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    Make a Difference in Just 15 Minutes


    I was reading my horoscope the other day (OK, admit it….you do it too!).  I love the ones that just get me so specifically and perfectly:  “you are brilliant and will have a very special moment with a handsome stranger today”.   Or the ones that are just so exactly right for me “today you will lose 19 lbs just by eating chocolate”…
    But this one really stopped me in my tracks:
    “The expression is true: The days are long, but the years are short. What can you do for 15 minutes a day that, by this time next year, will have added up to something remarkable?”
    I immediately went to my Blackberry (yes I do have the last working Blackberry in existence!)….today….let’s see….facilitating a Strategic Plan Task Group meeting at the Foodbank, a fundraising 101 class to teach at the Special Olympics, a meeting at the grocery store and a date with a great new novel.  Where oh where can I find that 15 minutes….and whatever can I do with that 15 minutes today that could one day be considered remarkable?
    So, in order to avoid the whole big confusing mess, I decided to go for a walk.  Taking my usual route through the mini-park four blocks from my house, my head hunched into my shoulders to stop the icy cold wind and drizzle from running down my back, I passed by the four usual homeless folks huddled on their benches….cold, wet, miserable….and I just turned myself around, walked on home, heated up a huge pot of soup, put it into four containers, toasted up some crunchy bread, added some power bars, chips, chocolate for good measure, added four pairs of dry socks and went right back to the mini-park and delivered the warmth.  And I looked at my watch….15 minutes had passed….15 minutes to make someone’s horrible terrible miserable day just a little bit better. 
    For me it was just one little 15 minute excursion, but a lovely man in my town took all of his 15 minutes when he learned of the crises with the shelter overflow during the winter and created a program called NEST – Norfolk Ecumenical Shelter Team – a program where many of the synagogues and churches (and even the JCC) in our town each take one or two weeks during the coldest months of the year to open their multi-purpose rooms and kitchens for as many homeless individuals as they can.  He raised the money for mattresses (I use the term ever so loosely…they are actually more like Yoga mats!) to go from multi purpose room to multi purpose room, and the volunteers at the synagogue and/or church and/or JCC do the rest. 
    My friends from my mini-park tell me that everyone loves our synagogue the best because we, surprise, surprise, cook huge dinners stuffing them with hot soups and chicken and yummy desserts and then send them off with five cheese sandwiches the next day all bagged nicely with all kinds of other yummy and useful stuff.   And although the NEST program is replicated in all of our surrounding cities (unfortunately one of the cities begins with a P…not a great acronym!) there are never enough spots.  The street folks come in through a lottery system, causing many to remain on the streets on these miserable nights.
    Which begs the question each and every cold winter night: How come we were all so lucky to win the lottery of life? Why do we get to have lives that give us the world…safety, security, family, friends, sleeping in a warm home each night?  And can we use that simple 15 minutes each day to help someone who has never been, and probably will never be, a winner in the lottery of life?  Can a delivery of a bowl of soup and some dry socks first thing in the morning to some guys who live in the park add up to something remarkable??
    Yes, it surely can.   And so I ask: what can you do for 15 minutes today?

    Traditions: Keep, Ditch, or Reinvent Them?


