Thursday, 26 May 2011

So Long and Thanks for All The Fish – A Suggestion for Israeli Philanthropy

Ben Gurion said that what the government did not provide the people do not need.
Ben Gurion was wrong.
You know what, let me temper that comment - what Ben Gurion said is no longer relevant.

Whether the details of Israel’s birth were governed by circumstance or by design is not the point. The fact that the fledgling State was destitute, struggling against foes internal and external, and as unstable as any newborn may be expected to be until finding her own legs, so to speak, is very pertinent to the methods of ruling that were implemented at the time.

I would like to think that, besides the economic politics of the ruling party from independence through the 70’s, the lack of acceptance of a third sector in Israel (to act alongside the Public, 1st, and Business, 2nd, sectors) was necessitated by a difficult combination of a lack of resources and a need to prioritize. During this period, far from the oppression of the 3rd sector in other socialist, communist and monarchist regimes existent at the same time, the Israeli social activist was able to operate under the laws residually incumbent in the land. For many issues, Israeli law was either based upon, or deferred to, British law; on issues pertaining to the registration and management of what we now call non-profit organisations (NPOs), non-governmental organisations (NGOs), charities, social sector or third sector initiatives, etc., the legislation in place was the Ottoman Law of Associations, dating back to 1909 when the Turks adopted the French system that suited their needs.

I would ask to put to one side for a moment the Jewish and Islamic view of Tzedaka/Zakat as a system of social justice, and would like to look at it through a more modern prism of social investment (the two have the basically the same aim and endpoint, but the latter I would like to propose as a framework to be adopted).

In 1998, Robert Harstook wrote an article in Fund Raising Management entitled “77 Reasons why People Give”. This article lists reasons ranging from the inspired to the egocentric, and is a great place to look to find insights into the motives of either your own giving or that of your donors. I would like to concentrate on the realm of the logical, and to propose a theory of why we are where we are in Israel, 2011, and where we should go from here.

To present a diametrically opposite system to that of BG, allow me to suggest that of laissez-faire, or pure, capitalism.

The weaker sectors of society are a drain on the resources of the stronger. Taking into account the fact that capitalism is based upon the creation of wealth through production and consumerism, this drain on the resources of society must be solved, not merely supported.

The way to do this, it appears, without having the ability to “dispose of” the weaker elements of society in any one of the Spartan ways designed by mankind over the centuries, is to enable the weak... not to be.

If the weak are not weak, they will not be a drain. If they can break even, make as much as they cost, they may not be a drain, but they are also not a resource. If a way could be found for them to create more than they cost, to produce, to advance, then they become a resource. When cycles of poverty become cycles of production and growth, they create wealth and sustain the growth of society - they also, as consumers, enable the rich to become richer, thus advancing the capitalist’s cause.

Without any state intervention, other societies came to the realisation that the investment by those with means in bringing those without to the point at which they become self-sustaining generators facilitates growth for the investor at least as much as it does for the investee.
Let us diverge, for a moment, from logic and take a glimpse at the Jewish ethical stance. The Rambam devised a theory of social investment that comprised of an eight level measuring scale of the effectiveness of giving. The lowest level, according to the Rambam, is the begrudging donation to the needy. The levels go through a combination of willingness to give, consideration for the feeling of shame of the beneficiary, and the purposeful direction of the gift. The highest level is: “to strengthen the name of another Jew by giving him a present or loan, or making a partnership with him, or finding him a job in order to strengthen his hand until he needs no longer [beg from] people.” (Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Gifts of [that belong to] the Poor)

This philanthropic scale has been gefiltered - boiled down to fish - with the lower end of the scale being compared to the giving of a fish, as opposed to the more effective and self-sustaining provision of a fishing rod.

In much the same way that a doting uncle will reward the efforts of his childish nephew by throwing him a coin in encouragement, or as a Pavlovian treat in order to reinforce positive behaviour, our Zionist enterprise has been nurtured by those proud of what we can become and eager to help us get there. During our periods of youth and adolescence that was fine, even necessary, as we could not have made it on our own. The investments made in Israel were not naively altruistic - they were repaid in SROI (Social Return On Investment) comprised of pride, naming opportunities, fame, mitzvah, and any other of the 77 mentioned by Harstook - but all the same it was ok for us to be the recipient of aid from those more able to give. At least it was then.

