CRMs for Nonprofits: Improve Your Constituent Relationships

The use of “Customer Relationship Management” or “Constituent Relationship Management” (CRM) systems is standard in for-profit businesses, however, many nonprofits are yet to embrace the power of CRM as a donor management tool. Many still rely on spreadsheets, or a loosely connected combination of various tools to track donor engagement, volunteers, campaigns, and other critical functions that sustain and grow nonprofits.

The benefits of investing in a good CRM—several of which are free—far outweigh the time and financial costs, as it simplifies daily operations and effective outreach.

Using CRMs opens up new ways of doing things more efficiently and more effectively. And as your organization grows, you can scale this essential nonprofit tech to suit current needs. These programs can serve both the small volunteer-based nonprofit to the multi-million-dollar international nonprofit organization. A simple spreadsheet cannot effectively handle such a scale of operation in a multiuser, multi-location environment.

Benefits of Using a CRM for Nonprofits

Coordinated Communication

Maintain an easy flow of information among volunteers, donors, board members and service recipients. Since nonprofits can have so many people to manage, using a CRM eliminates much of the complication and reduces the chances of mistakes in communications.

Efficient Processes

Time and money are essential to every nonprofit (and indeed, every business); streamlined processes available from a robust CRM help save both.

Preservation of Organizational Knowledge

As time goes by, your organization learns things about its supporters, its processes, and best practices. In most traditional settings, the knowledge exists in individuals. With a CRM, this knowledge gets preserved in the system, allowing the organization to keep running smoothly even when key individuals leave.

Visibility of Relationships

At the click of a button you are able to see all the relationship running across the organization. It shows a record of events, emails, volunteer contacts and donations, among other types of essential information. You don’t have to dig through tons of information (and cobble together multiple spreadsheets) to get to what you need.

Simplified Data Management

With a great CRM, you can create a new marketing campaign or plan an event with just a few clicks, even targeting specific people based on donation or participation levels. These tasks can be time-consuming if you work the “time-tested” way with Excel or Google Sheets, a separate email system and donation system.

In-Depth Knowledge of Your Benefactors

Using a CRM opens up a whole world of information about your donors, volunteers, and other contacts you track. You will get to know their interests, what they respond to, and even (with some systems) what they share on social media, so you can best appeal to them.

Features to Look for in a Nonprofit CRM

The landscape of online CRMs is getting crowded, with several big players and a lot of specialty systems created just for nonprofits. Whether you need all of the bells and whistles of the paid platforms or can use one of the free (and still powerful) ones depends on your needs.

Here’s a checklist of features to consider when choosing your nonprofit’s CRM:

Workflow Automation

A CRM that makes it easy to automate common processes like receiving donations, thanking donors, sending out mail-merge email campaigns to people who meet specific criteria, creating follow-up tasks, and sending weekly activity summaries can save the organization a lot of your most precious resource: time.

Collaboration and Sharing

It should allow all the employees to work on common projects and share both information and resources.

Easy to Scale Up or Down

A system that will grow with you, supporting a larger donor base, adding or eliminating functionality based on your needs.

Managing Overlaps

A good donor management application should be able to maintain and clearly show any overlap in the stakeholders. For example, a volunteer becoming a donor, a beneficiary becoming a donor, etc. Instead of spending hours sorting out duplications and comparing data, the organization can spend the time building relationships.

Simplifying & Unifying Processes Across Departments

Depending on what your nonprofit does (or wants to do on a regular basis), a centralized system for donor management, engagement, email, marketing, and even fundraising, allows the whole organization to work together seamlessly.

Access Control

Nonprofits rely on volunteers, interns and various staff members to keep things moving. Since many people might be working from the same database, the program should allow for restrictions to functions depending on the tasks and role of the user.

Data Integrity

Working from a decentralized (cloud-based) system can pose security risks, if your data is not properly protected. Some systems will allow you to install on your own server, but that could introduce added costs of hosting and maintenance.

