A New Strategic Plan for Jewish Family Services
Starting with the mission, the rest flows from there.
Happy New (tax) year! It’s not early this year. It’s always right on time. We Jewish organizations have many years to organize: Jewish, secular and, yes, fiscal.
We also have a lot of accountability. Donors. Contracts. The community. The people we serve.
Contrary to what many think of us, so-called “non-profit” Jewish social service organizations, we are complicated businesses, with multiple outcomes. The nickname “non-profit” is a tax status.
The bottom lines of Jewish Family Service are 1) Financial and 2) Impact. Please don’t define us by what we are not, but rather by what we are…a social impact organization.
A year ago, Jewish Family Service ended merger talks with JVS Human Services and Kadima, which together now form Gesher Human Services. With this release, we had to define ourselves and our future and hold ourselves accountable for our results. We embarked on a strategic planning process and adopted a strategic plan which we implemented on June 1st. (That’s right, the start of our fiscal year)
We did everything: put together a steering committee, hire a consulting firm (Veralon, veralon.com) to guide us (thanks to the Jewish Fund for their support in this [and all things JFS!]), organized discussion groups…
And now we have a five-year strategic plan that will be our road map through what will undoubtedly be a difficult time.
Before outlining some of the directions of the strategic plan, allow me to expand on my already too lengthy preface.
Jewish Family Service always aspires to act strategically. It can be said that we often achieve this. Part of the strategic plan then is to step back and be more intentional than we can be from our day-to-day reactive perch.
Not everything that Jewish Family Service does strategically has been included in this strategic plan. He shouldn’t have either. What is called here is what must be called here. For example, the fact that the population of people who identify as Orthodox is growing and that Jewish family service must continue to be strategically relevant and welcoming to Orthodox communities is not in the strategic plan, but that is how we operate. strategically on a daily basis.
The strategic plan helps chart the future of Jewish Family Service, but we can’t know everything. Pandemics, wars, floods and recessions come to mind. When (and if) bad things happen that are not known or knowable, Jewish Family Service will respond, if true to our mission, even if not specified in the plan.
Our five-year plan
Starting with the mission, the rest flows from there. The mission statement of Jewish Family Service is as follows: Inspired by Jewish values, we improve lives through service.
Next, we reviewed and left unchanged our vision statement, the words that describe our ultimate aspiration: A community in which no one faces life’s challenges alone.
Then we thought about how we want to do our job and landed on this values statement:
JFS honors its Jewish values, including recognizing the dignity of all (B’tzelem Elohim) and the call to care for others (Chesed) strengthen the Jewish community and the wider community. We do this by focusing on:
• Respect — We honor the dignity of all people, providing those we serve with care that is sensitive to individual and cultural needs.
• Kindness — We believe in the good of all. We serve others with compassion, empathy, generosity and without judgment.
• Diversity — We embrace diversity in all its forms and serve and employ people from all walks of life. We foster an equitable and inclusive culture that allows individuals to thrive on their own terms.
• Integrity — We hold ourselves to the highest standard in all aspects of our work. We are reliable and accountable to each other and pride ourselves on being good stewards of the agency.
• Collaboration — We work together to cultivate relationships with those we serve and the wider community to provide comprehensive, high quality service.
From there, we identified several critical planning issues as the scaffolding of the plan:
Mental health needs
Team (i.e. JFS squad)
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI)
From there, we landed on 17 initiatives, which we will cover over five years. The ones we landed on to start this (fiscal) year are:
• Expand JFS’ strong suicide prevention program throughout the region, including improving training and development.
• Analyze employment, compensation and benefits structures to ensure competitive job offers across the agency.
• Explore and implement policy changes based on agency-wide DEI learnings and discussions.
• Perform a comprehensive evaluation of the program to optimize operational and financial performance while meeting community needs.
There is nothing extraordinary here. We are not opening a taco stand or moving to the Upper Peninsula. We chart a course to know where we are headed and to ask you to help us get there and hold us accountable.
Since 1928, Jewish Family Service has been helping the community. First, the Jewish community and now the Jewish and wider communities. And we plan to be here long after our 100th anniversary.
We help our neighbors who cannot make ends meet.
We help people with mental health issues.
We help bubbies and zaydies age in place.
Thousands of people a year, one at a time, at the heart of a stronger community.
Perry Ohren has been a social worker and CEO of Jewish Family Service since 2011. He served as Chairman of the Board of the International Network of Jewish Social Service Agencies and serves on the board of NEW (Nonprofit Enterprise at Work).