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The Road Forward
JCRC reveals strategic plan nine months in the making.
They say history repeats itself, and that’s the case with the Jewish Community Relations Council.
Back in August 1950, the JN asked if the Metro Detroit Jewish community needed two community organizations, the Jewish Community Council (precursor to the JCRC) and the Jewish Welfare Federation (precursor to the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit). “Isn’t there a way to combine the two and to create one overall Kehillah? [Jewish community]” the paper asked.
The answer turned out to be no — it was decided the community did need both. The same conclusion was reached last year when the JCRC began creating a new strategic plan.
“We needed to position the JCRC for the future,” said Sharon Lipton, JCRC president when the process began. “Would it exist or not? What would be its role going forward?
“We needed to address who we are, what we did and what our priorities were. Nothing was taken off the table — not even eliminating the JCRC or making it a department of Federation.”
A Strategic Planning Committee was formed to answer those questions and more. Committee chairs were Dr. Richard Krugel, now JCRC president, and Jeannie Weiner, involved with the JCRC for decades.
“I did a masterful job of choosing the chairs,” Lipton said. The committee included individuals from different parts of the community.
“Many of us had different opinions on a number of topics, but all of us were treated with the utmost respect,” said committee member Michael Eizelman. “It was truly an enjoyable and meaningful experience.”
Howard Wallach, another committee member, said, “It was a very comprehensive and thoughtful process, which I believe resulted in an exceptional outcome.”
The committee’s work began last fall, when it set out to answer some major questions: What should be its mission and vision? Its goals and strategies for achieving them? Its strengths and weaknesses? The areas and issues it focuses on?
“Before the committee began its work, we met with Scott Kaufman of Federation,” Krugel said. “We had heard the rumors that JCRC was on its way out. We needed to know before we invested in the work if the JCRC would remain an independent agency.”
According to JCRC Executive Director Robert Cohen, several Federation leaders felt very strongly that JCRC should remain an independent agency for several reasons, including the protection it provides Federation when the community needs to be involved with other groups, such as interfaith coalitions, that could anger Federation donors. “The Federation can rightly tell those donors they have nothing to do with it,” he said.
Federation CEO Scott Kaufman said, “Though much has changed in terms of today’s media and technology, the essential need for a dynamic community and media-relations entity is clearly as important now as ever.”
Committee members came to a clear consensus that becoming a Federation department would not lead to cost savings and would deprive JCRC of its credibility as the public affairs voice of the Jewish community as a whole.
“Detroit has always been independent; it’s part of our history and tradition,” Weiner said. “We need be an independent agency to represent all of the community, not just Federation members.”
Once that decision was made, the work moved forward. The committee presented its conclusions from the nine-month process to the JCRC and Federation boards in late August.
The committee chose to hire a consultant, NEW/Nonprofit Enterprise at Work, a nonprofit consulting firm based in Ann Arbor. NEW undertook surveys and focus groups on the community’s perception of the JCRC. Its fee was paid from agency assets not the JCRC operating budget, Cohen said. “We felt it was a necessary investment in the future.”
A survey was sent out to 1,500 people; about 300 responded. There were also two focus groups conducted: one with members of the Jewish community, the other with non-Jewish members, including ministers, leaders from the African American community and members from the Catholic Archdiocese as well as the Michigan Roundtable. About 12-15 people participated in each group. No one from the JCRC attended, so there was no influence on the discussion.
According to the consultant, most focus group members considered the JCRC to primarily be an Israel advocacy group.
“We learned a lot,” Krugel said. “A lot of people didn’t know what JCRC was. Even members of the Jewish focus group didn’t know the kinds of things we were doing.”
Cohen added, “Both groups knew of something we did — but not all we did. We were given high marks on the things we did that were important to them, low to middling grades on things that weren’t important to them.”
The result of those focus groups and the months of strategic planning that followed are a reworked mission and vision tied to Jewish values, a refocusing on what the agency does and plans to transform the community perception of its work, Lipton said.