    “Without tradition, art is a flock of sheep without a shepherd. Without innovation, it is a corpse.”
    I was home sick, lying on my couch, hopped up on cold medicine and for some reason glued to the TV waiting for a puff of smoke to come billowing out of the church chimney. I knew I was watching history but usually Days of our Lives or The Prices is Right takes precedence on a sick day agenda. I couldn’t figure out why I was so interested in the Pope elections, but I was. Then one of the reporters used the word “tradition” and a light bulb went off — or in this case, a white puff of smoke.
    tradition is a belief or behavior passed down within a group or society with symbolic meaning or special significance with origins in the past.  Traditions feel important to so many of us because they bring us comfort and safety.
    But do traditions help us — or do they hold us back?
    When you look at Judaism or any other religion, it is steeped in tradition and it’s often what people love most about their faith. I find comfort in the idea that no matter what synagogue I go to on a Friday night, the service will always be the same. With Passover in just a few days, I have been thinking a lot about what my parents’ traditions were, and what I will carry on with my own family.  My Seder, like many of yours, included telling the story of the Exodus from Egypt from the Maxwell coffee haggadahs, eating matzo, and me as the youngest singing the Four Questions. Now that I have a family of my own, I have the opportunity to reinvent what my Seder looks like and incorporate the traditions of my past, the new things I’ve learned along the way, and anything else my imagination can create.
    But what about traditions at work?  How many times have you heard the answer, “It’s how we’ve always done it.”  Sometimes that statement is about tradition — and other times, it’s just easier to do the same thing over and over again (remember: comfort and safety).  Tradition in the work place can hinder creativity and keep you stuck in the same old, same old.  Think of the program or project that you do year after year: is it still bringing in the same amount of people or raising the same amount of money?  Are you doing it because it’s a tradition and that’s how it’s always been done?  I’m not suggesting that traditions are always good or bad but what I do think is that we should always be aware of whywe are doing something year after year.  If you simply ask the question during the planning process, “are we doing this because it is truly a tradition or because it’s how it’s always been done”, you may avoid the pitfalls of getting stuck in a rut.
    So, as we approach the Passover holiday, ask yourself: what traditions do you want to keep, let go of, or reinvent?

    The Art of Asking For (and Getting) What You Need



    A few years ago, I made sure I let my family know that I wanted to really, truly celebrate the upcoming Mother’s Day. In my mind, I was expecting breakfast, served in bed, as a perfect start. The day arrived, and, like any other day, breakfast was sitting on the kitchen table. No delivery. No bed tray. Nothing special. Everyone was too busy with sports or homework, and I was disappointed that my special request wasn’t met – until I realized that I had never actually articulatedmy desires. I had “breakfast in bed” in my head – but the request never made it out of my mouth.
    How many times do you make requests that end up in disappointments? Or even worse, you expect something that you never even asked for in the first place? It can be breakfast in bed, asking a co-worker for a copy of a document (over and over again), asking for a report and getting half of the information you needed, expecting others to know what to do without any specific guidance, or getting advice from your boss but not really the advice you needed to get the job done.
    As the song tells us, “you can’t always get what you want” – but here are five good tips that can tip the odds in your favor:
    1- An effective request requires a committed speaker and a committed listener.Always ask for what you want and how you want it, rather than assuming that it is obvious to others. Make your request clear, and make sure you get the full attention you need. Stop making casual requests in the hallway, while distracted looking at your screen, or “by the way” requests. How you ask for things will determine how you will receive it in return!
    2- An effective request must include a clear and shared understanding of your standards for satisfaction.  Share your conditions of satisfaction in order to have your request fulfilled exactly as you expect it to be. Provide all the details you are thinking of, unless it is a situation in which you are flexible and open to surprises. When I asked my son to clean his room, without going into details, he did just that. Later I learned that “clean” meant one thing to me and something totally different to him (hiding things in the closet or under the desk). Yes, after a while, people learn routines and they know how you like your coffee or what you need in a daily report, but until then it is important to be as clear as you can.
    3- An effective request must include a clear deadline and a realistic agreement with those being asked. Let others know the time frame to meet your request. Things such as “at your earliest convenience”, “as soon as possible” or “promptly” are not precise enough. What seems obvious to you might not be to the other person.  It is always good to pre-establish checkpoints for long-term requests to make sure things are on track.
    4- An effective request must include the right context and mood shared by all parties involved. Make sure the right mood is set for your request. It is a fact that the right conversation in the wrong mood is the wrong conversation. It is preferable to wait to make a request than to just make it when the context or the emotions are not the adequate ones. In this case is better to take a break – this could be a request in itself – and come back for a fresh new start later on.
    5- An effective request needs that those you are involving are capable of delivering. Verify that those you are making the request from have the capacity to fulfill it the way you expect. Don’t just assume; check and verify with them.  This is good practice. If you are asking someone with a broken leg, on crutches, to go to get you a coffee with lots of milk from the busy cafeteria down the block, and bring it to you in the next 5 minutes before your next meeting, you might end up getting a late and cold latte!
    The following Mother’s Day, I knew better. Sitting around the table, paying full attention to each member of my family, and in the right mood, I said, “I have a request to make for Mother’s Day. I want to have breakfast served in bed on a tray with a red rose, with fresh squeezed orange juice, 2 scrambled eggs, 1 wheat toast with fat free butter. I want it at 9:00 am”. Then I checked that everyone’s schedule would allow for it, that they understood what I wanted and why it was important to me, and that they were ok with it. Every year now I get my tray in bed, and unless I want something different, I don’t need to request it anymore. The rest of the day is filled with surprises, which is always good too.
    I didn’t want to leave my requests for my special day to chance – and now, using these five tips, you don’t have to leave any day to chance.

