Circles of Success

Suzy Bookbinder, Deborah Davidson Shapiro

“All knowledge you’ll ever learn, every experience you’ll have in life, are the circles. They’re not the center. If you don’t have a solid center, you’ll have jagged circles, incomplete circles, many different circles.” Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson

As the last issue of HaYidion discussed, the only way to have the operations and philanthropy aspects of a day school be successful is if they are closely aligned to the school’s mission. Too often, business departments are kept separate from a school’s educational wing. At our school, New Community Jewish High School in West Hills, California, the entire organizational plan has been created and refined to ensure that operations and philanthropy never deviate from our mission and vision. The head of school and board of trustees have intentionally created a circular structure that connects the business operations with education, operations, philanthropy, board and students. In doing so, all the decisions of each of these departments can revolve around the number one focus of a school, providing the best Jewish educational experience for our student body.

On the operations side, this structure creates a synergistic dynamic that has led to many operational initiatives. For example, investing in greener High Volume Air Conditioning (HVAC) chillers and master control units that will reduce our carbon footprint was based on a board decision which will be financed by an advancement department initiative. This was inspired by the needs and input of our faculty and student body. On the philanthropy side, this structure has led to an inclusive, circular system that involves numerous stakeholders including the head of school, board, staff, volunteers, students, faculty and community members to make the process a good giving experience, so instead of just raising money, people are invested in philanthropy.


To ensure that the financial realm of a day school stays mission-centered and avoids the pitfalls of siloing, it is important to ensure there is a clearly articulated organizational chart that supports this. Our school’s organizational chart is circular, a configuration specifically made to ensure all parts of the organization are connected to one another. While the head of school sits in the A ring, and is ultimately responsible for the decisions of the school, all the other parts of the ring are connected and the different rings (the A ring, the B ring, and the C ring) are permeable and set up in a way to encourage and foster collaboration and interaction.

To solidify this vision, the education half of the school is part of the same circle as the business half of the school. In our organizational chart, the educational wing of the school is the top half of the circle while the business side is the bottom half, but each is intentionally attached and connected to the other. One way that this connection is ensured is through a weekly meeting where not only the members of educational wing are present but key members of the business half of the circle are represented, as well (COO, chief development officer, director of admissions, director of marketing, and the director of facilities). While this meeting (termed our “B-ring” meeting for the circle of staff that are required to attend, although all faculty are invited) is meant to keep the head of school and all other parts of the school deeply informed and involved in all aspects of the school.

This B-ring meeting also allows for the business side to know what is happening on the educational side of the organization. Through this collaborative and iterative approach, the business employees are tied directly to the educational employees and vice versa so that all the discussions and decisions can flow from our mission statement of “building the next generation of Jewish leaders.” This approach is modeled after the following story:

During a visit to the NASA space center in 1962, President Kennedy noticed a janitor carrying a broom. He interrupted his tour, walked over to the man and said, “Hi, I’m Jack Kennedy. What are you doing?”

“Well, Mr. President,” the janitor responded, “I’m helping put a man on the moon.”

In the early years, NASA’s singular mission was to put a man on the moon and every employee from the top to the bottom knew that whatever job they were doing was meant to further that goal. We want to ensure a similarly shared focus at our school. Through our organizational approach, all sectors come together on a weekly basis to hear and discuss what is happening at the school and make philosophical and mission-centric decisions. In so doing, we try to ensure that every employee and every decision made, whether related to finance, admissions, development or education, always stays true to our mission.


The education and nurturing of Jewish leaders does not happen without the support of the operational and advancement side of our organization. Our operational decisions are deeply intertwined with the advancement department, the board of the trustees, and the educational needs of the school. Every decision is looked at through the lens of our mission and the long-term view of sustainability of the school.

An example from this year demonstrates the way that our circular organization impacts operations. The chillers for the high volume air conditioning system needed to be changed. Teachers and students had complained about the daily variability of the classroom temperature and the facilities department had identified inefficiencies in the system. Therefore, operationally, there was a need for a substantial ($500,000+) capital expense. This is not the obvious, frontline type of donation advancement would generally be able to recruit.

Therefore, out of conversations within B-ring and the facilities department, the facilities committee of the board of trustees (a group of lay leaders who understand the need to maintain our infrastructure) was approached. Based on the mission of the school and the push from student groups, the facilities department challenged the facilities and operations side of the organization to research HVAC chillers and master control systems that were both efficient and greener. The operations end then presented to the committee and board what the new HVAC system would save in future utilities expenses and the impact the greener system would have on our school’s carbon footprint.

