Every encounter with a kiruv organization director ends with a discussion of “resources”. You want to make waves and turn your organization into a happening place. There are so many areas of need, so many plans, and so many dreams. But what about resources?
The answer to doing more and better in 2014 (and for years after) is to embrace cooperation with other organizations (Jewish and otherwise), subject to the specific halachic and hashkafic guidelines followed by your organization.
Many a kiruv professional inadvertently stymies himself by working alone or, even worse, looking over the shoulder and comparing his organization to others. This always reminds me of the 7 AM routine at my home. Two-year-old Yosele is sprawled on the floor, while 5-year-old Shira is flipping through a picture book. Neither one has given any thought to the preposterous idea of getting dressed, despite the clothes piled up nearby. ”Hey kids, let’s see who can get dressed fast?” I venture. A minute later, Shira is busy pulling off her PJs in an effort to finish “first.” “You don’t have to be first, sweetie, but let’s see if you can do it fast?” After all, why would I want to set up my kids for a lifetime of competition and rivalry?
Many of us prefer to work alone, because it gives us greater control and feeds into an illusion of being able to reach perfect results. At other times, we measure our success against that of others. Both approaches are counterproductive.
Obviously, you can’t outsource your work. You also need to be aware of what other organizations in your community are doing. Yet being a lone wolf or running comparisons sabotages your ability to see new possibilities, explore options outside the box, and build an organization that best reflects what you are uniquely positioned to offer.
There is a better way. Instead of beating the “competition” you can reframe and embrace it, freeing up your time and resources for creating a more compelling and efficient organization. Think of it as a Venn Diagram:
Your organization has a lot in common with others around you – that’s the red segment. Your growth will come from pooling resources in the areas of overlap. For example, let’s say your shul and the one on the other side of town both have adult learning programs with paltry attendance. Instead of running parallel daf yomi, ladies’ parsha, and kids’ bar/bat mitzva classes (each attracting 10 people), the two of you can establish a community-wide beit midrash with completely different shiurim available at both locations. You’ll save a bundle on advertising and administrative costs, while maximizing the teaching hours to reach a bigger and more diverse crowd.
At the same time, each organization has its distinctive advantages whether in terms of programs, location, relationships, or resources. Building out your capabilities in your unique segment (the white section in the diagram) is the ticket to growing a compelling organization that stands out.
Hashem doesn’t work with a cookie cutter. Each organization is a reflection of the people who run it. Taking a close look at the unique qualities of your team is a good place to start.
Once you are confident in your distinctive abilities, it’s time to join other organizations by working in mutually beneficial partnerships. Take my good friend Estie Rand for example. We do (almost) the same thing and work at the opposite sides of a hallway at the same business hub. Both of us help companies and organizations attract clients.
But while I also coach people through personal issues masquerading as business or operational problems, Estie wouldn’t touch that with a 10-foot pole. On the other hand, she is a pro at setting up administrative systems and the crowned queen of Excel. (Just last week she saved my client from a software installation and training by getting a humble spreadsheet to do the heavy lifting). Both of these are not my cup of tea. Estie and I could be competing, but we decided early on that we’d rather cooperate. Since then, we have been referring clients down the hallway.
Now, I know what you are thinking. “If I cooperate with other organizations, they can take advantage of me. What if somebody walks off with my participants or ideas?” The solution to that is evaluating everything you do in terms of what Dr. Saras Sarasvathy calls “affordable loss,” or never betting more than what you can afford to lose. That way, even if a relationship sours, your organization will be able to withstand the blow.
Secondly, the gain outweighs the risk. Operating in an environment of cooperation will empower you with positive energy and a sense of wellbeing. Too many people get burnt out by the constant rat race. Maintaining your emotional equilibrium for the long haul is critical to your success.
Beyond that, an outlook of cooperation will present you with many more opportunities than competition ever could. And even if you encounter a lemon once in a while, the other successful relationships will make up for it abundantly.
Tachlis – More impact (No New Money Necessary)
Build up your confidence – Comparison to others is a clear signal that you are not sufficiently sure of your own place. Security in your right and ability to bring something worthwhile to the table is crucial for your success. There is only one you. Nobody else has your blend of innate abilities, outlooks, skills, and experiences. The illusion that you are no different than the others is just that – an illusion.
Define your uniqueness – Start out by taking a close look at who you are, what you know, and why it matters (you can avail yourself of these tools in the process). What do you know that others don’t? What’s your unique voice and perspective? Where do you challenge the accepted assumptions? How do you defy the common sense? What are your areas of excellence? On the other hand, in which areas are you less efficient? Encourage your team members to ask the same questions. Take the time to do this as a team.
Charting the territory – Make a list of 5-10 other organization “competing” for the same resources and participants. What are the distinct advantages of each? Where do they excel? Why would participants and donors turn to them instead of coming to you?
Create your own Venn Diagram – Bring the information together in a visual Venn Diagram. Include all the areas of commonality in the overlap area and list the advantages of each organization, including your own.
Explore the opportunity – Consider whether any of the other organizations complement yours. What resources do they have that you could take advantage of if you were to cooperate? What do you have to offer them? How can you work together?
Identify your boundaries – Consider which parts of your organization must remain outside the cooperation scheme. Which parts are too vulnerable to be shared? If a relationship were to break down, what would be the critical parts to protect? What are you willing to share and what stays behind locked doors?
Make sure your team is on the same page – Cooperative thinking may not come naturally to some of your team members. You wouldn’t want them to second-guess your decision or to make assumptions about your motives. They may oppose cooperation based on hashkafic or pragmatic considerations or view it as an affront to the “team spirit.” On the other hand, team members can help you identify many of the issues at play. Explain your rationale and the pros and cons of both the competitive and work-alone approaches. Get them on board.
Get to know your counterparts. Personally. – people prefer working with people they like. Having a good relationship makes it easier to work together. So before you build a venture together, get to know each other. Set up a meeting with each one of your competitors, preferably in a neutral setting. Having food around is a great way to break the ice. Tell them that since you are in the same space anyway, you may as well get to know each other. Chances are they are concerned enough about you to agree to the meeting. Repeat until you build solid rapport.
Co-create joint ventures – once you build up the chemistry, explore possible ways to benefit each other. A good place to start is by offering your competitors to help them. Ask where you can be of service. What are their needs? Where would they stand to gain by working with you? People are more cooperative when they see their own gain. After a while, switch and share the issues you are looking to solve. The conversation should help you develop ideas for mutually-beneficial joint ventures.
Reframing a mindset of competition into that of collaboration can do wonders for your emotional wellbeing, resilience, and ability to find new avenues for growth.
Have you found new opportunities in cooperation?