Getting Your Nonprofit Started with a CRM

There are many options for CRMs out there, some more daunting than others. Choosing the right one for your organization depends on your current resources, technical expertise and, of course, your needs.

We rounded up a few top-rated platforms and outlined the uses, pros, cons and costs of each to get you started.

Civi CRM – Open source CRM, event management, donations/payments, volunteer management platform and more, for charities & nonprofits.

Neon CRM – Donor management, event management, donations/payments, volunteer management platform and more, designed specifically for nonprofits.

Salsa CRM and Salsa Engage – Powerful online, mobile and social fundraising software and constituent relationship management tool.

GiveGab – An agile platform specifically tailored for nonprofit donor and relationship management.

Insightly – CRM that allows you to organize and track your current and potential donors.

Hubspot CRM – A totally free customer relations management tool that allows you to organize and track your current and potential donors.

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What to do When Your Kids “Don’t Want to be Jewish”

My son, Evan, came home from religious school and said, “I don’t want to be Jewish.” This is something many of us hear from our kids when they don’t want to get dressed, don’t want to study Hebrew or desperately want a Christmas tree in the first grade. But this is my sensitive, accommodating child and he was perplexed and serious. “Ok,” I responded, “tell me more.” He recounted the bible story of Lot’s wife turning into a pillar of salt for looking back and disobeying the angels. Evan had his points organized like a litigator. “First, do they really expect us to believe that?” He asked. “Do you believe that, Mommy? And second, why would G-d punish her like that, just for looking back? That doesn’t make any sense. Couldn’t G-d talk to her about it?” He continued to explain how this religion didn’t feel right to him and he didn’t feel good about being a Jew. I would like to say that my kid is special, but I don’t believe his insight is far off from most of our young thinkers.

As a Jewish communal professional, I was heartbroken to hear my son’s rejection of Judaism but immediately connected his sentiment to the findings of a demographic study recently completed where we live: Only 15% of the 36,000 Jewish people in Pinellas County are members of a temple or synagogue. Yet, 98% said they are proud to be Jewish. The most interesting number, though, was that 81% reported doing some type of “Jewish activity” in the past year. This included: lighting Shabbat candles, going to a Jewish film festival movie, attending a Bar Mitzvah or giving to a Jewish charity. The data made me wonder, What type of Jewish living counts? Did Evan not want to be Jewish, or does he just not want to engage in the established institutional Judaism? Can I support Evan being a confident and proud Jew in spaces outside of the religious framework?

I thought about the times when my children acted through their Jewish identity…When Fiona insisted on drawing Israeli dancers for a folk festival poster contest at school even though Israel wasn’t on the list of countries. She proactively arranged for Israel to be included in the festival and she won the poster contest. Or the times when they both acted as up-standers against inequality and injustice by walking in the Martin Luther King, Jr. parade…But what about the rest of the year, and the other days of the week?

I decided I needed to find more ways to incorporate opportunities for Evan and other kids like him to discover their Jewish identity through everyday life. I went back to my son and said, “I understand how you feel about Judaism at religious school, but being Jewish means much more than that. Part of being Jewish is helping others and taking action when we think something can be better.”

As I brainstormed with friends and colleagues about ways to incorporate Jewish identity into everyday life, the idea for Jewish toys came out of a conversation I had with “art toy” designer, Simon Boses. Toys capture children’s imagination and play provides those opportunities for discovery. I searched for progressive Jewish values-based toys that he might think are cool. Values like compassion, courage, seeking knowledge, helping others and having integrity. When I didn’t find any, I wrote a social entrepreneurship business plan for a toy company that addressed the issue of Jewish identity-building outside of traditional religious frameworks. We called it Yom Tov Toys.

