Well, the adventure of being Executive Director of a small yeshiva is coming to a close. I thought I'd last more than 8 months, but I have been disproved. Don't ask me where I'm going, I haven't figured it all out yet. I'm staying on the board of the yeshiva and helping to find a replacement for me, cooking up some projects with the Creative Zionists (come visit us at the GA!), looking for a place to learn, trying to decide if I'm going to bite the bullet and sit for smicha, thirsty to get back into programming, and pretty well aware that I can't keep holding all these lines at once.
So what did I learn from the whole adventure?
Variety is good. Don't try to live, work, learn, pray, and play all the in same place. 'nuff said.
Fund raising is tough. It takes a salesman's demeanor, and it's still tough. In the end, what are you offering the donor? I came to what I think is the most honest approach one can take when sitting in front of a potential donor - "You've spent your time earning money, and you've got more than you need. You want to do good in the world, but alone you don't have the time. You've got the money to invest, and you want to find someone who's doing good in the world and invest in them. So what's your vision of good? What do you want to do?" Then, somehow, you have to convince them and keep them convinced that what you are doing is good, and that you're doing it well. It's really more of a partnership model than a donor model.
Non-profits should run like for-profits. There, I've said it; so have a thousand wise people before me. So why don't they? I think it's a question of passion, and it's a problem that hits small for-profits as well. People pour their hearts, souls, and dreams into non-profits and startups both, and in each case those who put their entire beings on the line are the ones who end up strangling the fledgling child to death. At some point they have to give over control. The successful company usually has a smart person behind it who got the heck out of the way.
One of my supervisors at the former Unicorn is the best person I ever worked for. I asked her what advice she had for managers. She said two words: no ego. I can't say I've lived up to that advice, but I've grown to appreciate it more and more.
I love to build. I really love to build. Did I mentioned that I love to build? And design. Building and design. Love it. Programs, houses, schemas, block towers, entrees, posters. I never had as much fun in this job as when I was building our website and designing our flyers. But that's not what it's about, not day-to-day.
Organizations can be engineered, and they can be farmed. Engineering involves rigourous planning and disciplined execution. Farming involves hiring good people, planting good will, encouraging potential, faithfully weeding and watering, chasing away predators. It takes love, day to day. It takes faithful constant care. It takes a group of people who are also oriented to farming. A careless engineer can really screw up a lot of good farming. I love to farm as well, but if you're going to be a farmer, you better make sure that you can set the tone of the organization to one of farming. A farmer in a world of engineers has a tough road.
I don't regret jumping into this at all. I've learned a lot, I believe that I've done some good work, and one way or the other I'm headed off on a new trajectory that would not have been otherwise possible.