Assessing the Health and Success of Jewish Organizations

Heart Anatomical

What’s current, what’s happening, and the latest big story are blogger’s daily fodder, but today I am diverging. I’m trading in my news reels to bring you the interesting and astute observations of Steven Windmueller, in his article, “The Survival and Success of Jewish Institutions: Assessing Organizational and Management Patterns.”

Here are some ideas that caught my attention.

The Changing Nature of Organizations

How do organizations change over time? How do they reassert their mission and their relevance to the field and their supporters?

  • Organizations face the ongoing challenge of renewing their purpose, credibility and effectiveness over time
  • Organizations must be aware of demographic and lifestyle changes among their supporters to maintain their relevance
  • Over time, established organizations face declining membership and smaller pools of supporters

  • Major challenges to established organizations include:
    • Competing Jewish and non-Jewish communal forces in the field
    • How cost of living increases affect Jewish life
    • The lifestyle choices of the Jewish entrepreneurial class (particularly as they pertains to donors)
    • Variations in the size, wealth, and philanthropic outlook of the community

Talking Numbers

In the United States, there are:

  • 300 national and independently operated local Jewish organizations
  • 200 federated structures
  • 2,500 synagogues
  • 550 schools, both affiliated with religious movements and independent

(Figures may vary slightly from the article’s date of publication– which is unknown.)
The Periods of Jewish Institutional Development

What are the priorities of Jewish life today? What were they in the time of our parents, our grandparents? How should we conceptualize these eras?

  1. Age of Jewish Innocence (1654- 1870): birth of primary local community and religious institutions, first efforts to create regional and national structures
  2. Primary Age of Jewish Organizational Creation (1890s- 1920): period in which America’s traditional national institutions and local agencies are founded
  3. Period of Jewish Institutional Crisis (1930s- 1948): the Holocaust, Europe in crisis, the Zionist agenda
  4. Golden Age of American Jewish Establishments (1948- 1981): a conscious post-war effort to develop a national system of organizations and programming
  5. Age of Information (1981- present): major changes in Jewish life, including demographic, ideological, and technical; Jewish organizations are in the process of reorganization in order to appeal to modern constituencies and their concerns

Assessing the Health of Jewish Communal Institutions

What measurements can we use to evaluate the health of our organizations? How do we measure up? Where do we stand?

  • Core numbers: the membership base needed to maintain status
  • Causes: the agency’s mandate– the organization will cease to be effective once its cause is no longer relevant
  • Credibility: historic record of performance and achievement– this measurement is directly related to the strength of its support
  • Competition: ability to succeed in relation to community organizations with similar purposes (see challengers section below)
  • Capability: strength of the organization’s leadership– the leader’s performance is a direct representation of the organization’s perception in the community
  • Cash Capacity: ability to adequately sustain programming, operational and promotional expenses, and membership sources

Challenger Organizations

What are the threats to established organizations? How do they come about? What do they look like?

  • Challenger organizations threaten large, federated systems because they create segmentation.
  • They address a distinct audience
  • They are strongly ideological
  • The founders of challenger organizations often come from mainstream Jewish foundations or are leaders in institutional Jewish life

I hope you enjoyed learning from these tidbits as much as I did. It’s sometimes important to be reminded of them as it helps us think about where we stand as organizations and how far we have come.


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5 Responses to Assessing the Health and Success of Jewish Organizations

  1. Meredith says:

    I’m curious when these figures for number of Jewish organizations that are located in the US were published? they seem rather small.

  2. thenewjew says:

    Hi Meredith,

    Sorry for the delay, but I still don’t have the answer. I contacted the person who gave me the article with no response. Unfortunately, I can’t vouch for the numbers, only tell you where I got them from (and the article– as I said) did not have a year on it.

    I will let you know if I get the answer.


  3. thenewjew says:

    Via My Jewish Learning’s Mixed Multitudes Blog:

    Dear Meredith,

    I appreciated this book review of Vanessa Ochs’ Inventing Jewish Ritual. Which of the rituals she wrote on did you find most compelling? Also, I have to ask what the figure is on the cover of the book and what role it plays in her narrative.

    I wanted to follow up with you on a comment you left on my post, “Asessing the Health and Success of Jewish Organizations”. Steven Windmueller’s article was published in 1999, so the figures for the number of Jewish organizations source from this period. Do you think there has been a significant shift in numbers (if so, why)?

    I hope this has been helpful.

    Shabbat Shalom,

    Maya Norton
    The New Jew: Blogging Jewish Philanthropy

  4. Meredith says:

    I do think there has been a significant shift in the numbers given. The give away to me was “300 national and independently operated local Jewish organizations.” In the past 10 years there have been dozens of new Jewish organizations, if not hundreds. There are also many organizations that don’t fit this mold. Independently minyanim, theatre groups, formalized Jewish book clubs. Does one count these as Jewish organizations.

    I also wonder how that 300 number was originally devised. For example there are more than 250 JCCs alone.

  5. thenewjew says:

    Hi Meredith,

    Thanks for your thoughts.

    The numbers seemed a little strange to me, but I looked Prof. Windmueller up and he certainly seemed like an excellent source. (For reference, here is his page at HUC-JIR:

    You make a good point about all of the organizations that slip through the parameters. What do you think it is about the last 10 years that have brought on such change? Is it something that can be tracked or a general demographic and technological shift having to do with how we relate socially and/or conceptualize our Jewish community?


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