Rabbi David Greenspoon | Special to WJW
Yom Kippur begins at sunset on Oct. 4. The Yom Kippur Torah reading details a prerequisite before the high priest can help individuals atone for their sins: the purification of the priesthood and tabernacle.
The Torah understands that the community’s leaders and its most sacred institution are stained during the course of the year. We humans are imperfect beings; our sacred institutions are not immune to the impact of human error. The Torah’s placement of these institutions ahead of the individual is suggestive. It is not enough just for individuals to strive for righteous conduct. Nor is it only individuals who need to repair the inevitable failures that occur. Indeed, a commitment to Jewish communal spiritual health is essential. It nurtures our Jewish communal leadership. It empowers Jewish communal organizations in fulfilling that sacred responsibility as part of their stewardship of the resources entrusted to them by their members, donors, stakeholders and supporters.
That doesn’t happen without soulful introspection, what this sacred season calls cheshbon nefesh. The following rubric is in part inspired by the work from the Alban Institute and from Charity Navigator, and in part from 30 years of service to the Jewish people. Here are three critical arenas, noting overlap between them: governance, stewardship and operations.
Good governance and ethical best practices are the bedrock presumptions of any good organization, all the more so for our Jewish-values organizations, funded by Jewish philanthropy and representing the Jewish community to the larger world. Transparency requires it to be easy for donors to find critical information about the organization. External audits should be conducted and financial summaries posted publicly. Access to fuller financials should be complemented by access to general board, committee minutes and annual meeting records upon request by any member in good standing via a clearly understood process. The areas of responsibility and/or job descriptions for every staff and board position should be posted, with contact information for the individual in the position.
Stewardship is more than savvy management of capital resources. It includes confirmation that directed donations were in fact directed appropriately. It is the confirmation that the larger will of the organization is reflected in every policy and governance decision made on the membership’s behalf. It is the confirmation that best practices are in place, with the appropriate tools and training for volunteers no less than staff, to confirm their constant application. It is the confirmation of accountability when lay volunteers at any level violate the values or the policy/practices of the organization, or their fiduciary responsibility to the organization, no less than when a paid employee does so.
Operations express an organization’s public face. It goes beyond ensuring the bills are paid and paychecks don’t bounce, and that security protocols are up and running. It is the transparency that ensures conflicts of interest are avoided in hiring paid or volunteer staff, or when extending vendor contracts. A healthy workplace is curious about the workplace culture: How is work-life balance respected regarding off-time and vacation time? Looking at the various positions within the organization, is compensation competitive? Do staff experience either longevity or turnover different from the industry standard for any position, and if so, why? Are congregations “clergy killers” as reflected in their employer history? Jewish values mandate that Jewish workspaces have ethically exemplary work processes and environments.
Expecting best practices for compensation, training/retreats, and sabbaticals is the standard that encourages and sustains our best talent within communal service.
May this new year see our communal tabernacles renewed with deeper communal spiritual health, and the increased vitality it promises.
Rabbi David Greenspoon heads Washington-based Jewtique Concierge Rabbinic Services.