What We Learned About Creating a Product

  • Strategic design. We started with a very simple design. We specifically designed the first “Gani” toy to have the same physical shape so there would be one consistent production mold but we could design different characters by changing the exterior paint. This would allow us to make production cheaper to start because having a steel mold made is an investment. We also made sure that we owned the mold. The simple design also made it easier to pass safety testing for choking hazards.
  • Idealism vs. realism. Sometimes our idealistic expectations can’t be met. You have to be willing to look at the big picture and accept that things may not be exactly as you want them to be right now….but that shouldn’t be an obstacle to moving the project forward. You can continue to work toward your ideal in the future. This was my hardest lesson so far. I wanted to have these toys produced in the US. But 90% of toys are manufactured in Asia. What I learned is, toy manufacturers in China are the experts and you just have to find someone you trust to help you work with an ethical and reputable factory. I didn’t find the cheapest manufacturer, but the toys are high quality, durable and when I opened them the first time I was so delighted that they didn’t have that toxic smell that so many toys have.
  • Company Structure. It was really hard to determine if this project should be a non-profit or a for-profit organization. After listening to author and reformer, Dan Palotta speak, I consumed his message: “There is no greater injustice than the double standard that exists between the for-profit and nonprofit sectors. One gets to feast on marketing, risk-taking, capital and financial incentive, the other is sentenced to begging.” Since we have a very clear mission statement for the toys we determined that we would adopt a “low profit” model. There is a relatively new corporate classification from a tax perspective that has been adopted by about half of the states called Low Profit Limited Liability Corporation. It’s a hybrid structure that combines the legal and tax flexibility of a traditional LLC, the social benefits of a nonprofit organization, and the branding and market positioning advantages of a social enterprise.
  • Hire professionals. Our strengths are in toy design, knowledge about Judaism and Israel, marketing and strategic planning. What we don’t know how to do is build websites. Because there are templates and DIY website builders, it is tempting to create your own website. But this is one place we decided to invest our money. Using a professional web designer and video editor who understands the mission and finds value in the project made a significant difference.
  • Raise money. We had a successful first production run of our Gani toys, but as with all new businesses, we needed more money to continue making future toys and products. So we decided to create a campaign on Jewcer. We also hired Jewcer to help with the building and copywriting of our campaign.
  • Engage the experts you know. It always surprises me when people want to create something for children or teens or seniors and they don’t ask the group they want to appeal to for their input. Not only did we include kids in the design and messaging, we also consulted with the Jewish educators we knew from around the country.

How to Encourage Kids to Embrace their Jewish Identity

Whether you have a Jewish business that involves working with kids or you are a parent who wants your child to connect more with their Jewish identity (or both, like me!), here’s a list of helpful tips you can use to encourage kids to embrace their Jewish identity in everyday life.

Some Helpful Tips

    • Embrace nature. Participate in activities outside in nature and tie them to Jewish teachings about the importance of protecting the environment as well as the physical and psychological health that comes from being present and connected to nature. Yom Tov Toy’s Gani characters Binah and Lev have nature themes and symbolism that can facilitate discussions about the relationship between humans and the earth.
    • Take action. Be proactive, make a plan and take action toward social change. It doesn’t matter what cause, pick something that you can commit to with goals that are attainable. That could be walking in the Dr. Martin Luther King Day parade once a year or making lunches for food insecure children every week.
    • Own it. Find meaning in Jewish traditions that resonate with your family. I want my kids to know that their ancestors have done some of these same rituals for hundreds of years before them, but I also want them to believe that the tradition has meaning that they can relate to. For example, when we spend time in a Sukkah, we focus on how we can’t control everything and we have to accept what nature sends through the open roof made of vegetation.
    • Eat Jewish! Food is a huge part of Jewish culture. Bake and cook Jewish recipes any time of the year! Make heirloom recipes or create new modern twists. Most use wholesome, natural ingredients and take time…time you can spend together.
    • Visit Jewish museums, watch Jewish movies, plays and seek out Jewish culture. There is a great cartoon series for young kids called Shaboom!
    • Sign up for PJ Library at
    • Explore Israel. Technology gives us access to so much information and to so many people around the world! Watch YouTube videos of kids in Israel or Israeli cartoons. Take a google maps tour of Israel using the satellite images and street view feature, you can take a virtual walk through the streets of Jerusalem together.
    • Celebrate Shabbat. Force yourself to put away ALL of the electronics for 24 hours. Then during that time, do any or all of the above.

