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The Journey from Lay to Professional Leadership

Posted on Friday, November 16, 2018 by Caryn Rosen Adelman

When I reflect on my personal journey as a lay, communal and civic leader to a paid professional, consulting to and for philanthropists and philanthropies, my first reaction is that it wasn’t easy.

As a lay leader I had reached the top of every organization in which I chose to be involved. I was given incredible opportunities to represent, lead and shape organizations and institutions, but at some point I wanted more.
 
The “professionalism” of volunteers was “talked but not walked.” Most Jewish professionals were coming with a social work background and certainly gender and equity were issues. I chose to gain credibility in my transition to professionalism by obtaining a Master’s Degree in Philanthropy and Development. I also chose to obtain my degree from a non-Jewish institution. It was a serious three-year degree with a thesis and when I finished and proudly presented myself to my Jewish colleagues, they either shrugged or viewed me as a threat.

Because I would not compromise my place as lay leader, I chose to work professionally outside of the Federation world. I could maintain my leadership positions locally, nationally and internationally, but bring the value added of vast knowledge of and from the “other side.” While the field of philanthropy and development has grown and now includes many “insiders” and "outsiders,” donor relations and donor integrity is still a challenge for many.

Most of my professional work has been to work institutionally to build boards, enhance donor relations and develop strategic initiatives for sustainability. What I bring with me are lifelong relationships of trust, competence and passion.

My journey continues.

 

Wexner Heritage Alum Caryn Rosen Adelman (Chicago 2,) was born and raised in the Midwest (USA) where she also completed college and postgraduate degrees. Her focus has always been family first, then extended family and then the families of World Jewry. Caryn has led many organizations, including JTA, FIDF, Federation, OTZMA and JAFI. Her professional life has evolved from being CEO of a family foundation to becoming a professional consultant to and for organizations for board development and donor engagement.