The committee’s final analysis outlines the four strategic focus areas it defined as the components of JCRC’s roadmap to the future: the programmatic work of the agency, its marketing and branding, its financial sustainability and its organizational capacity.
Some of its activities overlap with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the American Jewish Committee (AJC). According to Cohen, each has its own niche with the ADL focused on security and anti-Semitism and the AJC focused on international issues.
According to its plan, the JCRC will use intergroup (interfaith/interethnic) relations to provide a Jewish voice and perspective within the general community as well as intragroup relations within the Jewish community to resolve conflicts and strengthen communal ties.
“I believe in the biggest tent possible,” Cohen said. “Every voice is important. We plan to hold open forums a couple of times a year on specific topics. People can share their concerns and have a say in affecting our agenda.”
According to the plan, the JCRC will maintain its position as the “go-to” organization for news and critical information regarding the Jewish community and Israel,its role to advocate for Jewish community issues and concerns at all levels of government, and its positionasa leading local agency on Israel.
Over the past several years, limited resources have affected the JCRC’s ability to lobby at the local level.
“We are hoping to return to Lansing to do more locally focused work,” Cohen said.
In the past, the JCRC has been able to make a difference for local Jewish agencies. Once it got a seat at a national Senate forum and was able to lobby for a needed change in HUD regulations that would allow JSL to change its efficiencies into one-bedroom apartments.
“It was nice to be able to deliver that message to 25 senate leaders,” Cohen said. “We want to do more of that.”
The JCRC also will continue its role of Israel advocate. Its goal is to establish an “Israel 211” hotline next year if funds are available. “It’s part of a dream I have to create an Israel Resource Center within JCRC to provide advocacy materials to educate the public, schools, the media and anyone else who needs information on the Jewish state,” Cohen said.
Additionally, the agency will fulfill its role of building community relations within and outside of the Jewish community.
There is a red line the JCRC will not cross. It will not work with organizations or individuals that support terrorism or deny Israel’s right to exist.
The JCRC also has been meeting with members of local Presbyterian churches, many who are not happy with the decision of its general assembly to boycott and divest from Israel. And it has reached out to the Chaldean community to ask what the Jewish community can do to help as Iraqi Christians are being slaughtered and displaced.
According to committee member Eizelman, the role of the JCRC will evolve as any agency should, to meet the changing needs of the community.
“The great challenge of the JCRC as the voice of the community as a whole is to appropriately represent the community not only when we are united on an issue but also when we have differing opinions,” Eizelman said. “The JCRC must be a place where all factions of the community feel comfortable and where all views can be expressed in a civil and respectful manner.
“I believe the JCRC is in the unique position of defining the concept of Ahavas Yisroel [love of the Jewish people] by showing the community we can love and respect every Jew without necessarily agreeing with each other or even respecting the actual opinion.”
Another JCRC goal is to effectively and prominently promote its message and work throughout Metro Detroit, solidify its brand, positively transforming its reputation and the community’s perception of its work and accomplishments.
To that end, the agency wants to develop a comprehensive marketing plan that includes goals and objectives, market research, target audiences, key messages, messaging channels, additional needed resources, timeline, budget and outcomes measurement. It also hopes to hire a marketing professional next year if funding is available.
Social media also will play a big role.
“We need to teach our board members to tweet,” Krugel said. “I’m joking, but I’m not. We need to be out there up front in social media.”
The JCRC does engage in social media now, “but we need to come up with a plan and a process to use social media in a consistently targeted and structured way,” Cohen said.
To achieve the goals set out in its strategic plan, the JCRC wants to increase its current annual operating budget 33 percent to $600,000 over three years.
The JCRC’s allocation from Federation for the upcoming year is $321,000, which is the same as last year.
Over the past few years, Federation’s allocation to JCRC has continued to shrink. “Dwindling resources means lack of funds, not lack of respect,” Weiner said.
“From 2008 until now, the Federation’s priorities have been with taking care of people with increasing needs on a shrinking campaign,” Krugel said. “The current crisis with the flooding cost several million to take care of people, many without resources.”
Federation allocations pay for 70-75 percent of the JCRC budget, mainly staff and overhead. The rest comes from fundraising.