Winston Churchill is often mis-credited with Former French Prime Minister Georges
Clemenceau’s having quoted Francois Guizot, saying, "If a man is not a socialist in his youth, he has no heart. If he is not a conservative by the time he is 30 he has no head".

Two years after turning thirty, in 1980, The Law of Amutot created in Israel a brand of non profit organisational registration that is known only to us. Israeli law finally recognised the relevance of social activist initiatives. It took another quarter of a century before the Government of Israel mentioned the role played by organisations of Israel’s social sector in a cabinet meeting following the fiasco of the home front during the Second Lebanon War.

Our society seems to be maturing.

Since the international economic rollercoaster ride began in 2007, the fundraising paradigm of the average Israeli amuta has had to change. Our old uncle fell on hard times, and we, his “Start-Up Nation” protégé, were no longer a child.

Israel’s rate of economic growth in 2010 was over 4.5%, compared to the OECD average of 2.7%. They may still have more, but we are growing faster, and they are hurting.

Israel has realised that Ben Gurion’s centralism is no longer either necessary or appropriate. Israeli society now realises the need for the Social Sector to act as a force in tandem with the Public and the Private.

Just to present a snapshot:
There are 33,000 amutot listed on Guidestar Israel, with about 1,500 new ones registered each year.
The 3rd sector accounts for almost 10% of the workforce and 13% of the GDP.
Israel ranked 36th in the 2010 World Giving Index. 36th! Tucked in there between Nigeria and Sudan. Proud?

I would like to suggest that it is about time we grew up a little more than we already have. Apparently those who “do” do so in approximately the same proportion in Israel (one amuta per 244 people) as they do elsewhere (one NPO per 194 in the US), but those who give/enable/facilitate do not.

The realisation that local investment in the breaking of cycles of poverty is an investment in the prosperity and growth of our own wealth and stability is one with which we, as a society, have yet to come to terms. Our problem is growing, but our ability to reach out for “fish” is not, it is declining.

We can continue reacting to this situation as we have for the last four years - we can push harder, write more requests, advertise more aggressively - or we can stop reacting and start pro-acting!

It really will be quite easy to do. Here are the necessary stages to go through:
1) Decide to make a difference
2) Learn how to do it effectively
Of the two, the second is the easier.

Once we have started along the path, once we have, as a society, decided to make the change, we can finally say to our uncles, “so long and thanks for all the fish”, and then we can go out and start providing fishing rods to our neighbours and friends, to invest in the solving of our problem, to facilitate our own growth and our own wealth by enabling the productivity of our own less fortunate elements. I believe that by making such an effort, by being seen to be taking responsibility for our own issues, our uncles may well surprise us by their willingness to leverage our investment with some rods of their own.

It all sounds so grown-up, doesn’t it?

Thursday, 4 November 2010


By Jonny Cline, Modi'in Israel, November 1, 2010

When someone feels the need to look at you in that certain way, lower their voice, and say, "Let me tell you the truth...", don't you feel that you are about to witness an inversely proportional relationship between the truth and the words on their way to your ears?

That is the uneasy feeling I have on two issues that are running through my brain on this, the 15th anniversary of the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin.

The first issue is one that has bugged me annually for the last fourteen years.

The first  annual memorial demonstration  was held on the first anniversary of the murder, in the square where it happened. I do not use the word "demonstration" without reason.

Yitzchak Rabin was a legend of Israel, a military man since before the founding of the state, the man responsible for the road to Jerusalem during the pre- and post- independence struggles. He was the Prime Minister of the country, the whole country, even those who did not see fit to help him get the job. The government he formed, the policies it promoted and the day to day running of the country it facilitated was, on the whole, for my good as they understood it. Following that line of reason, his murder was my loss, the turmoil that followed it affected me, the way society reacted and counter-reacted was something I suffered - therefore, should its remembrance not also be for me?

The traffic on the way to the square that night was horrific, even by Tel Aviv standards. I ended up walking the last mile or so, with the crowds of people growing more dense as I approached the main site. The graffiti underneath the stairwell next to which the shots were fired had been covered with perspex to protect them, the marking of the actual site had not yet been properly designed as it is today. The square itself was twice as crowded as it had been for the demonstration held that night.

