The Great Balancing Act: Public Offical or Social Innovator

For years we have been witnessing charitable institutions hiring business executives in order to increase fundraising or professionalize the organization.  I remember the big news when the President of Columbia University, George Rupp, accepted the presidency of the International Relief Committee in 2002.  Some of us alumni were bewildered by the move — leaving the private sector for the public sector, unheard of!?!?  However, what seemed like an isolated incident then, was actually indicative of many nonprofit organizations.

But is the reverse true?  Are the corporate and public sectors luring away nonprofit executives in the hope of improving their social standing and/or activities?

The corporate sector seems to have caught on to the trend that charity is in style.  Many organizations in the United States and in Israel donate a percentage of their profits to charitable causes.  In some professions, like banking in the United States, there are laws demanding as such.  Here in Israel, every serious bank has a page on their website entitled “BaKehila,” [in the community] that details the bank’s charitable efforts.

I would like, though, to leave the corporate sector aside for the moment.  What sparked this post was really my experience vis-à-vis the public sector, more specifically the Israeli Government.

I think that all too often we have seen nonprofit giants and social innovators (even before such lingo became commonplace) jump ship to a position in some form of the government, leaving their non-profit life behind.  Once in the public sector, the constituents – myself included – quickly lose faith in these leaders when seeing them in action. Sometimes, even to the point that their past deeds and accomplishments are completely forgotten.

Why can’t these past directors and founders of nonprofits continue to work for the common good while simultaneously holding public office?

Thus, I was pleasantly surprised — almost giddy even — when I read about two would-be laws brought forth by former nonprofit lay leaders who are currently members of The Knesset [Israel's Parliament].  The Hebrew nonprofit support site, Zavit Shalosh [The Third Perspective], reported last month the following:

  • MK [Member of Knesset] Ilan Ghilon, board chairman and youth coordinator for various amutot [Israel nonprofit organization] from 1986 through 1995, put forth a change in the law that would allow children under the age of 15 to volunteer with nonprofit organizations.  The goal of the law is to allow children above the age of 12 to use their free time (which they have plenty of) productively, volunteering their time and growing from the experience gained from helping the less fortunate (in all of its myriad forms).
  • MK Zeev Bielski, head of the Jewish Agency from 2005-2009, put forth a change to the law that would grant new immigrants and other less fortunate groups the opportunity to apply for free legal help from volunteers who are experts in the relevant law fields through an initiative (aptly) called “Certified Volunteer Advocates.” The goal of the addendum is to allow these underprivileged plaintiffs level the playing field with the defendants — generally companies and business owners that can afford to be represented in small claims courts with paid professionals.

The two updates by themselves are not earth-shattering.  However, I do think they represent thoughtful initiatives that will actually help nonprofit organizations and the people that require their services.

I have always been a believer that if you are willing to criticize then you should be willing to praise.  My hat goes off to these two members of parliament.  Call me an optimist, naïve, or just plain foolish, but, all in all, I think it’s an encouraging sign:  The passion is still alive, nonprofit executives can enter the public sector AND work for the common good.

Tizku LeMitzvot [May you continue to merit doing good deeds],


P.S.  Know of any other examples?  Please share.

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