Encouraging kids to have a Jewish identity outside of the religious framework requires some deliberate education around Jewish history and values we already are teaching them. Belonging to something bigger than ourselves, being part of a community and understanding our ancestor’s past is important. If we can find fun and interesting ways to engage our kids in this incredible culture and in values-based living, then I think we’re doing something right!



Top Entrepreneurs Who Didn’t Get a Business Degree

Many people wonder if they can succeed in the business world without a business degree. Well, we’re here to tell you that there are plenty of successful people out there who never earned a business degree–some never even finished high school! The world is out there for your taking. If you’ve got the passion and the drive, anything is possible, degree or not.

 Coco Chanel – Chanel

“In 1910, she opened her first business, a hat shop, also in Paris. She later established boutiques in Biarritz and Deauville, this time making and selling clothes. Her designs were hugely successful and, by the 1920s, Coco had debuted her iconic perfume: Chanel No. 5. Five years later, she launched the classic Chanel suit (the collarless jacket and fitted skirt). Coco is notably the only fashion designer on Time magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century. She is credited with liberating women of the early 20th century from the confines of the corset, and introducing simpler fashion, lines and fabrics that endure today.” –(Daily Worth)


Howard Schultz – Starbucks

“Brooklyn native Schultz attended Northern Michigan University on a football scholarship and earned a degree in communications. After graduation, he started working in the coffee business as a salesman for Hammarplast, which sold European coffee makers in the U.S. Eventually, he became the company’s director of sales, which was when he discovered a small Seattle chain called Starbucks. In 1982, he joined Starbucks and the rest is history.” –(USA Today)



Alexa Hirschfeld – Paperless Post

“Hirschfeld recieved a B.A. degree in Classics at Harvard University in 2006. The e-vite service was conceived in 2007 by her younger brother, James, while the Harvard undergrad was planning his 21st birthday party. He then called his sister, who had planned to leave her first job as an editorial assistant at CBS, where she was often stuck opening mail. ‘I wanted to be in something that was not figured out yet,’ Alexa said in a 2011 interview with Cosmopolitan. ‘I imagined that if I were, there would be more room for creativity.’–(TIME)



Matt Mullenweg – WordPress

“Matt Mullenweg started WordPress, which now powers around 22% of the web, yet he dropped out of college and began working at CNET Networks from 2004 to 2005, before quitting that to found Automattic, the business behind”–(Gentleman’s Journal)


Oprah Winfrey – The Oprah Winfrey Show

“Oprah was offered [a] job as an on-air reporter in Baltimore. The only problem was that the job started a few months before her graduation. Ultimately, she chose the job (from which she was fired), sacrificing her communications and performing arts degree. She soldiered on, working a morning talk show in Baltimore and then hosting another in Chicago before hitting the big time. The Oprah Winfrey Show was the highest-rated talk show in American history, earning 17 Daytime Emmys. She was named the richest African-American of the 20th century by Forbes in 2009 and is one of only two black female billionaires in the world.” –(Daily Worth)

David Karp – Tumblr

“The creator of Tumblr (the 9th most visited site in the US), despite never even graduating high school. He had dropped out of Bronx Science high school in 2001 to be home-schooled, and never received a high school diploma. Karp is now worth an estimated $200 million.”–(Gentleman’s Journal)





Sara Blakely – Spanx

“A onetime door-to-door fax machine salesperson, Sara Blakely invested $5,000 to come up with something to wear under white slacks. She initially shilled her new invention, which became shapewear brand Spanx, on the sales floor at various Neiman Marcus stores. In 2000, Oprah Winfrey called to add Spanx to her famous Favorite Things episode. Today, Spanx sells its undergarments, leggings, and maternity wear in 65 countries. “–(Forbes)






The Year I Woke Up and Became a Jewish Entrepreneur

For years, it was drilled in to me to follow my strengths. With a spatial sense that was and remains virtually non-existent, I was told to focus on what I could do. So I went to drama camp, and Jewish camp, and became a camp counselor and then – before I knew it – I was a community developer,  a non-social work social worker, paid to be proficient in what I was really good at.

