From Elana's Desk

Together we can make more positive culture change this year. Here’s How.

October 25, 2022 — Now that we have entered the Jewish New Year of 5783, how can we support one another in creating workplaces and communal spaces that are safer, more respectful, and more equitable than last year? What steps can we take to ensure workplaces and communal spaces are free from harassment and discrimination, where we can all thrive?

I firmly believe that this year, we as organizational leaders will make more positive culture change, both within our organizations and across our community. We will do that by continuing to ask for help, trying new things, and recommitting to this work in the year ahead. We will do that by continuing to find support from colleagues similarly dedicated to this work. We will do that by sharing with our community the ways in which we as individuals and institutions are pushing this work forward through collaboration.

And we will do that by remembering to activate one more tool in the toolkit: Bravery.

Be Brave.

I know what you are going to say. “Be brave”? Huh? But yes, that is what I am asking you to do. To be courageous in both character and behavior. You’ve been doing it, chipping away at SRE issues within your spheres for some time now, waiting for that optimal time to address that bigger, tough to tackle area. That area that you know deep down, if you did get to it, with the right support and resources, you could make some profound and lasting change. But then the doubts set in. What if I am the only one? What if I don’t know how to do it? What if, what if?

When we first launched SRE Network in 2018, we heard from colleagues, “Well you know where we really have an issue…? But we aren’t ready for it.” What were organizational leaders not feeling ready for? Ensuring that the SRE policies, procedures and practices they were implementing among their staff teams were also addressing the behaviors and conduct of nonprofit board members and donors.

Nonprofit board members and donors are among the most powerful stakeholders in the nonprofit orbit. As organizational leaders, we place tremendous trust and value in the important role these stakeholders play to guide and support our mission-driven work and community priorities. And the best boards and funders understand that the key to their effectiveness is upholding the same community standards that we ask of our paid professionals.

So why then is there such reticence on the part of organizational leaders to engage board members and funders in conversations around ethical expectations and standards? For many leaders, a number of questions arise: What if we offend or alienate trusted friends and supporters? What if we lose funding? What if addressing these issues will surface even more issues that we aren’t ready for or have the capacity to address?

Our SRE Network 2022 Convening featured a keynote with Dr. Jennifer Freyd on Institutional Courage and Accountability. In the session, Dr. Freyd, an academic and founder of the Center for Institutional Courage, defined institutional betrayal as “institutions harming those dependent on the institution, including by failing to prevent or respond supportively to wrongdoings when there is a reasonable expectation of protection by the institution.” Dr. Freyd went on to talk about the importance of institutions being courageous, which she defined as an institution demonstrating a “commitment to seek the truth and engage in moral action, despite unpleasantness, risk, and short-term cost.”

It is important to acknowledge and assess short-term costs because those costs are real. It is equally important to emphasize that these are short-term costs, while the long-term costs associated with not doing this work can be even greater. Unaddressed misconduct and its impact on individuals and the community can fester and snowball beyond our control, causing more damage and distrust in its wake, requiring even greater efforts to address and heal down the road than if it were to have been addressed sooner. So let’s not forget the bigger picture: we can make our community safer for all, and to do so will require us to take brave steps with all of our community members.

We’ve seen the shifts you have made over the years, from “My board will never go for this” to “I’m ready to try, do you have suggestions?”

I encourage you to be brave this year in tackling alongside your board an SRE area that is most pressing within your organization and sphere of influence. You are in the good company of other colleagues and organizations who similarly are making big strides to be brave and make change.

Perhaps this is the year you will take a closer look at how you are setting up your nonprofit board and each of its members to be effective and clear in their shared mission to support the safe, respectful, and equitable Jewish workplace and communal space you lead and work for. Share with your board what you have shared with us: that addressing these issues is necessary and will make your organization and community ultimately stronger. And then dedicate time to review with your board the SRE Network Standards for Creating Safe, Respectful and Equitable Workplaces and Communal Spaces. Identify together where there are gaps and create an action plan for addressing them.

And explore what else you need to supplement the SRE standards and your existing resources, to ensure you have clear support and accountability mechanisms in place.

You are not doing this work alone. We have created this new resource to support organizational leaders in addressing allegations and misconduct at the board level. It includes suggestions, articles, and best practices around codes of conduct, reporting and response, and investigations. Similar to others created for our network, this resource was developed in the spirit of supporting you in your ongoing SRE journey.

As we embark boldly into the year ahead, I invite you to be brave.

And to understand this: You already are. You aren’t alone. And you can do this.

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