Sunday, April 5, 2009

It's About Mission, Folks!

I was reading an article in the Sunday paper When I came come across this article about the Jewish Community Center in my community laying off staff, losing memberships to the brand new state-of-the-art YMCA facility down the block, and assessing the damage from declining donations from the economic downturn and Bernie Madoff swindled local Jewish philanthropists. The article reminded me of a visit I recently made to a Los Angeles area JCC that remains on the brink of collapse due to shifting demographics and poor fundraising (my grandmother was one of its founders). Several JCC facilities in LA have already closed. I get it, times are tough. And for those of us who work in philanthropy, we are being called to do more with less and to create from a place of contraction. Not easy.

And what struck me is how out of step the solution being proposed to save the local JCC is with its core principles for existence. Perhaps this is the problem!
"...We're going back to basics, with childcare, camping, and fitness. Those are the three legs of the JCC stool and that's what we're really focusing on..."
Childcare? Camping? Fitness? Three legged stool? What? What about the Jewish soul of a Jewish Community Center? In my mind, going back to basics is going back to the ideal (core value!) that when Jews and non-Jews come together in a Jewish-rich space, the Jewish community is stronger and more whole. Consider: We value Jewish community and at a JCC that shows up as Jewish childcare, Jewish camping, Jewish fitness. Folks, this is not about the three legs of the stool...the stool is Jewish!

Managing mission and matching programs to ensure relevance and relatability is a tough business. Every non-profit organization and its leaders are faced with this challenge, especially in tough times. The challenge is how we refine, interpret, adapt, expand, contract our programs while honoring our mission in order to stay relevant. And yet, the mission remains the focal point, not the programs! What we believe is greater than how these beliefs are demonstrated. The interpretation of the mission (the programs offered) may adapt to the times but the mission itself stays clear, solid.

"getting back to basics" is not a values statement nor is it an inspiring call to action. It is a management decision being made by uninspired (exhausted, bored, unskilled, well-intentioned, in-over-their-heads) people. And it is the wrong call. What would it be like to get back to core beliefs and mission? What would it be like to view the JCC as an institution of Jewish communal life and not a childcare center, a camp facility, and a gym? Perhaps more emphasis should be placed on "Jewish" and "Community" and less on "Center" (facility).

Perhaps this is the problem the JCC has been in--it has been too basic! Managing a multi-use facility is pretty basic. Now may very well be the time to be bold, out there, off the charts, out of the box, crazy! And it shocks me and worries me that paying attention to core values and purpose is considered bold, out there, off the charts, out of the box, crazy!

What do you stand for and how does that show up in the world? What do you notice about your core values and how easy or difficult it is to maintain them when times are tough? What will you give up? What will you protect? What do you think: adapt the mission because the programs have changed or adapt the programs because the mission has changed?


P.S. It is later this afternoon and I had a reason to look at the local JCC web site where their mission statement appears on the homepage:

Our Mission

The Jewish Community Center of the North Shore is committed to being
the central gathering place for Jewish life, learning and culture, offering enriching
experiences to strengthen Jewish identity.

It strives to enhance all members’ social, physical, educational and spiritual lives.
The JCCNS is an essential resource dedicated to participating
in and contributing to the welfare of the whole community.

To fully lean into every aspect of this mission statement is how organizations survive in tough times. The survival of a non-profit organization is not a conversation about revenue. It is a conversation about relevance, efficiency, brand identity, leadership, philanthropy, mission and purpose. To focus on the three legs of the stool (childcare, camp, and fitness) is to miss the point entirely.