Tuesday, November 10, 2009
The Great Numbers Charade: A Condemnation of the Israeli Advocacy and Jewish Community Non-Profits
The Jewish and Israel Advocacy communities’ operating procedure of procuring as many sponsors as possible for an event is indicative of the communities’ larger misunderstanding of the importance of numbers. These organizations have built an entire cult around the gathering of as many people as possible without appreciating the purposes of gathering them. The result is a failing system and a deceived base of donors.
In the past week alone, Artists 4 Israel has been invited to participate in three events related to Israel advocacy or the Jewish community. For all three, we are to be one of many multiple partners. In none of the cases, were we specifically sought out for our unique, creative talents or our radical yet highly effective advocacy methods. Instead, we were asked to join simply as a matter of coalition building, known, more honestly, as number padding.
In specific proof of the sheer silliness of some of the “partnerships,” we were asked to co-sponsor an event with a traditionally religious organization. When our President, Craig Dershowitz and his tattooed sleeves entered the meeting with our Director of Programming, who is a non-Jewish female wearing uncovered elbows and knees, things were a bit odd. All sides agreed to the partnership although, for Artists 4 Israel, at least, we were unsure why other than that we were doing a favor to the other organization.
The belief is that so many chefs, rather then spoil the soup, would bring that many more diners. However, when the restaurant can’t handle the influx of customers, no one is properly served. That is because community building and/or advocacy is not a popularity contest. What it is or, at the least, should be, is a targeted, specific, cleverly-designed program intended to achieve a clear end.
In the past few years, such groups as the ones I am discussing have been forced to communicate their worth to their many donors and benefactors. Advocacy groups and Jewish organizations had to come up with a measurable, quantifiable justification for their existence. They have traded their clear end game and purpose and placed in its stead, a headcount. Non-profit organizations in the spaces we are describing, love to brag about how many people come to their events and, then, to prove the worth of these events, count how many come to some other Jewish and/or Israel-themed event. One must consider the law of diminishing returns.
The methodology of proving worth by attendance is a tautological maze of meaningless. Attendance breeds attendance, yes. But, does attendance prove the value of attendance? No. We are accepting that attendance matters only because it happens? What occurs with attendance is that, eventually, it becomes unsustainable and, like all rising spikes must eventually plateau. When that plateau is the very life blood of the organization, it looks more like a flatline. So, every few years a number of Jewish organizations spring up, they attract large numbers of followers, their growth ebbs and eventually dies. New organizations take their place.
Failure is continuous. The Jewish community of New York gets no stronger and Israel’s position in the world and in public opinion grows ever more tenuous. I can think of a number of organizations in the Israeli Advocacy community who brag about how many people they have “reached” or “educated.” If we were to believe their numbers we would all be living pretty right now, sunning ourselves on a Tel Aviv beach while Iranian nuclear scientists discovered new sources of energy for joint Persian-Semitic fly fishing boats. Instead, we are on the cusp of nuclear annihilation while the international community raises a collective shrug of “so what?”
For the sake of Israel and for the sake of the Jewish community, I beg the leaders of related non-profit organizations to remove themselves from the numbers charade. Stop stealing the hard-earned money of donors for your high-school style social events. Consider your purposes and identify specific ends to achieve them.
Artists 4 Israel is sending three – only three – artists to Art Basel in Miami, the largest, international showing of art. Our three are the best and most capable of artists and, as they will be the first in this area, advocating on either side of the Israeli issue, they are more important than any number of others. Maybe, 3 is the magic number after all.