormous number of less or not engaged, and the expense of running programs, buildings, and staffing, it goes without saying we should be leveraging our resources better.  Let’s face it: some programs have a great staffer or rabbi, some have a great building, and some recruit and produce great programs. Just like in dating, this is the fun part. This is where you get to see what’s great about each other.  Plan how to share resources and expenses, respecting each other’s limitations, appreciating the strength in each others’ staffing or experiences and getting creative about offering better programs together.  Then, establish a respectful and reciprocal marketing plan for the joint program, creating exciting pieces that share the joint event, proudly sharing the relationship, your enthusiasm for the other and cherishing the benefit you bring together to the community.  You don’t have to agree to spam your respective databases with every event the other does. Work hard on a few joint events and promote those like crazy.

From Good to Great!  Collaboration Stories

Market another program that has synergies with your own. Share resources funded by programs with your same mission. If you work with young children, for example, teaching Hebrew or Jewish values, share information about the Israeli-American Council’s Keshet Sfarim or the PJ Library. Helping these organizations register families is a great opportunity, too, for Jewish outreach.  Using the books in your supplementary school programs and offering free Hebrew story times in public libraries and on Jewish day school campuses can only mean more learning opportunities and a win-win for both organizations.   Partner with summer overnight and local camps who can share madrichim in partnered programs through the year. Leveraging the resources of both organizations for community-wide events is a tremendous marketing opportunity for all.  Jointly marketed events can be shared prominently by all the organizations in their newsletters, Facebook pages and web sites, showing deep and authentic appreciation for each other’s identities, efforts and the relationship.

Synagogues and traditional organizations like a JCC or Jewish Family Services can make great partners, too. They may generously offer low or no cost meeting space and, together, you can create beautiful Jewish experiences, memorable Sukkot dinners, Shabbat evenings and more. Programs successful in recruiting less engaged families can make introductions this way to more Jewish friends in synagogues, and traditional bar/bat mitzvah programs, perhaps even synagogue membership or additional programs offered by the local JCC or Jewish Family Services organizations.  In fact, many Jewish startups might begin this way, with these close collaborations, only to find that, as they mature, there may be good reasons to wrap the programs into the organization’s portfolio rather than go it alone for a long-term win-win for the community.

Looking Ahead

Working together, exploring ways to engage more Jews, I hope each Jewish organization that might read this near, or far, and Jewish startup entrepreneurs will be encouraged to make the time to work with potential Jewish partners, to be courageous, generous, creative, and patient and to engage more Jews every day.   It’s exciting to be a part of a creative, collaborative process.  Together, collaboratively, we’ll enrich our Jewish communities and ensure our Jewish future and connection to Israel.

This article is the first in a series about Jewish Entrepreneurship; the nuts and bolts, and lessons learned, from experiences transforming Jewish life in San Diego, CA.

Jennie Starr
Jennie Starr practiced Law and was a Director of Product Management for several high-tech startups, before founding Tarbuton and Startup18 Jewish Engagement Lab. She has a BA from Northwestern, MA from the University of Illinois, and a JD from Washington University in St. Louis. Jennie believes Jewish entrepreneurs can transform Jewish San Diego, and Jewish life at large and established Startup18 to offer a welcome address for program founders. Jennie’s a Chicagoan, and Israeli-American, living in San Diego, CA with her husband and two children.