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Idea #3: Communal Infrastructure

Have you been on a non-profit board before – synagogue, Jewish agency, non-Jewish social service provider?  If so, I suspect that one of the issues – if not THE issue you dealt with – was budget.  Non-profits are chronically underfunded (no one I know seriously suggests they offer too many services to too many people).

Our local Jewish non-profits are all relatively small, so they spend their scarce resources on the most important (or only) personnel — rabbi, executive director, administrator.  Many times this means that other critical positions are either part-time, outsourced, or volunteer — think bookkeeper/business manager, teacher, clerical/administrative, etc. Health insurance and other benefits, if offered at all, are often only offered to full-time staff.

What if we organized for business efficiency?  One model is a non-profit “Community Corporation” that could act as a Professional Employer Organization (PEO).  This Community Corporation would join the employees of all the organizations into one larger employer that could

  • have access to professional HR resources,
  • create a larger benefits pool (giving the community decent buying power for insurance and other benefits)
  • create full-time employment for valuable community workers that now have to find multiple part-time jobs in order to make ends meet.
  • provide a well-trained, flexible workforce for community organizations.

Just one example: teachers who work in multiple synagogue schools/camps would have 1 paycheck and year-end W-2 (rather than multiple), and a benefit plan (rather than none).

Beyond the opportunities to provide more benefits to employees, a Community Corporation could also:

  • negotiate for services and products used (buying power) – including discounts and payment terms;
  • negotiate for a corporate line of credit that could be used to smooth out the cash flow peaks and valleys that most small non-profits go through during the year;
  • contract for a shared telecommunications and computer infrastructure;
  • provide pooled cell phone account to minimize the individual costs of service.
  • include a central office for “PO box”, clerical help, space and infrastructure to any of our small community organizations: meeting and conference space, copying and mailing equipment.

This approach may enable us to do more at no more cost. Organizations will still have to pay their fair share for goods and services received.  Offering better benefits is key to attracting and retaining quality people and to the further growth of the quality of services that organizations provide.  By collaborating in shared infrastructure we can get more “bang for our buck” – always a goal of budget conversations!

EDITOR’S NOTE: For more about “28 Days, 28 Ideas Local Edition,” click here.

About David Fellows

I've been writing things since grammar school, and served as a writer, photographer and/or an editor on my junior high and high school newspapers; the Daily Trojan at USC (where I earned my journalism degree); the student newspaper at the Anderson School at UCLA (where I earned my MBA); and written and edited countless business documents and presentations in the ensuing twenty years. I've been involved Jewishly since my bris and in Boulder since 1995. I'm married to my Executive Director Cheryl, and we have two children, Lauren and Ethan.

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One comment

  1. Mr. Fellows,

    I happened on your article and thought that was interesting. I am not sure if there is a way to "pool" groups together for common infrastructure as you say. We are a PEO in Colorado and we are able to obviously do this. I am not sure what the demographics of the community are, but we would be willing to look at your community as a whole and possibly offer volume discounts. We have 5 different medical insurance options and have experienced less than 10% (more like 7%) increases. This is compared to the marketplace of 15-25%. Our rates are very competitive. If you are interested, drop me an email.

    Best Regards,

    Rod Clift