So there I was, Jonny, the religious young Zionist, recently released from my service in a fighting unit of the IDF, studying at Bar Ilan University (a profile not entirely unlike that of the Bar Ilan University law student who wore a kippa and had recently been released from his service in a fighting unit of the IDF, who had pulled the trigger a year before). I came to join my fellow countrymen in remembrance of our collective tragedy. I came around the corner just as Yossi Beilin began his speech.

"Let me tell you the truth," he preached, "We don't blame all of the religious community, we don't even blame all of the students at Bar Ilan..."

In one foul swoop I had been labeled, branded, ostracized. I had no place there. I had no share in the commemoration of the most profound event that had happened in Israel since I had received my first blue passport.

This has not changed. For the next few years I would watch the broadcast of the memorial "concert" on channel 1 Israeli television , hoping that the speeches would be more of a call to unify than a vilification of half of the population of the country by a small group who had hijacked our national heritage. After a while I gave up. The day on which I remember Rabin, and contemplate  the lessons that are to be learned, is the 3rd of Tishrei, the Fast of Gedaliya. I had no real appreciation of this fast until Rabin was killed - Gedalia was a Jew who administered the Jewish autonomy in the Land of Israel, and was killed by Jews who disapproved of his policies. Sounds familiar, no?

A couple of years before his assassination, a couple of students were arrested and tried for having passed out car stickers (Israel's most effective media for ideological expression) stating that Rabin must be killed. As part of their punishment, the court demanded that they write an official apology to Rabin.

This year the National Archives published some documents relating to Rabin and his murder. One of these was the letter that Rabin wrote in reply to these two.

It was a powerful letter, concise and moving. In his own, recognizable, way, Rabin officially condemned their actions. He wrote that on another, personal level he could understand the strength of conviction that would lead them to suggest such a course of action, but that he felt that taking such steps would negate the very strength of our being - the ability to tackle difficult issues in a manner that facilitated the very existence of Israel as a Jewish and democratic State.

The Declaration of Independence had stated it, Herzl had written about it, Jabotinsky had sworn by it - everybody knew that the fundamental principle of Israel as a Jewish and democratic State is the very core of our raison d'etre, the imperative guiding line of our society, the essential basis for our existence as Israel in this neighborhood of the world. It is obvious.

So why do we need to have it said?

Are we not sure? Do we need to hear it over and over? Could it be that it could be said and not meant?

Why is it so important to have the discussion about the wording of a pledge of allegiance at this point in time? Why does it matter? I mean, of course it matters, of course all citizens of the State should be loyal, but since when has reading a declaration changed the speaker's way of life? ...and what are we so afraid of?

In America (not normally my chosen icon of normalcy, but needs must) one can burn a flag as a student, not inhale, and still become president! Oh, I forgot to mention that a law pushed through quietly on the same day was one defining the damaging or destruction of the symbols of the state as a criminal act.

Do me a favour! Even my 4 year old can quote Thumper! "If you can't say not'n nice, don't say not'n at all!"

Why can we not keep sight of what is actually necessary? Should we not be seeking to disarm those who are actually out to break laws that cause actual damage? Why introduce a farcical dramatic act instead of actually leading the State to a place where it may actually inspire loyalty and pride among its citizens?

More importantly:
Have we so completely lost sight of our fundamental principles that we need them plastered in populistic slogans rather than serving as the wisdom that guides us?
Are we so short sighted that we can allow for cheap political tricks to undermine our sense of self protection and will to survive?
What the hell is wrong with us, and when are we going to learn?

Three years after the assassination of Rabin, the first time I felt able to write about it, I concluded by stating that I did not make Aliyah in order to live in the Israel of today - with all of the good that there is to say about it, the modern miracle of our survival, there are some aspects of our behaviour that are really nothing to write home about - I made Aliyah in the hope that others with the same belief in what we could be will join me, and together we can create the State of Israel of which we all can be proud.

I am still here. I still believe it can happen.

What are you waiting for? For the work to be done by someone else, or for it to be too late?

Come on, already!

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

The Wandering Jew Builds a Hut

One of those "can you imagine..." moments that I have been known to use to describe Winnipeg to the average Israeli is the story of how the schach (roof) of our succah collapsed under the weight of the snow. 

