Federation committed to seeking out wide variety of views

Andrea Freedman, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa, discusses some of the steps that have been taken to engage the community and issues an invitation to participate in upcoming strategic planning consultations.

Moving to a new city, a new community and a new job, it was important for me to meet with as many people as possible over the past 10 months to help get oriented. Recognizing that, in a Jewish community of 15,000 people, there are limits to the number of individual meetings possible and, with a strong desire to gather insight from a diverse group of community members, I began sending out the following email:

“When speaking with friends, relatives or colleagues about community organizations, on a scale of one to 10 (where one is low and 10 is high) … how would you rate the Federation as a user-friendly (approachable) organization?”

I attempted to reach out to the more than 2,000 people in our email database and was so pleased when 12 per cent responded; but was less pleased the average rating of 6.4 out of 10. It was interesting to note that there were very few ratings in the four to seven range; most respondents had very strong inclinations at either end of the spectrum. When it comes to the Jewish Federation of Ottawa, it appears there are few neutral perspectives.

What I personally valued most was the opportunity to engage in conversation with interested community members. I deliberately sent out just a few emails each week so that I had time to personally reply to each person who responded. I genuinely appreciated the opportunity to communicate with those who view the Federation positively, and with those who do not. And I was intrigued by several respondents who are regular recipients of our communication and yet know little about the actual work we do.

Several respondents who believe strongly in the important mandate of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa, but felt let down by our execution, particularly struck me. Several pointed to an unfavourable gap between their positive views and those of their peer group. Some expressed gratitude for having been asked for their opinion. And many were incredibly warm in welcoming me to Ottawa, even as they cautioned that they believe the road to success will be challenging.

Inevitably, I learned there are a multitude of different opinions on what the Federation is doing well and what we are doing less well and some are contradictory (e.g., we support worthwhile organizations versus a questioning of funding priorities). I learned many lessons from this experience and am grateful to everyone who took the time to respond to my request for feedback – thank you all.

Frequent comments included the need for the Federation to articulate a vision, the need to better communicate how gifts to the Annual Campaign benefit the community; and that the Federation is the glue that binds us together. Overall, one of the primary lessons is that community members expect greater transparency and greater insight into the Federation’s decision-making processes.

To this end, we have already taken several steps, including developing Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) so that community members can see our progress against our goals (our first results will be posted online in February) and a revamped Ottawa Jewish Bulletin that takes a more inquisitive approach to issues in our Jewish community. In the Rosh Hashanah community-wide edition of the Bulletin, we featured profiles of all of the members of the Federation Board so that community members know who the decision-makers are.

Some additional steps we intend to take include posting the report I submit to the Jewish Federation of Ottawa’s Board of Directors on our website on a monthly basis; posting a summary of board discussions on our website; and developing new ways of reporting how funds from the Annual Campaign are put to good use in the community.

Finally, please consider participating in a strategic planning community consultation as part of our strategic planning process on Monday, February 3 or Wednesday, February 5 at 7 pm at the Soloway Jewish Community Centre. RSVP to rabenhaim@jewishottawa.com.

In crafting a strategic plan, we are committed to seeking out a wide variety of views – please try and make the time to ensure that your thoughts are heard and understood.

I continue to be excited to hear from and meet with community members, so feel free to connect with me at afreedman@jewishottawa.com or 613-798-4696, ext. 224. Community building is difficult and time-consuming work. Fortunately, so many individuals are hard at work at the task each and every day!

Editor’s note: See the news article by Louise Rachlis on page 4 and the guest column by Linda Kerzner on page 5 for more on the Federation’s strategic planning process.

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