Unfortunately, I was running away from myself. By the time I hit my mid-twenties, I could teach the class on how to transform, by which I mean dress-up failure. Faced with a series of doomed relationships, a litany of academic rejections and, at one point, the possibility of being homeless, I spent most of my time trying to seem okay with the next wave of devastation around me. Life wasn’t pretty, but I sure made it look that way – touting the learning experiences at my job and, yes, the next deceptive selfie, as the sort of positive turn-arounds that redeemed a world of unconfronted pain. Sure, I was showing parts of myself, but the rest of me was hiding.

And there was something else to this faux okay-ness. See, I wasn’t just failing, I wasn’t purposefully failing. While I was bragging about all the useful skills I accrued while being at various points abused, confused and removed from how I really wanted to be living, I wasn’t staking a claim on what I wanted. I wasn’t raising the stakes to the highest level, crying out from the bottom: “I may die or, worse, fail going after the truth of who I am…but that is worth everything compared to another moment living the lie of who I am not.”

I had to stop being okay in order to step forward. I had to stop confusing being useful with being purposeful because the conflation was not only antithetical to facing my sheer distance from living the life I wanted, but also pursuing the kind of spiritual proximity that only comes from honest failures, the spoils and toils en route to what one really wants to be doing. Failing in a direction of my choosing did not make the hard parts more bearable. Or even less rare.

But it did make me re-learn what it means to be alive.

It also brought me to learn Hebrew (I mean really commit, failing badly, outrageously, often) after years of being told I would never master a single language. And, as I continue to muck up on the winding path to mastery, I now understand why taking on this learning curve was the precursor to my decision to become a rabbinical student and then a poet and blogger. As my spatial sense grows stronger, so does my sight into my own soul. I have to continue failing at what I really want in order to end up in the places I desire most. And I have to forsake the failsafe of what is comfortable and okay to get there.

In a month where, according to the medieval work, The Zohar, Jews make the existential move from back-to-back to face-to-face, seeing ourselves for who we are and setting out on the tasks we crave to do could not be more pressing. For there is nothing more forward-facing and, as it happens, entrepreneurial, than failure when it meets the sincerity of a veritable purpose.

5 Twitter Handles Every Entrepreneur Should Follow

1. James Altucher

A brutally honest entrepreneur and author, James Altucher, shares both his failures and struggles as well as his successes. If you really want to learn a thing or two about life-work balance and all the ins and outs of being your own boss, give him a follow!


2. Gary Vaynerchuk

If you need some extra motivation, not just in your work, but in your life, give Gary Vaynerchuk a listen/read/watch. He’ll help you get to that frame of mind you need to keep going!


3. Ali Brown

Named as the “Entrepreneurial guru for women,” Ali Brown works to motivate and mentor female entrepreneurs. However, her advice and input is incredibly valuable to both genders as she has plenty to offer about the business world.


4. Adam Milstein

If you work in the world of Jewish entrepreneurship AND philanthropy, you probably know who this guy is! Adam Milstein is a must follow for those who want to keep abreast on Israel and the world.


5. Tim Ferriss

 Tim Ferriss is the author of The 4-Hour Workweek. That sounds pretty good to us! Give him a follow for inspiration and creative lifestyle tips.


Of course, there are so many great resources in the twittersphere and all over the net. If you have any other favorite people you follow, let us know for future posts on valuable resources for entrepreneurs!




Peers, Mentors and Angels: 3 Whys to Develop Your Venture in an Incubator

From January to May this year, I was lucky to be part of the JCC Chicago’s social entrepreneurship program Seed613 where I was working on my start-up ‘creative: for good’, which connects millennial artists with non-profit organizations for meaningful advertising. Just like with most things in life, you don’t know what you have until it’s gone and this holds for start-up incubators as well.

For many (social) entrepreneurs, being part of a group of like-minded individuals helps them get their ventures off the ground more smoothly and quickly. This is especially true when you are at the very beginning of your entrepreneurial journey. An incubator can be the perfect bridge to move forward with your idea to execution – just like it was in my case.

