Needed: A Performance-Driven Jewish Culture
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Needed: A Performance-Driven Jewish Culture

‘How am I doing?”

We ask ourselves this question periodically — in fact, between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, we have a 10-day period to do so.

Corporations frequently ask themselves, “How are we doing?”

But only rarely does the Jewish community assess itself. Are we doing better or worse than a few years ago? How and where are we improving, holding our own, or deteriorating? Not only are such questions hardly ever asked, very little objective information is available to help provide answers.

One exception was supplied by Mark Pearlman in the first estimate of the Jewish Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the U.S. (“Creating A Jewish GDP,” The Jewish Week, April 24, 2009). More recently, Pearlman and Professor Edieal Pinker of Yale, with support from The Jewish Week, produced a comparative analysis of change in Jewish GDP between 2007 and 2012. In reporting on the study, both Jewish Week editor Gary Rosenblatt and the authors stressed how this work helps introduce greater transparency into Jewish life.

But as important as transparency is, this work is far more important as a step toward creating a performance-driven culture in Jewish communal life — allowing us to celebrate our achievements, focus on our shortcomings, and analyze how we can do better in the future. In a performance-driven culture, we find a clear and compelling vision, a focus on mission, and an obsession with performance.

The two questions constantly on the table are how well are we doing and how can we do better? Today we should be asking: How well are we tending to hundreds of thousands of Jewish poor and near-poor? How well are we helping Israel achieve a future that is Jewish, democratic and secure? How are we doing in engaging younger Jews in Jewish life? These are just a few of the compelling, over-arching questions we should ask ourselves as a responsible and visionary Jewish community. Unfortunately, we do not do a good job of collecting the hard facts that could illuminate these questions and help us make better decisions.

Systematic collection of performance-related information can make a difference — first, by creating a fact-based public dialogue about critical issues facing the community, and second, by providing decision-makers with performance data that will give them important clues as to how well the community is doing.  Information about current performance is crucial to making better decisions leading to a stronger community in the future.

Communal decisions emerge in response to ongoing competition among interest groups that negotiate their differences through a political process. Anecdotal information is crucial. While data-responsive decision-making can’t replace incremental and fragmented decision-making, it can make it work better. Fortunately, more and more, funders want to see evidence of results, not merely compelling rhetoric. Business has increasingly operated in a data-driven environment, and the nonprofit world is beginning to follow. The Jewish community cannot be left behind, especially if it seeks the involvement and confidence of philanthropists and decision-makers coming out of the worlds of business and the most sophisticated portions of the nonprofit sector.                                                                                                                        

To its credit, Pittsburgh is the one Jewish community in North America that has begun to develop a communal performance measurement, using its Community Scorecard (jewishscorecard.com) to assess progress toward becoming a more vibrant, engaged Jewish community.

The Community Scorecard, which went live in February 2014, includes 90 performance metrics, covering every aspect of community life.

This past December, the Leadership Roundtable — a group of nearly 100 civic, philanthropic, intellectual, religious and organizational community leaders — gathered to review the highlights of the Community Scorecard’s extensive findings. Their discussions established task forces to address the critical challenges and opportunities highlighted by Scorecard data. 

But Pittsburgh is not alone. Several other communities are moving in the same general direction. San Francisco, for example, is developing a healthy community measurement initiative.

Beyond local initiatives, it is time to develop a set of indexes measuring the overall performance of the organized Jewish community in North America. The ultimate goal is to improve Jewish communal life at the national, regional and local levels. Systematic performance measurement would provide Jewish communal leaders with a resource to inform their planning, priority setting, service delivery, financial resources development and management. And it would provide a framework for community-wide discussion on strategy, priorities, governance and finance.  

Each index would measure a different dimension of Jewish life in North  America. The Jewish GDP is an example of one such index.  Additional indexes might include an index of Jewish engagement, a Jewish poverty index and others. 

It will take time and substantial resources to get it right. Federal, state, and local governments spend billions (albeit a small fraction of total government spending) on measures of the performance of the U.S. economy, population and social welfare system. To significantly improve how it conducts its affairs, the Jewish community should do no less. The question is: Does it have the will?

Jacob B. Ukeles is president of Ukeles Associates, Inc., the consultant to the Pittsburgh Jewish Community Scorecard for the past three years. He previously served as executive director of community services at UJA-Federation of New York, and as executive director of the NYC Mayor’s Management Advisory Board. This essay is part of The Jewish GDP Project of The Jewish Week.

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