    How Our Words Can Make It or Break It

    How Our Words Can Make It or Break It




    Mark Twain once said “the difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” I think his statement perfectly sums up a recent challenge I had with one particular word.



    I was recently exploring the opportunity to partner with a colleague in a joint venture. A part of this offer was to sign a contract highlighting the expectations of our work together. As much as I saw a great mutual benefit in this opportunity, it was difficult for me to commit. I felt stuck in the decision making process and couldn’t identify exactly what was holding me back. It wasn’t until I had a discussion with my colleague that it became obvious to me what was the problem: the word “CONTRACT”. While this word is used in so many contexts, to my subconscious it meant LACK OF TRUST (we have each other’s commitment, why do we need a contract?) and a sense of BEING LOCKED IN that wasn’t very comfortable to me. 



    But of course, only my subconscious mind was aware of that. In the meantime, my conscious brain was looking for different excuses of why this partnership was not really going to work out.  When I finally questioned my own emotions and admitted that I loved the potential business opportunity but not the idea of a “CONTRACT”, my colleague offered me an alternative: “What if we call it an “AGREEMENT” instead?”



    WOW. I could literately feel my muscles relaxing and my whole body shifting to a spa mode, all because of this new word, “AGREEMENT”. Agreement (I am part of it by choice) vs. Contract (I am locked in). Granted, while the document would be the same, each word carried a different vibe and meaning to me that generated an emotion.



    Emotions are caused by our thoughts, and our thoughts are caused by our beliefs and experiences supported by our values. For example, for those of us who grew up reading the Grimm Brothers books, the word “Stepmother” is equivalent to undeniable evil (Snow White, Hansel and Gretel, Cinderella and Rapunzel – these poor kids…Where was Child Protective Services back then?!) However, this is a terrible misrepresentation to the wonderful, most loving and caring stepmothers out there.  It is possible that our understanding of our perceived emotions is based on fiction or beliefs that hold no ground in present time or in our real lives.



    I had once coached a finance executive (let’s call him Mike) in the pharmaceutical industry who was having a hard time obtaining job offers once he had relocated back to the States after many years working abroad. In efforts to fit right back in corporate American culture, he had forgotten the power of words and emotions. Here’s a typical example: Mike would get a job offer and become very excited. He would then thank the HR director and say that he would have his lawyer look into the offer and get back to her in a few days. To his dismay, within 24 hours, the HR director would call back, apologizing that the company had decided to hold back hiring for this position at this point in time or another politically correct answer that basically said: “really? You haven’t even started working here and you are already talking about lawyers??!”    I truly believe that Mike’s subconscious was trying to guide him to act in a way he felt would make him look even more professional and detailed oriented (as the company would have certainly liked him to be), however his words (and choice of tone) would be turning him in the wrong direction. When we talked more about the gap between his intentions and the actual impact, we were able to look at the language he was using and the emotions they would generate in different situations with different people and certain moments.



    So how can we make sure we carefully use the right word instead of the almost right word? I guess this depends on the underline values we each hold and the emotional attachment that we place to words individually. I’ve learned that it is a good investment taking the time to understand what does a word truly mean to me and realize that it may hold a completely different meaning to someone else. Pausing to think, seeking for input from others and asking for clarification might be the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.