We had a very pretty Succah in the 'Peg - sturdy, but homey. Actually, it is the type of Succah you will rarely see in Israel today. Its walls were made of solid wooden paneling, it had a door with a heavy lock, it was equipped with all mod cons, including lighting and central heating - well, a small blow heater that burned the legs of the person sitting immediately opposite it, and didn't really do much good to anybody else due to the facts that heat rises and that Succot have no real roof insulation!

I was familiar with this type of shack from my youth in England. As opposed to sitting in Manitoba in your thermal underwear, in close to zero temperatures, expecting to hear sleigh bells and faint echos of "I'm dreaming of a white....", in Blighty you would be doing the calculation of how long it would take for the men to run out, hoist open the roof, make kiddush from a cup that was already more precipitation that wine, and run back in to dry off, with the hope that a bowl of hot chicken soup would ward off the inevitable seasonal snuffles.

In both of these situations you spent at least an hour at some point over the holiday season in a group conversation, that sometimes resembled a pre-strike trade union gathering, discussing why The Big Boss chose the seasons He did for the holidays we "celebrate": Sukkot in the snow, the fast of the 9th of Av that goes out at 11pm, Tu B'Shvat (New Year for trees) when the ground is still in permafrost, etc. Why is our religion not seasonally sensitive?? Are even our holidays supposed to be a burden?? What, with our backaches, the price of Jewish education today, and the dreadful service at the restaurant last week, don't we have enough to complain about???

The simple answer is: There is a solution to (almost) all of your woes!

There is a magical kingdom where Yom Kippur ends at 6pm, where you don't lose fingers to frostbite whilst lighting your Chanukah candles outside for all the world to see, where the best football game of the season will never force you to choose whether to be there for Kol Nidrei, or to be just a little bit late (He'll understand). 

A couple of times a year Shlomit comes home from a store and proclaims the goodness of living in a country where your own seasonal symbols are the ones paraded on display in the commercial district. "I just love it!" she will invariably effuse, "They give out apple and honey to you as you walk by! The songs are ours, not carols, ours! You don't have to explain to anybody why you want a fish head!" 

OK, that last one is mine, but you get the picture.

Sukkot, for us, is generally spent at Shlomit's elder sister's house on a kibbutz in the North. There are more or less 14 of us nowadays (us and our 3, them and their 3, the parents and the younger sis-with-spouse) who gather to celebrate the one festival in the calendar that is actually called "a festival of rejoicing" (no fasting, no extended dirges in shul... there is a little bit of twig shaking, but even so, it hardly seems Jewish to have so much fun).

Putting up the Sukkah (a task that is generally identified as something you drag yourself out into the cold to do, late at night - as if surviving Yom Kippur wasn't enough, He was now going to see you off one hammered thumb after another!!?!) takes about 25 minutes. You have to make sure that the metal lego-style frame has its cotton "walls" arranged so that the door will open towards the house, and of course you have to tie it down so it doesn't blow away in the breeze that will playfully dance across the rolling, green hilltops to dissipate the slightest over-warming you may be feeling under the gaze of the autumn sun. The children will spend the days designing artwork that will be displayed both from the walls and among the fruits that can be hung from the trellis that will support the leafy roof, through which we will look for the stars that shine as if hung out in the clear skies as the whole family wines and dines in comfort and togetherness....

Pretty picture, no? The truth? Ok.. The kids will fight over who gets the chair next to Saba, somebody (I have $10 on it being Shlomit, again!) will spill half a bottle of coke on the tablecloth and the baby won't sleep so well in yet another strange bed... but you know what? 

This is how Sukkot was supposed to be!

The season is perfect, the fruits are ripe, the national spirit (whilst not necessarily 100% in line with the day's mitzvot) is absolutely in-tune with the message of the festival - happiness, freedom, the people connecting with our land - what could be better than this? (besides that, cynic!)

Oh, yes, and we one keep one day of Yomtov at either end!

Heaven, no?

Well, perhaps it's not heaven, but it is Israel, and that's the closest we have to heaven on earth!