In addition to its Federation allocation, the JCRC is requesting a grant from the Jewish Fund to pay for a development director and a marketing person. (Krugel is currently chair of the Jewish Fund.) The agency will find out in late spring if that request is fulfilled.
“The JCRC’s biggest challenge will be to generate more financial support from the community so it can hire staff and grow its programming to better serve the community,” said committee member Wallach.
“The first step will be better educating the community about what JCRC is and does and why it deserves more support. I envision the JCRC becoming more well-known in the community through its work and educational efforts so that the financial support will follow.”
Members of the board and the JCRC staff will be given fundraising training. Board members also will be asked to engage in personal fundraising efforts, such as sending personal letters to a set number of people explaining why they serve on the JCRC board and why they should support JCRC, hosting parlor meetings or phone banking events.
“We want to create a culture of philanthropy,” Cohen said. “We’re also looking into alternatives, such as crowd-funding specific projects and targeting our outreach to donors for specific projects.”
A Financial Resource Development Task Force was convened at the Sept. 9 JCRC board meeting, in addition to Marketing and Implementation task forces.
A Changing Board
Over the years, JCRC has changed its role and purpose in significant ways. At one time, it was the primary programmatic and social action address for the Jewish community. As the JCC, Temple Israel and other community organization took over that work, the JCRC became less and less of a programming entity.
Its roots, however, are very democratic. All Jewish community organizations had a seat on its annual delegate assembly. In its heyday, more than 200 people would come to this assembly and vote on community actions taken by the council.
Over the years, the numbers at those assemblies dwindled and the grassroots democratic process began to fade as the governance shifted to a board of directors, members who serve at large, although connected to other Jewish organizations.
The strategic plan recommends that JCRC bylaws be updated to a directorship governance, replacing membership comprised of community organizations with membership of individual community members.
“We realized the board was too large,” Cohen said. “We want to go from 54 down to about 25-30, in which members know and work with each other better.”
The plan also calls for a board of directors that reflects the Jewish community’s diversity.
“We’re looking for a diverse board of people from different streams of Judaism, different politics, ages and socio-economic status,” Weiner added.
The JCRC wants to add more board members from the NEXTGen community. Already, some have agreed to work on its board, including Seth Fisher, Kelli Saperstein, Hy Safran and Rabbi Aaron Starr.
Although there is no “pay to play,” the plan calls for board members to have a strong role in fundraising for the agency.
Safran, 30, of Royal Oak was the youngest person on the Strategic Planning Committee. “We all agreed that we have to become more relevant to the growing number of young Jewish professionals in Greater Detroit and educate them about ways they can impact and benefit from the excellent work being done at the JCRC,” he said.
“The process of reinventing and improving an essential community pillar like JCRC is a challenge, but the right folks are at the table and are committed to strengthening it moving forward.”
The JCRC’s new mission statement reads: “To represent the metropolitan Detroit Jewish community, Israel and Jews throughout the world to the general community, and to establish collaborative relationships with other ethnic, racial, civic and religious groups. JCRC educates and advocates on important issues, seeking consensus with a commitment to Jewish values.”
Some of the values the JCRC cites in its plan are Tikkun Olam, making the world a better place; Darchei Shalom (paths of peace), keeping peace through ongoing and effective inter-group relations; Kol Yisrael Arevim Zeh La Zeh (All in the House of Israel are responsible for one another), working to support and aid Jews at home, in Israel and around the world; and Shalom Bayit (peace in the home), committing to settling disputes and engaging in activities in a peaceful and respectful manner.
“Now that the process is completed, we can use this plan as a roadmap and guide for the future,” Lipton said. “It is a refocusing of what we do and what we have to do differently. It’s taking a hard look at promoting our message.”
Added Wallach, “The JCRC is not only the public affairs voice of the Detroit Jewish community; it is also the conscience of the community, putting Jewish values into practice as it advances social justice, builds bridges to other faith and ethnic communities, and advocates for Israel. Nothing it does is unimportant or without benefit to the community.”
By Jackie Headapohl, Managing Editor