    Balancing Our Heads and Our Hearts

    Balancing Our Heads and Our Hearts
    by Jane Stein

    Several weeks ago I was facilitating a board of Directors’ retreat for one of my nonprofit clients.  I had invited the Chairman of the Board of a larger client organization, a gentleman who had retired from a Fortune 500 company as a very senior vice president, to do a lunch talk about what he believed it took to build the very best nonprofit board.  In his remarks, he spoke about how when he was working in the for profit world, life was simple…all goals were clearly defined, all decisions were made with his head.  But when he entered the universe of the nonprofits, he found very quickly that all decisions had to be a balance between his head and his heart.
    How we handle this balance is different for all of us….a hungry child needs our food banks to have shelves and shelves and shelves filled with food….but for our food banks to have shelves and shelves and shelves filled with food, we need to do a whole lot of food raising and fund raising.  We need our homeless families to have a safe place to shelter….but keeping those shelters safe and actually operating at all, means we need a whole lot of real estate and a whole of case management … and that means we need a whole lot of money.  The children, individuals and families who come to our Jewish Family Services need a whole lot of program and clinical services….and guess what…that means a whole lot of money….and our JCC’s…oy! Do they need a WHOLE LOT OF MONEY!
    When we sit on the boards or are a part of the staff of a nonprofit we are a part of a huge continuum of services. We work to lift those in our community up through Maslow’s Hierarchy (you know the one: food, safety and shelter first, and then if you are lucky, one day you can rise up through education and meaningful employment to “self actualization” whatever the heck that is!) If we do not find the balance between our heads and our hearts, we will find that wonderful 501(C)3 that we love so dearly has to close its doors.
    Finding this balance is not an option.  It is one of the two responsibilities of Board membership (governance and support). Being the best board member possible means being fiscally responsible no matter how compelling the face of that one more child you could be serving may be. If you have no organization because you had to close the doors, what good are you to anyone?  And being professional staff at any of our nonprofit organizations does not mean working for slave wages, but it does mean working as efficiently and effectively as possible so that every dollar is wisely spent.
    I encourage every organization with which I work to understand the mantra “No money, no mission!”  (More on this subject in future blogs!)  And I encourage them all to understand that we choose to work with nonprofit organizations because all of that heart stuff is built right in.
    I always believe that our mission when we work with nonprofits, is to help to repair some part of our tired, worn out world.  And of course all of us, representing so many of the very best of the nonprofits in our Jewish world, understand this mission from the very core of our being….we work (for financial remuneration or for no financial remuneration at all) because we so deeply believe that we were placed on this earth to make a contribution to this repair, and to do it under the Kingship of G-d. 
    So……does this mean we lead more with our hearts than with our heads?  You bet! 



    Why Being Spock Rocks: The Power of Not Being the #1

    by Donna Schwartz, 

    For many years I wanted to be an Executive Director of a non-profit.  As a person who is very goal oriented, I was always aware of what my next career move should be.  And over the past 18 years I’ve managed to advance my career just about every 4 years.  So naturally, my internal alarm clock started ticking when I had been in my current position as the Assistant Director of my JCC for over 4 years.  After a lot of careful consideration, I’ve come to realize that being the second in charge is the right seat on the bus for me.  Here are the reasons why I thing being in the number 2 seat is the best location:
    1.     1. You are not the ultimate authority but you still get to celebrate all the agency wins.  It’s like being the assistant coach of your child’s little league team.  When the team wins you get credit for the win but when the parent of the child who didn’t get to play complains, they go directly to the head coach.
    2.      2. Your position can be tailored to your strengths and can change with you as your grow.  As the second in command, I can still do the things I love.  I have a passion for fundraising and throwing large-scale events.  This wasn’t part of my original job description but doing these things gives me job satisfaction and it’s great for the organization.
    3.      3. You are the pulse of the day-to-day operations.  Everyday is different and you are the one that everyone usually comes to for help and advice.  The Executive Director’s time is usually very scarce which makes you the go to person for staff.
    4.      4. You don’t always to have to be the face of the agency.  As the Executive Director, your job is to shake hands and kiss a lot of babies.  When you are at an event the Executive Director is the one that always has to make the speeches.  As the Assistant Executive Director, you can be behind the scenes and not have to be in front of everyone.
    The money and prestige of being number one comes at a price.  For many this is worth it but for me the above reasons out weigh my ego’s need to chant “I’m number 1!”  I’m happy being Spock to my Captain Kirk.