Thursday, 8 July 2010

An article of mine that was published in the Winnipeg Jewish Review today

Features - Winnipeg Jewish Review


By Jonny Cline

The Israel to which I returned from my time in Winnipeg was not the Israel that I had left behind. If we are already talking openly, neither the Israel that I left, nor that to which I returned, were anything like the Israel to which I made Aliyah. Then again, the Israel to which I made Aliyah was different before my army service than it was after my army service, and different again, to the Israel I knew when Yishai, my eldest, was born. I will explain.
Next year I will have been Israeli for half of my life.
The Oslo Accords were signed on my 18th birthday. I believe this was just a coincidence.
I made Aliya the following summer, quite unintentionally as it happens. Rabin was the Prime Minister, peace with Jordan had been declared, and everything was looking quite optimistic. With all of the celebration in the air, nobody really noticed that many of the tourist attractions that I had visited during my two earlier trips to Israel, and even those that I hiked through during that first year as an Israeli citizen, were being closed off to Jewish visitation, among them the Temple Mount, Shechem, Herodian, Sebastia, etc. Many beautiful, historical sites that had been the connection between me and the history of the land were now off limits - but we were all happy with what the future seemed to hold, so it seemed to matter less.
Six months into my IDF service, Rabin was assassinated. The party seemed to end abruptly. I remember hitching a lift from near Hadera to Bar Ilan University during the following spring, as I was making plan for my release from the army. A young woman  stopped for me and I got in. As soon as I did, and she saw a couple of things she had not noticed as I stood on the road side, she became tense. At one point she reached over to get something from her handbag, and I suddenly understood why. These were the facts: I served in an active field unit, I was wearing a kippah, and I was travelling to Bar Ilan University. This is the association she drew: Yigal Amir was an orthodox Jew who had served in an active field unit and  had been a student at Bar Ilan University at the time he pulled the trigger. When she moved her bag from the dashboard, she uncovered the "Shalom, Chaver" sticker that lay underneath it.
"You don't feel comfortable with me in your car, do you?" I asked her.
"To be honest," she replied in embarrassment, "no.  I know it's wrong. I can't help it."
That was Israel during the post-Rabin years.
In 1999 Shlomit and I got married. After finishing university we moved to a small (40 family) community called Kiryat Netafim in the Ariel corridor. We moved into our new house two weeks before Rosh HaShana 2000. At that point in time it appeared that a final settlement agreement between Israel and the PA that would end the saga of the previous century was imminent. Our house would most likely become prime real estate, 30 minutes away from Tel Aviv, and 450 meters above sea level. Great view and great clean air, what could be better.
During dinner on the eve of Rosh HaShana, with all of Shlomit's family around the table, one of our new neighbours knocked on the door and invited me out for a chat. I was asked to come and sign on an M-16, to take my place in a civil defence rotation, and to be on the alert. We were under the impression that there had been a few sporadic incidents, that the youth in villages throughout Israel were letting off a little steam over the holiday, and that all would be back on track soon. Yishai was born three years later.
Four years and more than 2,000 deaths later - of which I attended the funerals of about 300 with whom I had worked, taught, lived and shared friendship -  we accepted the position as Shlichim in Winnipeg and made the move. About a week before we flew to Canada I was working with youth in the communities of Northern Shomron.
Likud Prime Minister Arik Sharon had asked the party whether or not to disengage from Gaza. The proposal was voted down, and he vowed to honour the results of the democratic process.
By the time we returned to Israel Arik Sharon was the Kadima Prime Minister, although there had been no election, and the Gush Katif Bloc and Northern Shomron were empty of Jews, and the imminent peace and quiet was not yet evident.
Two more wars later I find myself living in the central Israeli city of Modiin. 70,000 others live here with me (with plans to grow to 230,000), many of whom, particularly in the Buchman and Kaiser neighbourhoods, are Anglo olim. Closer to home, Yishai (no longer chubby with long hair) is a tall and skinny young man who finishes first grade tomorrow, Adar (conceived in Winnipeg, born in Jerusalem) is now 4 years old and has a very definite opinion about almost everything, and Jordyn has spent most of the six months since her birth smiling happily at the world around her. Shlomit has gone back to work following the best part of a year, pre and post birth, at home.

The truth is that this is Israel.

