Seth Godin wrote a scathing blog post about fear induced institutional torpor found in established non-profit organizations:

These organizations exist solely to make change. That’s why you joined, isn’t it? … The problem facing your group, ironically, is the resistance to the very thing you are setting out to do. Non-profits, in my experience, abhor change … Take a look at the top 100 twitter users in terms of followers. Remember, this is a free tool, one that people use to focus attention and galvanize action. What? None of them are non-profits. Not one as far as I can tell. Is the work you’re doing not important enough to follow, or is it (and I’m betting it is) paralysis in decision making in the face of change? Is there too much bureaucracy or too much fear to tell a compelling story in a transparent way?

Godin then underscores his point by pointing to for-profit entities who have used twitter and social media successfully:

If you spend any time reading marketing blogs, you’ll find thousands of case studies of small (and large) innovative businesses that are shaking things up and making things happen. And not enough of these stories are about non-profits. If your non-profit isn’t acting with as much energy and guts as it takes to get funded in Silicon Valley or featured on Digg, then you’re failing in your duty to make change.

Are established Jewish non-profits subject to the same forces? It looks like it. The only UJC person I have had any interaction with over the past year has been William Daroff, the Vice President for Public Policy and Director of the Washington office of United Jewish Communities – and even then, our interaction has been, err… occasional at best. OK, that’s cool. I’m not a person pf any consequence. I’m not even a constituent! But still.

I read blogs like Dan Brown’s eJewishPhilanthropy, Fundermentalist and Robert Wexler’s UJTheeandMe – these blogs are often full of juicy insider-y details about the inner workings of the Jewish Philanthropic world. Like the JPPPI’s announcement that three new appointees are joining the leadership of the Institute, or the UJC’s upcoming name change from United Jewish Communities to The Jewish Federations of North America. Like Richard Wexler, I too went to the UJC/JFNA Facebook page, and I too was completely confused. The latest posts are 2 months old, there are no upcoming events (like uh… the GA maybe?) and I still have no idea why anyone would want to be a fan. The new CEO of the UJC, Jerry Silverman, in response to a challenge posed by 4 young Jewish leadership types regarding getting more young Jewish leadership types involved in the UJC, stated that “We must go further. The first step is to convene a group of young people to begin a dialogue on how to create systemic readiness to embrace and engage and listen as we move forward. We must create an opportunity for both dialogue and action, locally and nationally.”

Yeah. That and update your facebook page Jerry. I should be enthralled by all the stuff I read in the aforementioned blogs. Instead, I often keep asking myself why I should give a shit. A day doesn’t go by where I don’t have multiple conversations with young Jewish social entrepreneurs and grass roots activists. Federation involvement never ever comes up – like it’s not even an option. I mean I get it. I know what the Federations do. And I respect their accomplishments and activities. But I just don’t sense within them a desire to really develop new leadership or to communicate effectively with their grass roots constituents. Silverman’s words were awesome but from where I’m sitting, it just sounds like lip service.

I’ll conclude with Seth Godin’s conclusion, which was aimed at all non-profits but is particularly applicable to Jewish ones:

Sorry if I sound upset, but I am. The work these groups do is too important (and the people who work for them are too talented) to waste this opportunity because you are paralyzed in fear.

Hat tip to Joe College

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About the author


Founder and Publisher of Jewlicious, David Abitbol lives in Jerusalem with his wife, newborn daughter and toddler son. Blogging as "ck" he's been blocked on twitter by the right and the left, so he's doing something right.


  • Much agreed. I’m amazed by either how many non-profits lack a social presence on FB and twitter or who popped up a page once

    On the other hand, give the UJC credit that at least they once had a page and not a group.

    I was amazed that, besides Aish Connect, none of the Aish HaTorah institutions had a social or FB presence as their website is pretty comprehensive and was very good, at least in 2003 or so – but now it’s time for 2010 Web Strategy which nonprofs don’t get. I found only one Aish HaTorah site with a new page, which is Aish Philly

    Of course, many still don’t even have comprehensive websites!

  • 1) I know many non-profits with active a FB presence. None of them are Jewish. i.e. one has 55k+

    2) Direct mail works. Non-political fund-raising online hasn’t been shown to work.

    3) I love the transparency of social media but I know some of the the non-profits I support are regrettably not interested in that.

    4) “These organizations exist solely to make change.” Yes, but change is such a broad word even the Society for CPA want CHANGE! Some groups, associations more accurately perform/provide a service.

    4) Top 100 in Twitter followers. That would mean IF one out of every 11 man woman, baby, AND 100 yr old joined Generic-JEWISH-NGO it would be #100. I think this is a ridiculous was of looking at things. For local non-profits (schools, shuls) even more ridiculous.

    That said transparency and communication is great and if this post pushes things in that direction, fantastic but dont be shocked people are not open to listening to evangelists that only know social media and not NGOs

  • Run along dearie and stop bothering the nice people…

    ; )

    Jewish NGOs are about taking care of “Jews in need”.
    This would be:


    …if it weren’t for the small matter that all too often The “Jews in need” are the Jews in the NGO business…

    This notice was brought to you courtesy of the
    A Jewish NGO dedicated to helping a Jew in need.

    “Donate now & feel better about yourself within seconds!”

  • Who did that website for Jewish Heroes contest? It went so viral that even I received an email on Facebook the other day. It supposedly has over 500,000 million votes. That’s huge and I bet its giving loads of exposure to the next generation of the community.

  • a good piece, and i agree, the jewish establishment is ridiculously behind the times when it comes to social media. the “heroes” contest was a bit of a joke, though – easy to get people to vote multiple times and to game the system they had in place.

  • Seth is right. Partially. Non profits should be doing MUCH more to effectively market themselves. Direct Mail, social media, functional(!) websites, quality writing. All those things.

    But it’s silly to quote twitterholic statistics to prove this point. The top 100 twitter users are overwhelmingly celebrities along with a few media powerhouses. They get millions of followers because everyone knows and loves them. All the marketing in the world wont move even the largest nonprofit past Lance Armstrong in the rankings!

    Quoting Godin: “The marketing world has changed completely…But if you look at the biggest charities in the country, you couldn’t tell. Because they’re ‘non’ first, change second.”

    I guess Seth hasn’t yet seen sites like Donors Choose ( Their organizational model would be unheard of a few years ago. But they’ve CHANGED their thinking. As have many other nonprofits. More need to follow suit. So let’s not overgeneralize!

  • Many nonprofit organizations do not define their purpose as creating change, but rather providing needed services to specific populations (like most businesses). Some of those services are needed, and some agencies have outlived the usefulness of their original mission – including many Jewish organizations that are looking to redefine themselves in the face of the changing Jewish demographics in this country. At that same time that the more established Jewish organizations (like UJC) are struggling to remain relevant, a host of smaller, innovative organizations have sprung up to meet those needs. And those groups are the ones driving change through social media.