Our Chair Puts It All on the Table: A Conversation with Diane Troderman
PEJE Board Chair Diane Troderman has held numerous leadership roles in the Jewish community on local, national, and international levels. In addition to her passionate interest in Jewish education, she has worked on women’s issues and in the renaissance and renewal of Jewish life throughout the world, especially in the Former Soviet Union. In addition to working with PEJE, Diane serves on the boards of PELIE (Partnership for Effective Learning and Innovative Education), JESNA (Jewish Education Service of North America), and Hebrew at the Center.
In a recent article you are quoted as saying, “I like to catch peoples’ dreams and help them.” What captures your imagination as a philanthropist? What motivates you to give?
The thing that captures me is the vision of the person or organization. Since money is tight and I have a finite amount of money to give away, I want to make every penny count. The money is only as good as the people running the organization.
Having said that—Jewish education is a critical priority for me. The next generation of Jewish leaders must come out of the day school world. We don’t just need outstanding teachers; we want the next generation to be involved in philanthropy. I also believe that, in addition to offering families excellent, affordable day school options, we need great supplementary education programs.
You’ve talked in the past about the importance of cultivating community donors. What advice would you give JDS development directors who would like to reach out to community donors?
Of course there are two kinds of development directors: those who are just starting out and those who are more advanced. And PEJE offers exceptional professional development opportunities for both groups. But here’s the bottom line: even if you are a sophisticated development director, you won’t succeed in community outreach if you don’t have a great board. Fundraisers, including board leaders, need to get outside their comfort zone—they need to start from the beginning and do the work of building relationships.
Whether they are community members or parents, donors need to understand that your institution is one that he or she can believe in. My advice for advancement directors is, “Get your board behind you, steward prospects carefully … and listen to the clues.” For all you know, the potential donor has a special needs child or an extraordinary love for the Hebrew language. Maybe the hook is Israel or helping teachers work better together. Maybe, like me, they would love to walk into a Jewish day school and see the happy faces of the children. The trick is to captivate more people to the dream. So learn about who they are, listen to their passions, and take the time to build community.
The top story in this edition of Sustained! focuses on alumni campaigns. Why are day school graduates so important for the long-term survival of the Jews?
Unlike colleges and universities, Jewish day schools don’t engage alumni very well. Just as with building endowment and legacy, we have to learn from models that work. We are not sophisticated enough yet, but we’re working on it. Remember that the money has been tight all around. Also, just a short time ago, there was no Facebook out there. We didn’t have addresses for alum, nor any way to track their whereabouts. We didn’t have the tools—but now we do. Professionalizing the field is the most critical thing we can do.
Development professionals should start with the assumption that their graduates had great day school experiences—and take it from there. We hope that today’s alum will become tomorrow’s donors. But it’s not only about money—it’s about connections, stories of impact. It’s about advancing the day school tradition. Even if they don’t have the net worth to give, we want alumni to put their own kids in day school.
Let’s start by finding out where our alum have ended up. What are their professions? Where are they putting their energy? Whether they are in a rock band or engaged as social justice activists, they are the products of a lifestyle that was nurtured by their day school experience—walking ads for attending Jewish day school!
What makes for an effective board?
Two quotes come to mind:
- Wealth, wisdom, and workers; and
- Give or get off!
It’s not acceptable to be a Board member without this understanding.
Beyond that, board size also matters—no more than 18 or 19 members. Consistent meetings are extremely important, as is the focus of those meetings. Boards often flounder in the day school world because they focus on too many local issues. They get bogged down and caught up in issues such as hiring and firing, or what the librarian is or isn’t doing. The Head should be dealing with these issues, not the Board. It’s hard, but Boards should tend to their own business—looking at governance, evaluating the director in good times and bad, helping to raise money, and communicating regularly to ensure there are no surprises. Involving community members on the Board is also a good idea, because they tend to keep the conversation on target.
Thank you so much for speaking with us today. Any last thoughts?
We are at an extraordinary crossroads in Jewish education. Going forward we must focus on two things: making day schools affordable and helping day school professionals develop a unique value proposition. We are living in difficult times, but I am convinced that Jewish day schools offer a way to live in this fragile world. They offer sustenance in good times and bad. We need to be intentional about our values and how we live our lives, and I think day schools are all about that.
Let me also say that I live a life of gratitude. I have only positive ways of looking at the future. Wherever I travel, I’m always excited to meet passionate people. In North America, Jewish day school folks are passionate about PEJE—PEJE is there and has been there for them for the last 15 years. I am so proud of the work we are doing.