    The Gifts Conversation

    “I’m glad I caught you. I wanted to tell you a story about your kids,” began the principal of my third-grade twins’ Solomon Schechter school. And despite her casual tone, I suddenly stood erect, sucked in my stomach (as if that would help), and readied myself to hear an account that would require “a little chat” at home.

    “So, Jacob and Sophie were playing basketball at recess together,” she began.

    (Recess? Ok, not usually a problem. Together? Hmmm…isn’t that why we chose a school with three third grade classes? For less “togetherness”? Togetherness for our kids is not next to Godliness – in fact, it’s in a coffee klatch with Madness, Boisterous and Riotous).

    To read the rest of this article from the Jewish Week, click here!

    Deborah Grayson Riegel, MSW, ACC

    Come on In, The Water’s Fine!

    This morning, I told Jacob and Sophie that we’d be going swimming after baseball camp. By “we” I meant my husband and the two of them. “Why aren’t you coming?” Jacob asked, annoyed. “Oh, I’ll be there….I’m just not going in,” I told him. This was not – or shall I say, should not, have been news to him. I show up at all kinds of bodies of water — even in my bathing suit, which is one of my least favorite parts of the whole ordeal. But getting into a chilly lake, ocean or pool just is not my cup of (iced) tea.

    “Mom,” Sophie said calmly. “How about if we give you as much time as you need to get used to the water? We promise not to rush you.” “Yeah!” Jacob said, in a rare moment of twinship.

    I have to say that I’m considering it. If Jacob and Sophie keep their end of the bargain – which, as they know, includes no splashing, rushing or taunting — perhaps I can take my time to make something I dread more enjoyable for me, which will make a great experience for my kids.

    Where do you need to take it slow so that you can acclimate? What’s your “cold water”? And who can help you make it a warmer experience?

    To your Success without the Tsuris,

    Decisions, Decisions!

    I was on the phone with a coaching client today (we’ll call her Dee) who was struggling with an embarrassment of riches: she has so many opportunities available to her – both personally and professionally – that she feels overwhelmed by the decisions she needs to make. Love her or envy her (no, “hate her” is not an option — I am VERY protective of my clients!), but chances are you know her – or you’ve been her. How do we decide what to take on and what to pass on?

    I asked Dee to think about a decision she had made recently that felt like a “no-brainer”. Her example was taking her daughter on a college interview with the Dean of the school. Despite the fact that she had made the decision without an awareness of a decision-making process, I asked her to think about the factors that made this decision an easy yes. Here’s what she came up with:

    • Unique opportunity
    • Important/Makes an impact
    • Fun
    • Timely
    • Aligns with her values
    • Manageable cost(s)
    • Potentially large payoff(s)

    Look at that! Even without knowing that she had a set of decision-making criteria, she was using it. Then, we took this list and tested it against several other decisions she had made — and some that were pending. The criteria worked, and we realized that we had one to add to it:

    • Gut

    That’s right. Dee often relied on an inner sense that yelled “yay” or “nay” to her when she had a choice to make. And interestingly, as soon as we named “gut” as a key decision-making factor for her, she reported that her stomach had been hurting her enough as of late that she had called the doctor. And while I am certainly an advocate for modern medicine, I do believe that our bodies give us powerfully useful information about what’s going on in our heads.

    How about you? Think about a decision you have made recently that felt easy-breezy to you and see if you can back it up into a set of criteria you can use for future decisions that don’t feel as cut and dried.

    And post your criteria here — I’d love to see how your head works!

    To your Success without the Tsuris,


    “Deb has been a respected speaker and facilitator for a number of our JCC conferences over the past few years. While I've heard about her energy, hard work in preparing, and meaningful content, it took her recent keynote speech at our annual JCCs of North America Professional Conference to make me realize what an incredible asset she is. Watching her present a content-filled, energetic, and personalized session -- without using any notes -- was very impressive. Deb is a multi-talented, serious, and impactful presenter."

    – Allan Finkelstein, Past President and CEO, JCC Association of North America

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