If you were short-sighted enough to imagine that Israel can be understood by judging the ebb and flow in the short-term, you would probably get the impression that my home is one riddled with uncertainty, victim to the whims of political intrigue and extreme ideological shifts. You may feel that war comes way too often, and perhaps be mistaken into thinking that there may be a "wham-bam" solution to all ills.
I would suggest an alternative paradigm.
I have spent the last seven years watching each of my three children go through pretty much the same series of steps in their growth, my father has spent the last 35 watching me and my brother, and my 97-year-old grandmother (may she live a long and healthy life) still speaks frequently about how her "children" (71 and 67) still haven't fully grown up. In the same way that I would not dream of looking at my four year old critically for the rapid changes in her behaviour and whims, knowing as I do what she had to go through in order to reach this (very cute) stage of her development, and knowing as I do what awaits her as she follows in her brother's footsteps, I would like to ask that we look at the State of Israel as if she were going through something like puberty. We can discuss the pros and cons of various nurturing and education methods at some other point.
Israel is an exciting place to live, sometimes exhaustingly so. I would say that there has not yet been a calm period in her short history, and indeed that every period has been interesting in its own way. During the 16 years since my aliya I have watched a social and political system go through incredible developments. Politics is beginning to be more about economic and social issues than about borders and land. Education and employment are the number one concerns in every public survey, and our system of checks and balances (government, Knesset, supreme court) is about to reach the point of having to redefine its rules of engagement.
I love being part of the future in the making. I share that love with pretty much everyone I meet, all of us who can take a step back from our daily grind of traffic jams and making the mortgage to realise that we have reached the point where our greatest concerns are beating the traffic and getting a raise!
If you watch carefully, really carefully for the next few years, I bet you will see the following: a new generation of leadership emerging that wears suits rather than sandals, Israeli business success creating a viable middle class, an urbanisation movement, investment in transportation and industry infrastructure that will make the periphery of the country thrive independently of Tel Aviv, and much, much more.
I look forward to sharing it with you as it happens.
Jonny Cline was the former Shaliach for the  now defunct Winnipeg Zionist Initiative. He was  born and raised in England.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Amateurs, bloody amateurs!

Yair Lapid, a journalistic icon in my eyes, described a couple of weeks ago how we seem to be failing to attract the attention of even our own people to a true appreciation of our current paradigm, let alone that of the wider global community. He called us amateurs. The government are amateurs, our PR pros are amateurs, we are all amateurs.

He is right!

Just as much as, if not more than, in any other way, we are amateurs when it comes to the management of our third sector, the social sector, the non-profit sector... You see, we are so amateurish that we cannot even agree how to call ourselves (are we fundraisers or Resource Developers?), and yet we are surprised to find that support, financial and otherwise, does not come pouring in to facilitate any programming whim we happen to have.

We need to grow up. We need to stop doing what we have always done. We need to look around us and see what has changed, is changing, and is about to change.

"The rules of philanthropic engagement for Israeli non-profit organizations have changed drastically in response to 21st Century realities and in reflecting the sensibilities of modern donors." writes Sari Revkin, named one of the 50 most influential women in Israel by Globes Magazine, in an enlightened article she wrote recently. Her 7-pronged strategy provides the necessary basics for the rejuvenation of any NGO or campaign.

I read two great articles today (and retweeted them both). 

In the first, entitled "Standing Again At Sinai, This Time With Facebook", Hillel president, Wayne L Firestone, puts it to us in the simplest of terms that the way we insist on telling our story is not really bad, but rather totally irrelevant. Facts do not a story tell, and the fact that you have put it out there does not in any way translate into it being read, understood or accepted. There are ways to make that happen, and Wayne offers quite a few very simple suggestions as to how to reinvent ourselves to regain our lost relevance.

The second, "Why Your Fundraisers Are Your Biggest Competitors," by Rik Haslam of the Resource Alliance, warns of the inherent overthrow of the fundraising world by the socially networked giver/raiser. Far from being a believer in any doomsday prophecies myself, Rik is only emphasizing in an extreme way the trends that have been creeping up on us since Facebook reached Tipping Point.

So why aren't we listening? Why haven't we changed? What are we waiting for?

