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A Seat at the Table? The Table is Dead. Long Live the Table!

Rafi RoneFilmed at Wexner Institute

In the coming decade, estimates of up to $40 trillion dollars of wealth will transfer generations, traditionalists will pass on (maybe), boomers might or might not retire, Gen X-ers will still feel unloved, and Millenials will be flooding the workforce – questions of where philanthropic dollars will go, and who will be leading our Jewish communities and institutions abound – is there a seat for everyone at the table? And given technology and globalization, will there even be a table to sit at? With life insurance companies diaing down from 100, it is time to shift the paradigm of decision making.

Rafi Rone is the Director of Jewish & Israel Initiatives at the Joseph and Harvey Meyerhoff Family Charitable Funds. Rafi has had over twenty years of community relations and community development experience working on behalf of the Jewish community, covering four continents and dozens of Jewish communities. He has worked in multiple settings for such different agencies such as the United Jewish Communities and Birthright Next, and was stationed in the former USSR, Israel and Eastern Europe for the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. He has taught widely on topics including Israel, Zionism, Global Jewish Peoplehood, Cross-cultural training, generational divide, advocacy, and conflict resolution. Rafi also served as a Jewish Service Corps member for the JDC in Bulgaria, and has spent years teaching and training emerging professionals in the area of service and service learning. Rafi’s MPA is from Columbia University’s School for International and Public Affairs at Columbia University, where he was awarded the Picker Prize for Public Service. He was also a Wexner Graduate Fellow, and the Ralph I Goldman International Fellow at the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.  His B.A. is in History and Politics from Brandeis University. Rafi lives in Baltimore, Maryland, with his amazing wife, Rabbi Dana Rone Saroken, and his three delicious children, Gideon, Noa, and Maya.