This proposal led to a deeper discussion between the board, the head of school and the operations department to research initiatives that would save the school both future utility costs and reduce our impact on the environment. This collaboration led to an initiative to create a strategic plan to research and install solar panels at our campus to virtually eliminate our reliance on the electrical grid. The board has since included the solar energy initiative as part of our strategic vision. On the educational side, we have worked with our environmentally focused student groups to learn how a business can positively impact the environment, and we will plan to have these groups as part of the process of rolling out the initiative.


“The heart of philanthropy is the art of relationship building. The mutual creation of that intersection between the organization’s mission and the donor’s philanthropic mission.” Hank Rosso

 Our advancement department has created an internal structure that mirrors the organizational chart of the school. Within the philanthropy program, the head, board, staff, volunteers, donors, faculty and students work in a cohesive, communicative team model. This model is always driven by the good giving experience of our donors. This model directly embodies our mission as it relates to the good educational experience for each and every student as the school helps to create the next generation of Jewish leaders.

The circular structure provides for consistent and concise communication. It provides opportunities for thoughtful discussion, insights, differing and constructive opinions while supporting the opportunity to create strategic vision. It motivates from the bottom up as well as from the top down.

The philanthropy program is also closely aligned with the culture of the school. Instead of fundraising, we use the word philanthropy. The implication of this semantic change is to understand that the root of the word philanthropy is “love of mankind.” Philanthropy is about human relationships, not just about giving money. Our model is driven by these relationships and not merely for the financial gain. The best example of this is the recent naming gift given by a family whose child no longer attends the school. Due to the relationships that had been created over the prior years, the family approached us to make the gift, in spite of the fact that they would not personally benefit from their generous donation.

Stewardship, an important tool that is often neglected in the nonprofit sector, is about the circular relationships that we have with our donors. From the initial approach, through the cultivation and solicitation of a gift, we are building relationships. Our success is based on the relationships; we strive for the person-to-person model, donors soliciting other donors. We do not align ourselves with the university model or the Jewish community model which relies heavily on staff soliciting donors.

In order for this process to be successful, we must exercise ethical accountability in the use of contributed resources. Similar to the mission of our educational goals where the students and parents invest in an education and Jewish leadership development that culminates with concrete accomplishments, we are similarly responsible to provide the proof of accomplishment based on the donor’s requests.

In this way, we try to create a good giving experience for our donors; the philanthropy staff are driven in a similar way that the educational staff work to create a positive experience for our families and students. The good giving experience means asking and listening. It means providing the opportunity for donors, students, parents, staff and faculty to learn, be motivated, and to take action. It means being at the forefront of dynamic change and aligning the knowledge of the A-ring (head of school) with the needs of the community. It means being able to intertwine the needs of so many individuals with the needs of one dynamic institution.

“Alice came to a fork in the road. ‘Which road do I take?’ she asked. ‘Where do you want to go?’ responded the Cheshire Cat. ‘I don’t know,’ Alice answered. ‘Then,’ said the Cat, ‘it doesn’t matter.’” Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

At NCJHS, it matters where our roads lead. Our school has been intentionally organized to ensure no road is straight and singular. Instead, all our roads are circular and interconnected to ensure that our mission of creating the “next generation of Jewish leaders for whom Jewish values shape their vision.” It is important that the educational, operational, and philanthropic wings of the school are created to have the same goal and close communication and that they do not become siloed. For if they avoid this hazard, turning the Cheshire Cat’s warning on its head, your school will have a better idea of knowing where they are going and how to arrive at that goal.

Suzy Bookbinder is in her 8th year as the Chief Development officer at New Community Jewish High School, and has served as a professional philanthropist in the Jewish community for over 30 years. [email protected]


Deborah Davidson Shapiro returned to the city where she grew up when she joined the NCJHS team in August of 2013 as the Chief operating officer, after 25 years as a CFO in corporate America. [email protected]


Mark H. Shpall is the Dean of Student, AP Government teacher, and director of community programming at NCJHS. He is entering his 12th year on the full-time faculty following a 9 year career as a civil litigator in the Los Angeles area. [email protected]

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HaYidion Money Matters Winter 2014
Money Matters
Winter 2014