Here’s why:

Resources, mentors & angels

Incubators will connect you with the right people, provide you with resources and give you guidance. Incubators are home to mentors, venture capitalists and angel investors. Many of them also provide tangible resources such as legal advice, accounting assistance or office space. Having all this in place allows the founders to focus on their startup and its core business and forget about the red tape at least for some time. As a fellow of the Seed613 Bootcamp at JCC Chicago, I too reaped many benefits. I was given guidance regarding the legal forms that I can consider for my start-up as well as advice on financial planning and budget – the scariest piece of my venture adventure.

Networking, networking, networking

One of the biggest benefits of developing your venture in an incubator is the access to a strong network of business partners, investors, venture capitalists, mentors and other entrepreneurs and founders – simply community. The community you will build while in the incubator will stay with you and you will realize that it is probably the most valuable thing you will take away from the entire experience. An incubator also gives you credibility and I can say with certainty that, without having been part of Seed613, I would have not had access to certain media outlets and business partners. A network can be extremely beneficial from a marketing and PR perspective, as well, because there is only so much you can do as a startup with a tiny budget.

Peer Support & Environment

For me, the most unexpected element of being part of a start-up boot camp was actually the environment and peer support. Every time I came for our session, I left energized and full of determination and commitment to bring my venture into life. Being in a group of like-minded individuals is extremely helpful especially at times when your motivation falters or when you feel a lack of energy or strength. Incubators are FULL of dynamic, creative, and smart people who want to make things happen. Their energy is contagious.

Being part of an incubator, accelerator or a start-up boot camp can play a defining role in bringing your idea to life and growing your startup. For me, it narrowed down the idea and brought it to its early stage execution including a business plan, website, social media presence and a first project. The value of the mentorship, the resources, and the network that Seed613 have brought to me have been instrumental to my determination to bring world-class advertising to non-profit organizations.


5 Free Marketing Tools for Every Entrepreneur

If you’re just getting started in the world of entrepreneurship, you probably don’t have a giant marketing budget. So we’ve compiled a list of free marketing tools you should use in order to grow and develop your business! Not only will they help you grow your business, but these tools will also help you save time and money.

1. MailChimp

If you’ve ever listened to an NPR podcast, you’ve probably heard an ad for MailChimp. As one of the most popular tools for email marketing, MailChimp is incredibly user friendly and beneficial for maintaining and growing an audience. They also have a great page dedicated to teaching you how to maximize all that it has to offer.

Features include:

  • Integrating with Facebook and Instagram to gain new customers and subscribers
  • Adjustments based on feedback from MailChimp reports
  • Customizing emails based on purchase data
  • Automation tools that will save time and headache!

2. Canva

Today, aesthetics are almost as important as the product or service itself. Canva is another incredibly user friendly tool to create designs that will be appealing and enticing to your customers. The site also has fantastic articles with advice about design.

Features include:

  • A very easy to use drag and drop system
  • A variety of font combinations, templates, icons, images and illustrations
  • A color palette generator (you can select colors from images you use on your website)
  • A photo editor page

3. Buffer

Social media can be incredibly overwhelming and exhausting. With so many different accounts to keep track of and different etiquettes in each of them, managing it is a job in and of itself. Buffer helps ease the strain of it all.

Features include:

  • Automation and post scheduling
  • Manage all accounts from this one space
  • Crafting updates for each social media channel separately
  •  Data and performance analysis

4. Yoast

If you use WordPress, Yoast is a must for tracking and optimizing every aspect of your site. Yoast also offers great SEO courses that are essential to understanding how to gain more exposure in the online world.

Features include:

  • Assistance in meta description
  • SEO ranking and improvement through readability score
  • Analytics and feedback
  • All in all–helps attract more people from google and social media!

5. SumoMe

To grow your site even more, you’ve got to check out SumoMe.