Growing up I was the sixth of six children in a blended family. Think Brady Bunch, think Cindy without the curls and without the pearls. You can imagine how hard it was to get my voice heard at the table, especially at the dinner table. I had to have some power play, some way to wield power. So I did the only thing that I could think of, every night at dinner we’d all sit down, everybody got served and my siblings would gobble up their food and the rule was, you had to wait until everyone was done before you could leave the table. Slowly, intentionally, bite by bite I ate and enjoyed my food thoroughly but I paid for it. Today we’re going to discuss the table, the power in our community and what it means to have a seat at the table. Before we look at the table though, we want to know who is at the table, who is not and why? So we are going to break it down generationally, and roughly it breaks into four generations; you have the Traditionalists, you have the Baby Boomers. The Traditionalists were generally born in 1945 and before, the Baby Boomers were born 1946-1964 you have the Gen-Xers who were born 1965-1976 and the Millennials who were born at the beginning of 1977 carry through the 1990s. Dubbed the ‘Greatest Generation’ by Tom Brokaw, it’s actually a mix of several generations, the GI generations and the Silent generation. They were reared in the wake of the depression, some even fought in World War II, they came of age either in World War II or the McCarthy era. They were known for hard work, their characteristics were great character, integrity and sacrifice. Many of you who are rabbis eulogise them today and probably lament that they will likely be the last generation that you refer to as sacrificing for their families in our community in this country. They worked to create a greater sense of opportunity for their children and grandchildren and they literally built this country into a superpower. Next you have the Baby Boomers. The Baby Boomers were the original “It’s all about me “generation. There are over 76 million of them, they are the largest purchasing demographic in our country, they are powerful. They came of age during the rise of the counterculture movement as well as Vietnam and Watergate. They were very, very vehemently anti-establishment and now they are the establishment. Many of them are not interested in retiring, they took a lot at their 401ks in 2008 and saw that it was 201k and said; “I feel pretty good, I think I’m going to keep working until my 70s beyond”. Next you have the Gen-Xers; the Gen –Xers; interestingly enough, the majority of people in this room are likely Gen-Xers, that being said, we are only 44 million, by far the smallest generation in the work place today. Latchkey kids, children of divorce, we’re known and described as independent yet cautious. We are products of bad Hebrew school experiences, we grew up in the age of disco, plaid, corduroy pants, bell-bottom jeans and we’re still recovering from all of it. We’re described as cynical, sceptical, sardonic and to that we say; “really? So what.” Then we get to Millenials; Gen-Y, Gen-Z, Eco-Boomers. There are well over 75 million of them. They are very segmented, they are the most benchmarked, diagnosed, evaluated, generation to date; ADD, ADHD, A any other D’s you can imagine. Many of them came of age during the rise of The Web, although I can picture some of them probably texting in utero as well. Simply put, they’re hard wired completely different than we are, than any generation up until this point. While other generations use technology, this generation breathes technology into everything that they do. They’re cosmopolitan, global, well networked, they’re goal oriented and task oriented which is not easy considering the level of ADD and ADHD that they have. Jewishly they are the engagement generation. At Birthright Israel we call them; ‘the gift that keeps on giving and please give me more because I won’t come if it’s not free’. They tend to associate and not affiliate and they float in between networks. Let’s return to our tables of power; what’s the table that we’re really talking about? No, no it’s not that table. It’s not this table either but I guarantee if there were women at this table it would have been a table a lot earlier and hundreds of thousands of lives would likely have been saved. So, how about this table? This looks more like it. You’ve got a Boomer, two Gen-Xers and a Millennial, I like the look of this table. But really, what are we talking about when we talk about the tables? We’re talking about two tables of power in our community, that of philanthropy and that of our Jewish communal institutions the organised Jewish community. Let’s begin with the table of philanthropy’. As you know I work at a family foundation, part of my job is working at integrating and engaging the next generation of trustees in to the family’s grant making legacy. It’s not easy; the people at the table are so worried about the upcoming generations. This is a table that we know less well but it’s a table that’s absolutely crucial to the future of our community. So, who is at the table? Well, generally you have the Greatest Generation and you have the Boomers and they are freaked out, they are worried desperately that the next generations might not interested in what they’re interested in. They might not be able to engage in what they’re engaged in. The Boomers are saying “We’re done, we’re ready to move on, we want to leave this legacy” but you have an issue, the Gen-Xers are the sandwich generation, they’re taking care of their children, they’re taking care of their careers, maybe they’re taking care of parents and maybe grandparents as well. They don’t have the time to commit to the process, they don’t have the time to commit to the responsibility. And what about the Millennials? The Millenials, they’re all over the place. They don’t live where they grew up, they might not even be around to be engaged and they might even say; “Bubbie and Zadie, I love you so much, I am so not interested in global Jewish peoplehood, I’m not interested in Jewish identity. I’m not interested in Jewish education. Now, if you want to talk to me about poverty, about literacy, about Eco-justice, I’m all in.” so they might even opt out. So, this reflects a trend, you can see one of the trends in foundations now where they’re making choices at the Greatest Generation of Boomer level. Some are doing what’s called a ‘spend-down’ or a ‘sun-setting’ of their foundation. Massive investments in projects that they care about, knowing that it will be the end of their family’s legacy in this area. Others are still struggling and thinking about ways to engage the next generation. Let’s turn to a table that’s a little bit more familiar to us; the Jewish communal table, the Jewish organised world. I have two words for you; ‘succession planning’ or another two words; ‘looming fashla’ or one of my favourite new terms; the ‘silver tsunami.’ This has to do with the Boomer generation, very much directly. Who is sitting at the table currently? Well, the ‘Greatest’ generation is no longer engaged. We like them for their legacy and endowment gifts but we’re saying; ‘you know what? Time to move aside, you’ve been doing this a long time.” That’s what they’re being told. With the Boomers there are multiple scenarios; on the professional end you have the Executive Directors, most of whom we know are male, are either one of two things: unceremoniously retired before they’re ready and told that they will be retired or they’re hanging on too long, they’re there a decade too long and they have no plan to end anytime soon because they feel great. They’re living into their 70s and will live into their 80s and 90s. On the Chair side on the Lay side, you have Chairs and Executive Committees, the number one fear of any layperson is executive turnover on their watch. So, we’ll just leave it for the next people to worry about. Where are the Gen-Xers? Gen-Xers on the professional side are generally mid to high level, COO’s, number two’s waiting in the wings, they’re sort of standing there, no one’s talking to them saying “we’re investing in you, we believe in you, we’re grooming you”. They’re standing around saying; “Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?” And what they’re doing is, they’re either opting out and looking for other opportunities or they leave the field entirely and they have what I would call, in our economic malaise, a constant, permanent, financial, existential angst. A fear of never being able to retire to never have enough money to afford to send children to day school and camp and live the Jewish life we all know about and want to live. On the Lay side again, many of them either serve on boards for a very finite amount of time and rotate off or they’re just too busy to do it. And what about the Millennials? The Millennials, they’re not invited generally, and if they are it’s very much window dressing and ceremonial. They’re misunderstood as a generation about their effectiveness, about their ability to produce. As an example, I was visiting a grantee of ours a few months ago, I went into visit with them, I opened the door and saw that they had no table. There’s’ no table, they had two sofas and a cubicle, five people in the room. The Programme Director was Skyping with Tanzania, the Marketing Director was on a webinar for Marketing Executives of Non – Profits and there were three Interns on the floor and on the sofa with laptops working on different projects. Now this was an organisation that was founded by someone who went to major Jewish agencies and said; “I have this great idea that we can save the world Jewishly” and was told politely; “We love your idea, we don’t have the flexibility or capacity to help you make it happen, good luck.” And so, this person founded this organisation, the budget is less than $500,000 a year, the average donor age is 32, the average gift is $500 and by the way, they’ve inoculated over 200,000 people in African villages across that continent. It’s impressive, they’ll opt out and they’ll do it. So, what do we do? I don’t have the answers, certainly not all of them, I have a few ideas. In both cases the table needs to be reimagined, it needs to be reconfigured. The rules that govern our non-profits and our foundations are sometime very rigid, the buy in doesn’t fit the world that we live in, whether it’s large gifts to get on the board or fundraising or whether it’s the rigid in person meetings that you have, the laws that state you need to commit X and Y and Z at a philanthropy in order to be able to serve. So, what should we do? We change the rules, we have to change and be flexible and adapt to the times that we live in. We need to learn about Google chat and Video Hangout and count that as in-person meetings. We need to have flexible, digital portals where you can vote and do work for these boards in between the meetings and not just during the meetings. We can’t hire Executives without having a succession plan in place as we hire them and think about the long-term viability and sustainability of the agency. We need to create creative Advisory Board spaces, you know what, everybody needs a Social Media Marketing plan these days, guess who’s’ really good at Social Media Marketing? The Millennials. And for goodness sake, if you’re a JCC or synagogue or a temple. I’d like to introduce to this really cool thing called PayPal. Your chequebook called and said it wants to go back to the 90s. It’s unbelievable. Last time Obama was elected he created an office called ‘A seat at the table’ and you can go on the website and find it. When he speaks to colleges and universities he says to graduates; “I want you to see where you need to get too, be the seat at the table, be the voice of change that you want to be and do what you need to do to get it done. The only thing that stops you is your own imagination.” Well with multiple generations living well into their 90s and beyond now we’ve got an issue; all of our community’s obsession and fear surrounding dwindling numbers and engagement and identity, actually could be realised if we don’t think about how to change what we do. Today I’m proposing a paradigm shift. It used to be, we would say, “Mi Dor le Dor”, “From every generation to the next.” And now what I think we need to be saying is; “Kol Dor b’yachad”, “Every generation together.” Let’s figure out how to do it. Thank you.

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