From the Board: The Room Where It Happens
Prizmah board members Ann Pava, Gail Norry and Lisa Coll recently discussed the upcoming Prizmah Day School Investor Summit, taking place November 11-12 in Bal Harbour, Florida.
Why get excited about an investor summit?
Gail: It has been close to 20 years since major philanthropists who are passionate about day schools have had the chance to be in the same room. A lot has changed in these years, and the time has come to make a bold, serious statement about the future for Jewish day schools.
Ann: Being a Jewish day school philanthropist is lonely. Some of us are funding local schools in very significant ways without a strategic connection to the bigger picture. The Summit will create a network and give participants a sense that they have peers and colleagues who share their passion for day school and who face similar opportunities and challenges.
Lisa: We are opening up a space for conversations that can lead to big, transformative initiatives. I like to say that we are setting the stage for inspiring innovation and daring dreams.
Lisa: When Prizmah was formed almost three years ago, any sense of overlap or competition among the previous organizations disappeared. We now have one organization dedicated to Jewish day schools, and everyone is at the same table, across all sorts of denominational, geographic and other differences. Prizmah is the only table where a conversation about the future of day schools can happen, and philanthropic leaders need to be there.
Gail: Prizmah’s strategic plan focuses on innovation, catalyzing resources and leadership through our network approach. Our organization is established, and we have a roadmap for making lasting impact. What we need now is input from the major donors and community leadership to take on the “next big thing” that will keep our schools vibrant and vital.
Ann: Things have changed a lot since the first day school donor convenings. We now have success stories from places like Montreal, MetroWest New Jersey and Boston about what it looks like when communities and philanthropists partner. There is a new generation of donors who can contribute to and benefit from meeting each other and learning together.
Gail: It is a tense time for day schools and for Jewish life in general. Demographic changes mean that some small schools have gotten even smaller or that a community that once supported multiple schools is now considering consolidation. We see a generation of parents who for the most part have been less connected to Jewish education than their predecessors. And, critically, the intensive Jewish education and values day schools provide are our best preparation for young Jews who will confront virulent anti-Israel rhetoric and activities so common on college campuses. Now more than ever, we need to bring together the people who are truly charting the course for the future of day schools.
Why would someone want to attend?
Ann: In addition to the incredible networking, donors who attend the Summit will experience in a very short time an intimate program that is designed to leave lasting impressions. Speakers like Randi Zuckerberg, Mem Bernstein, Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Erica Brown, and Alison Lebovitz of PBS fame interviewing Paula Gottesman and Joel Segal will leave people inspired. Specially crafted sessions will leave participants with tangible actions to take back to their schools and communities.
Lisa: For me, in addition to the formal sessions, it is the sideline conversations, the elevator chats, where personal connections are made and ideas are shared, that can make enormous difference. I am also thrilled to have a chance to learn more about innovation from legendary day school supporters Louis and Manette Mayberg, who are opening their home to Summit participants.
Gail: You can’t underestimate interpersonal connections. I spoke recently with someone about attending the Summit, and his first reaction was, “We are all alone here.” Day schools are too important for their supporters to feel isolated.
What can we expect after the Summit?
Gail: The Summit is really designed as a working meeting. We are keyed up to hatch the next big thing—whatever that is—for day schools. The Summit will be the “room where it happens.”
Ann: I see this Summit as just the beginning, a catalyst that builds momentum in terms of relationships, ideas and connections. I expect the players at the Summit to form working groups based on the priorities that are shared.
Lisa: The Summit is asking day school investors to become ambassadors, back in their home communities and nationally. Prizmah has a vision where every Jewish family who wants a Jewish day school education can access it, and where every Jewish family in fact chooses day school for their children. That can only happen with the participation of philanthropic leaders.
My fantasy outcome for this event: the creation of a megafund so that every child who wants to can attend a Jewish day school. It can happen.
If you or a philanthropist you know is interested in attending the Summit, please contact Jenny Wechter at [email protected] for more information.