Features include:

  • Integration with your email marketing tool–ehem, MailChimp, ehem
  • Content and visitor tracking
  • More effective share buttons
  • The ability to design less invasive popups and gain more subscribers

Of course, there are hundreds of apps and online tools out there, and we hope that this inspires you to get started on making good use of them if you haven’t already!

Beyond Deadlines and Compromise: Learning to Tend to Your Work Soul

It begins innocently and self-indulgently: It’s close to midnight and you would rather just go to sleep.

That report you have been compiling gets a lot shorter than it should be. Rationality enters: You have no caffeine, three looming deadlines, and an early morning meeting.  Is this not the perfect time to re-watch Seasons 3-5 of Grey’s Anatomy? (By the way, nothing says “deadline” like eight hospital break-ups and a motivational speech you choose to ignore from the Chief of Surgery).

More than enough has been written on being busy, whether the psychological, political or the existential ramifications, let alone what it does to your marriage, body, and brain. I won’t add to the corpus. But I will say this: we are becoming quite selective with our teams, with our information, and with just about everything that involves working with others. And our selectivity is not only eating up our time, but it’s starving us of what we can collectively accomplish.

Entrepreneurs are notoriously rich in over-scheduling and the trap of what one might call over-aspiring. We want to move mountains and we want to move at light speed. But the problem is that, in our quest to cross the finish line, we are are compromising our work and leadership quality. 

We’re all guilty of it. We’ll take on a new project, but we won’t call the team to gather feedback. We’ll carve out time to create a vision, but make no time for ongoing research or discussion. We’ll collect the data and, because we are tired – or, worse, uncomfortable – we’ll prune it to the bare minimum, so, by the time we are finished with it, it looks like exactly what we want it to be. And it ends up being tidy and without the complexity of thinking or including anybody.

This is precisely the kind of conundrum that links Jewish entrepreneurs and their sages. When the rabbis were faced with even the appearance of impropriety, they were so concerned that they tended to ban all associated acts completely (just take a look at what they had to say about picking up coins in front of idols). Why the fuss? Because every impression mattered and, in every action, existed the possibility for teaching.

The work of entrepreneurs benefits not only from self-reflection, but even more: from communal accountability.

Entrepreneurs are enriched by assessing where they stand in the arc of their tradition and, whenever possible, consulting it. Any movement forward should not come at the expense of difficult conversations, consultation or community. When the approach to our work becomes self-serving, we owe it to the people we work with to re-consider how we work.

Now I am not suggesting we ban prioritization, multi-tasking, or even Grey’s Anatomy, but I am suggesting we seek an alignment between our actions, our intentions and, also, our tradition.

How we select our priorities relates directly to how we choose others and how we choose to engage in living. And, as we create our works and our lives, all of our doings must be accompanied by Jewish teachings.

That’s why I implore you to ask a new question this week. Talk to the people who work closest to you and ask them about your work soul: Who are you at work and how does your soul reflect in what you do?

Feel free to post what you find.

Guts, Glory, Pajamas & Netflix: Why Entrepreneurs Get Sick and How to Prevent It

I’m thinking of where I was a year ago.

About to get married, with one foot in a new career and hefty baggage filled with the old ones, I could barely remember the last time I took a lunch break, let alone an email exodus longer than 30 seconds.

I had learned to be busy but how would I teach myself to become un-busy?

This time last year, I was designing the seed paper kippot for our big fat bi-partisan wedding, planning every detail of the eco-kosher  catering and trying to accommodate every living thing at our venue, including a very defiant group of livestock who would go on to break into our ceremony uninvited and quack very loudly to the gasps of everyone in attendance (me, on the other hand, I just laughed, relishing the moment of uncontrollable duck chaos that characterized an otherwise, overly well thought-out wedding day).

Running was easy. Planning was easy. Busyness, as it turned out, was the hardest habit I needed to break.

That is, until I got really sick.

Four months of being mostly bedridden and eating very little changed me in a big way.  As I struggled to make it out of bed and to cope with the anchor-sized pain in my gut that despite every effort, would not release, I found my heart begging for rest. “Stop trying,” she whispered. “Let it be,” she rang out.