The answer, in my opinion, is similar to that given to the hi-tech companies I used to work with/for in the run-up to the bursting of the bubble in 2000. There are many ways to divide up the non profit community of Israel, but I will suggest just one: there are those who have made a change, those who would like to but just don't know how, and then there are those who are quite sure there is no change to be made.

"Change, why change? Ok, there have been a couple of tough seasons, but there was a market crash so what did you expect? We will just keep on doing what we have always done, that is what has worked 'till now!"

If an NGO could for a second be compared to a parrot, that, my friend, is (or will soon be) an ex-parrot!!

You see, there were three types of hi-tech company that sat comfortably in the bubble in 1999. One of them saw no need for examining its organizational growth or fiscal security, two of them went through (sometimes with me) processes of introspection, sometimes with consultancy and sometimes with restructuring. These two generally documented their findings. The owner of one may be able to rummage through the boxes they took from their office as they moved out, and might be able to find a copy of the report they wrote... in pristine condition, as if it had just been printed and bound - the other will pull his dog-eared copy off the shelf of his corporate archive or personal collection and will show it to you, delicately, with the respect afforded an old friend and mentor, so that it doesn't fall apart. Of course I am exaggerating, but fewer than half of the the companies were still around after the whole business went belly-up

The same thing is about to happen to us.

This is not going to happen because of the sub-prime fallout, it is not going to happen because of Madoff (may he get what he deserves), it is not even Obama's fault. It is going to happen because the times they are a'changing. Times are changing, technologies are developing, generations are passing, and societies are maturing - all of this is happening, and all we (some of us) are still doing is sending out mass mailings by email (so we get the younger generation, you know).

I am about to give a rather strange parallel, please bear with me...

The Rambam (Maimonides), in his collection The Mishneh Torah, describes the onset of idol worship. In short, he describes how a people who truly know and celebrate their beliefs becomes, as the generations pass on, a people who nominate a group of "priests" as the educated elite, the descendants of this group allow their knowledge to be replaced by "ceremony", that then gets lost and becomes "secrets" that then lose any meaning, eventually ending up as "the way things have always been done."

Dr Barnardo used to write letters to his donors, personal letters, handwritten letters. His letters contained all of the elements that we use today: a personal story, a specific project, a personal invitation to become a partner in an essential effort to mend the ills of society, etc., etc. - all of the elements of the "secret formula" that we thought we recently created. Dr Barnardo died 105 years ago. How much progress have we made since then? How much more sophisticated have we become? Is the great advancement of a century that we send these letters by email, that the savvy among us use services to ensure that we get through spam filters??!?

I believe that there are three types of NPO in Israel today. There are those who really and truly have already set out upon the path to building their future; there are those who are realizing that their well will soon run dry and are looking to make a change before it is too late; and then there are those who feel that their mission is far too important for their "friends" to ever let them die.

After the cloud settles, less then half of them will survive. Of the 26,000 Israeli NPOs (over 1,400 new ones every year!) registered, only those who are genuinely willing to step outside their comfort zone, who are looking for ways to replace "the way that things have always been done", respectfully, with the way that our future donors and partners will expect to be found, approached, cultivated and/or stewarded in the future, will be able to carry on doing the good work they have done.

Our future, if I may be so bold as to make a forecast, looks quite different from our past. 
  • We need to seriously begin looking closer to home. The Israeli is getting richer (at least some of us are), as the American is struggling to retain their social status.
  • We need to begin to broaden our base of support. Far fewer major funders are looking to invest so much in one place for a long period of time. We need to be spreading our risk and looking for more friends,giving less, with whom we may have to resign ourselves to sharing shorter relationships.
  • We have to meet our prospective donors where they expect to be courted. Our truth, and our genuine belief in the righteousness of our cause must be replaced by an open invitation to facilitate the empowerment of a funding partner to realize their ideology by subcontracting to us activity in the field.
  • We must be present, and regularly communicate, through the media channels, and in the language, that will maximize our impact and broaden our reach. Todays world communicates through social media, open code, free expression, self-explanatory soundbites that are commensurate with on-the-fly information overload and non-stop information communication. (This blog post, for example, would never fly!)
I find myself looking forward to this future. It may not be easy, but it will definitely be (already is!) very exciting.

May the deserving survive, and may Yair Lapid never be able to write such a thing about the 3rd sector.