The brilliance of the non-profit model

Our nonprofit model allows us to leverage not only our donors’ financial contributions, but also their expertise and time.

Team Israel holds up Jewish National Fund-USA banners at the JNF-USA Project Baseball field under construction in Beit Shemesh (photo credit: ISRAEL BASEBALL ASSOCIATION)
Team Israel holds up Jewish National Fund-USA banners at the JNF-USA Project Baseball field under construction in Beit Shemesh
(photo credit: ISRAEL BASEBALL ASSOCIATION)

In the non-profit world – if you do it right -- there occurs a wonderful partnership between the professionals and volunteers, fostering a winning combination that strengthens the organization, enabling them to achieve what can seem impossible: curing world health crises, saving people from starvation, responding to emergencies, creating new dialogue, or as with Jewish National Fund-USA, helping to create and build a nation for the Jewish people.  

No single professional at any non-profit organization possesses all the skills and knowledge necessary to handle all the management and operational issues while delivering the services needed to accomplish their goal.  Moreover, non-profits operate on modest budgets and so have limited resources. To better achieve, non-profits must be willing to open their organizations up to volunteer assistance and real involvement from people passionate about the mission and who are experts in their fields. Best of all, that passion and expertise comes free of charge – and in our organization, it is also accompanied by a generous charitable contribution.  

This formula of lay leadership involvement defines the working motto at Jewish National Fund-USA. We believe that no matter how great and knowledgeable our professionals are, we gain strength by our volunteers who contribute their money and time as well as their skills and business knowledge -- an added value!  

Non-profit organizations have always referred to these top volunteers as “lay leaders.”  Yet, the word lay leader cannot be found in any dictionary and what’s more, most working definitions that you’ll find around the web refer to a lay leader as someone involved in a religious organization or someone without a skillset or expertise. 

We believe our lay leaders have tremendous knowledge and skills. Therefore, Jewish National Fund-USA will no longer refer to them as “lay leaders.” Instead, we will refer to them as “ambassadors” because they are people who act as representatives and promoters of our activities, just as ambassadors for an industry or a country do.  We know our ambassadors have knowledge, contribute, and work so hard for Jewish National Fund-USA, and we have been able to grow to new heights because of them.  Notably, we achieved our best fundraising campaign on record, receiving $120 million in donations, thanks in large part to their advocacy and outreach efforts.      

 Dr. Sol Lizerbram, President  Jewish National Fund USA (credit: JEWISH NATIONAL FUND – USA) Dr. Sol Lizerbram, President Jewish National Fund USA (credit: JEWISH NATIONAL FUND – USA)

It wasn’t always this way. When our CEO, Russell F. Robinson, started with Jewish National Fund-USA back in 1998, the organization was in bad shape. He made a list of the most important people to make sure they remained with the organization. We needed their leadership and involvement. Russell shared with me that one of the first meetings he had was with a long-time major donor in South Jersey. This donor saw nothing wrong with scheduling a 7.00 am breakfast meeting in South Jersey, knowing that he would be traveling from New York City. Nevertheless, he got in his car at 4.00 am and headed out to meet him. He had asked the donor to give an hour of his time so he could have an opportunity to explain where we wanted to go with the organization, our vision, our plans, and the answer was, “You have one hour, man, that’s all.  I will meet you at a New Jersey diner. I have a tennis game to go to.”  

The donor complained about everything that had gone wrong with Jewish National Fund-USA, how he wanted nothing to do with the organization, how he would not give one more minute of time, would not give one more penny, and he felt that the breakfast was a waste of his time. The donor said he accepted the meeting out of courtesy for our because our CEO was new back then.”

Despite the “frank” start to our meeting, Russell looked at him and said, “I hear you and I understand.  And I can appreciate everything you are saying.  So, will you give me one year of your time and a major gift?”  The donor looked at Russell. Silence. Russell then added: “sir, if we don’t turn this ship around in one year, it will be just one year out of your life, but if we do, I know that you are the person I want to take this journey with.”

Russell remembers how a wry smile began to show on his face, and he said three words: “Let’s do it.” Today, this donor has not only been a wonderful ambassador for our organization, he has also brought in his children and grandchildren. That is truly special.

Every person at an organization – be it a professional or a volunteer -- needs to be an ambassador of that organization. They must “sell” it to the public; they must promote, ask people for donations, bring people in, and talk with pride, substance, knowledge, integrity, and passion. Our ambassadors give us so much: first, yes, their money, but also their time -- time away from their families and their businesses – and then, their leadership skills, which are a priceless commodity.  Our ambassadors are an important ingredient, vital to accomplishing our mission, and are key in helping Jewish National Fund-USA tell its story. 

Our ambassadors have helped personalize our organization; they feel it, are emotional, connected, and they motivate others to join us, thanks to posting on social media, networking with others, speaking at events, and giving time away that can never be replaced.    

At Jewish National Fund-USA, our research has shown that our ambassadors are as effective toward the growth of our organization as our professionals are.  Not better; just different, involved, and knowledgeable.  

At Jewish National Fund-USA, the work of our valued professionals is enhanced working side by side with our ambassadors. They are without doubt a force multiplier. Each understands their responsibilities and know that together, there is nothing that stands in the way of building our organization for today and tomorrow.  

We are near to completing our One Billion Dollar Roadmap for the Next Decade campaign, ahead of pace, in dollars and partners (donors). Our success is due to the unbelievable partnership between our ambassadors and professionals.  

Jewish National Fund-USA is a leader in the non-profit world, recognizing our lay leaders as Ambassadors, a title well-deserved and established with pride.  

If you are interested in becoming an Ambassador for a great organization, or you want to come on board as a professional of Jewish National Fund-USA, call us, write to us, join us.  We will share job responsibilities and expectations, work with you to better understand our organization, and help you be successful to make us successful and turn our dreams into reality.

For more information about employment opportunities at JNF-USA, or to deepen your involvement as partner (donor), visit jnf.org  or email [email protected]