And paradoxically, it was only when I gave in to the pain that the pain loosened its hold on me.

We’re taught to be successful. To be pioneers. To innovate and make tradition new again. At least, that’s what I was taught, both by text and community. Through a combination of Jewish ancestry and contemporary Jewish professional ethos, I had arrived at offering so many programs and services in partnership and cooperation with tremendous people that I had lost me. How could I let this happen? How could I re-integrate myself into my work and my people and become whole again?

“Love the L-rd your God with all your heart and soul, in order that you may live” – Deuteronomy 1:6

The Tanakh calls on us to love G-d with all our hearts “in order that we may live,” and, quite literally, vivifies this commandment with injunctions to heed G-d and keep divine laws and commandments. In order to live, our hearts must come to life through word and deed. Thus, we are not meant to work blindly, but live heartily. For through the heart comes the substance and richness of life.

It took another eight months before that holding feeling in my stomach would no longer have a hold on me.  I used to run a “shul without walls” program in my house, but do so no longer. And I’ve turned down a heap of job and internship opportunities that looked good on paper, but just could not compute with my gut.

That experience of drowning in and then pulling the plug on the busy? It actually made me gutsier.

And though I still have days where I long to push beyond my limits, I have learned to pause, to write and to take long walks in the nighttime. If my life were a page of gemara, I’d say I’ve come to appreciate the margins.

We don’t talk about this much as Jewish entrepreneurs, because the truth is: that we like that exciting, promising or shiny new venture feel.  I mean, it’s so much more acceptable to say: “I’m taking on X new thing!” rather than “For real, I’ve chosen to skip out on some things in favor of pajamas and Netflix.” And, yet, it stands: Success is in knowing what we can’t do and filling the available space with what we can.

After all, our hearts are supposed to be opened by G-d to commandments, aren’t they?

And, last I checked, excessive busyness is not part of the program.

But mindful, soulful and heart-full living most certainly, is. And the margins? They are what make all of this worthwhile.

5 Eli Talks Every Jewish Entrepreneur Should Watch

Navigating the world of innovation and entrepreneurship is quite the challenging landscape. What makes you unique is that you are navigating this world within a world–the Jewish world. There are many great resources out there to learn from. So today we bring you five great Eli Talks for all you innovators and change-makers of our community.

1. Lisa Lepson—Dreams, Risks, Patience: A Recipe for Jewish Philanthropy 

“The waiting is the hardest part. But, argues Lisa Lepson, that’s often exactly what world-changing ventures need to make their impact. Blending Jewish history and text with personal stories and insights from the field, this talk encourages philanthropists to rethink the constant drive for metrics and deliverables and have a little…patience.”


2. Daniel Libenson—The Jewish Innovator’s Dilemma

“Dr. Daniel Libenson discusses how patterns of disruptive change affect Judaism, and how we can harness those patterns to improve areas of the Jewish community.”


3. Lisa Colton—Innovation, Revolution and Tradition

“Lisa Colton shows how Judaism works as an ecosystem, and discusses the importance of when and where we align ourselves, considering the extreme rate of change in today’s world.”


4. Rabbi Josh Joseph—Failure, To Launch: The Upside of Falling Down

“Our fear of failure is holding us back, argues Rabbi Josh Joseph. We need to look at failure as the price of pushing for growth and development, he says. Linking ancient Jewish sources with Michael Jordan, Rabbi Joseph asks us to think about what we would do if we weren’t afraid to fail.”


5. Felicia Herman—Empowered Philanthropy

“Give strategically, and you’ll have more impact. Give together, and that impact is amplified. Felicia Herman of Natan Fund shares the model for better giving.”


As a Jewish entrepreneur you have an additional layer of meaning and purpose to understand in your endeavors. The content of these talks will aid in your progression towards your goals. Whether it’s learning patience, transforming with change, conquering your fear of failure, or embracing collaboration in giving, you will gain a better understanding of how to succeed as an entrepreneur in your Jewish community.