Brian Shirken is a Wexner Heritage LA alumnus, the current co-chair of the Leadership Pillar of the Los Angeles Jewish Federation, and former Real Estate Division Chair. Brian can be reached at

So here is something to think about! What responsibility have our Jewish communities assumed for identifying, training and placing Jewish leaders? Based on what is going on in the majority of our communities, the answer is clearly very little. 

While organizations like The Wexner Foundation, pick up some of the slack by identifying those who appear to be the best and the brightest and providing the Jewish part of a Jewish leader’s education; and temples, camps, schools and Federations try to identify those who are involved and place them in meaningful leadership roles, many of the people placed do not have the tools to lead.

So what should our communities be doing? Here in Los Angeles, we have spent a good amount of time thinking about this gap and coming up with a strategy to address our shortcomings.

Our Federation does a great job with engagement process but a relatively poor job of figuring out what to do with people once that have become engaged. We have developed a new model which is to have engagement lead to leadership, which we believe will naturally lead to having those leaders make meaningful and significant gifts. This turns the old model – that starting the relationship with asking for significant giving and then deigning to allow people to lead – right on its head. 

In the more contemporary generations, giving is a choice and not a tax. We can no longer presume that anyone will give to the community out of a sense of obligation. Savvy donors now give where they get the greatest value, which they find in organizations where they can make the most significant contributions both monetarily and by utilizing their skills. The impact becomes greater because they put their money AND their leadership to work for the benefit of the organization.

If you can give people the tools to lead, help them identify the organizations in the Jewish Community that are consistent with their passions, help place them in leadership roles within those organizations and then mentor them through their paths of leadership while providing continuing education you begin to have a compelling strategy.

The process starts out with identifying the most committed and passionate future leaders in the community through engagement initiatives and developing training programs at an appropriate level for those leaders.

We have developed what we have categorized as tier 1 and tier 2 leadership programs which have been directed toward specific industry groups. We are in the process of creating programs which will be open to the broader community. The target is always excellence and our eyes always are on the value proposition by creating a product where the demand outstrips the supply.

We have created a placement infrastructure which identifies the strengths and passions of the leaders we have trained and which is inventorying all leadership positions available in our community. It then helps to place these leaders in positions where they can make the greatest contributions. 

All leaders in tier 2 programs (which run for two years and include a completely subsidized trip to Israel) are given mentors who are responsible for helping leaders in their personal, business and philanthropic lives. These mentors also contribute a significant gift that funds the program wholly. 

In partnership with a local Jewish educational institution, we are also developing continuing education programs for professional leaders which will ultimately be expanded to lay leaders.

Our goal is to institutionalize this process so that within 3 years we will be training, placing and mentoring 100 new leaders a year in our community.

Will Jewish GNP increase as a result of this strategy? Will more Jewish leaders lead within the Jewish Community? Will these ideas be picked up and implemented in other cities? We sure hope so.