On sharing among Jewish nonprofits

In an opinion piece for JTA, marketing guru Gary Wexler uses recent research on the benefits of information sharing in the fight against Alzheimer’s as a jumping-off point to talk about sharing information within the Jewish nonprofit world.

You can check out the full piece on JTA, but here is an excerpt:

The Jewish community could learn several lessons from the Alzheimer’s research sharing model. As a marketer of Jewish life, I have seen the inability of Jewish organizations to collaborate and share information, resources and intellectual capabilities.

Jewish organizations rarely share their internal data, except for research commissioned by Birthright Israel, Jewish camping and Jewish education. They almost certainly never share mailing lists. Even though they are public trusts, they hide their failures. And, in many cases, they don’t talk openly about their successes, lest their methodologies be stolen by the perceived competition or taken credit for by other people.

This inability to share and collaborate calls into question whether the goal is a successful Jewish community or simply the survival of the organization. Organizations and their leaders often lose sight of the greater goal. To do the real work, we need to collaborate, not compete. 

About 14 years ago, I did a marketing campaign for a Jewish organization. The organization never shared the campaign results with me, no matter how many times I asked. Recently, several of those who led the organization at the time told me that the campaign had brought in $25 million. I could not help but think what a loss it was that the community had not had that information so that others could have used similar strategies to reach success.

Similarly, over my career, I have created campaigns that have failed. But the organizations didn’t want to report those failures to their boards, so the information about what not to do also was kept secret. I would see the mistakes I had made repeated by other organizations, resulting in the waste of untold sums. But I could not give them a verified case study that would have opened their eyes. So they often perceived my warnings as a veiled pitch for business.

In many cases, particularly when new organizations are just starting out and needing to reach prospective clients and donors, the quest to share a mailing list with an existing organization — particularly synagogues and Jewish federations — is always a struggle. 

Rarely do the larger organizations see this sharing as something good that will build a stronger, more vibrant community and offer people more options and ways of involvement.  Instead, they act in a provincial manner, fearful that their donors and participants will be hijacked.

The reluctance to share mailing lists is killing one of our greatest potentials for success.

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