back to all episodes

How Larry Gast Cultivates Highly Engaged Community Audiences with an Entrepreneurial Spirit at Moishe House International

Show Notes:

The JDC is a 100-year-old organization, and when Larry signed on their plans for young adult engagement were limited. Further, he was only one of a few young adults working with the organization. But that presented an opportunity to participate in discussions around what the future of their engagement plans should be.  

These conversations often came back to the value of travel and experiences overseas on behalf of the organization. Not only could it foster lifelong connections for these young adults, but it could also show them a tangible impact they could make on a global scale. 

Thus, Larry and the JDC began the Entwine program to foster this sense of adventure, connection, and impact for young adults. And since it was fiercely entrepreneurial in nature, it was paramount to secure buy in at the JDC and build traction early on. 

“You have to look at your resources and who your biggest advocates are. With Entwine, our CEO and board members were already fans. But we had to get more internal buy-in and strengthen our skin because there were plenty of others who thought the program was heading in the wrong direction or shouldn’t even happen.”

A major learning for Larry here was that you can’t ignore those dissenting opinions. You have to listen to them. Learn what your strengths are, what resonates with people, and where you need to build your idea up. 

“You have to change hearts and minds to show people there are new and exciting ways to do things. Show them how your idea has the power to transform lives and support the overall mission.” 

Then, the day came for Larry to take nine years of success and lessons learned to a new organization, Moishe House International. It was very serendipitous for Larry and proof of the positive benefits his efforts with Entwine had at JDC: the theme of connection came strongly into play once more. 

“Through all my world travels with JDC, the first Moishe House I ever went to was in Buenos Aires in 2010. I saw it on the itinerary, didn’t know what it was, but I was welcomed with open arms when I showed up. Then I visited one in Kiev and Warsaw with JDC as well. I kept connecting with them internationally.” 

Moishe House International was created to get young adults involved in Jewish life and Jewish communities. Their mission was to do it in a new and exciting way, which spoke to Larry’s pioneering spirit that had flourished at JDC. Granted, he was on the fundraising side and leading a development team, which was a new challenge for him. 

“Initially development was a bit harrowing, but I realized there are a lot of people who care about what we’re doing. I just have to find them. Being ignored is part of it, being said, “No” to is part of it. It’s a new puzzle every day.” 

The anxiety around making asks never really goes away, but Larry gets past it by knowing that people are talking with him because they’re interested in Moishe House. And no matter what happens, there’s a team of dedicated, hardworking individuals back at HQ who have his back.  

Thus, as a social impact leader, it’s crucial to cultivate a strong team and help them grow however you can. For example, Larry provides career development paths for all the people on his development team that explicitly outlines what’s ahead of them and how to achieve the next rank. Openness and transparency are also a massive pieces of the puzzle for Larry’s success at Moishe House. 

“When I first joined Moishe House, our CEO and Founder David Siegelman opened up the budget in front of everyone and showed us all the income, expenses, and walked us through everything. If you’re open like this in whatever you do, and don’t hide things, people realize how much they matter to an organization and achieve better outcomes.” 

And that’s really what anyone wants at the end of the day: strong impact from their team and supporters. Listen to the full interview with Larry Gast to get even more about how he’s creating spaces for people to feel like they’re part of something bigger than themselves at all times.

Subscribe to Cause & Purpose
on your favorite platforms:


[00:00:00] Nobody's saying no to you, then you're probably not asking enough then you're probably not talking to enough people because who shoots a hundred percent from the field. It just doesn't happen. It's not really, even if it happens for a year, you're not going to replicate it. You probably shouldn't replicate it.

It's going to be really hard. Some of these conversations, it puts you on the spot and ask you tough questions. That's part of it. And yeah, I said before, I love being a fundraiser. I guess it's part of the rush. Welcome to cause and purpose the show, but the leaders, innovators, and change agents working on the front lines to solve some of the world's greatest social challenges.

I'm Mike spear and today's guest is an old friend of mine. Larry gassed. Larry is the VP of development at Moisha house international, a nonprofit organization that creates meaningful, welcoming communities for Jewish adults in a post-college world. Larry and I met originally on a 10 day trip to India with his previous organization, the Jewish joint distribution committee, and I've followed his career every.

Whether at a large organization, like the JDC or ones that more closely resemble a startup, Larry has infused the spirit of entrepreneurship into every one of his roles. He has tons of great insights to share. That will be extremely useful, no matter what the size of your organization is or what cause you might be working on.

It's great to reconnect it. It's great to catch up. I'm really excited that you're up for doing this and very much looking forward to the conversation. So thank you very much for being here. It's a pleasure. Thanks for asking me. Tell us a little bit about growing up and where you're from. I'm especially curious to know as a child or teenager, what was your experience with charity and social impact?

Was it a part of your life? How did you first kind of become aware of Sadaka doing good things in the world, wanting to make a difference? You know, how did that evolve? Growing up. I was aware of it in the way that like volunteer with boy Scouts and collect cans or the needy. And there's a snack box at Sunday school.

And that type of stuff. I do things like the JCC and other nonprofit organizations that I was sort of involved with. I didn't really think of them [00:02:00] the way I think of them now as social good agencies, nonprofit organizations, 5 0 1 C three is those types of things. Those are just like, that's where I spend my time.

That's where I played basketball. I got to camp and that type of stuff. I came back when I could, and my family thought it was important and my dad would always send me with money for tobacco. I don't think that I ever knew that I was really gonna work in this field. I think it found me. And then. Found me and I found it.

I knew that I'd found something that I was willing to really commit my life to and be passionate about. And with a career with my passions where some of those Jewish, cultural things important to you growing up, I think for me, I went to temple and everything, but I didn't feel a huge connection and I never did BBYO or anything like that.

That was that part of your upbringing. Yeah. Cause I think I probably, in some ways relate more to you with what you just said than necessarily how the rest of what I'm about to say might reflect. Yeah. I mean, I went to a Jewish preschool. I went to a summer camp and yeah, I went to Sunday school. I just liked having Jewish friends.

I went to a university of Missouri that doesn't have a ton of Jews. It wasn't really involved with Hillel, which is on campus engagement for college students or just college students. And I gravitated to Jewish friends. I ended up meeting my wife who is Jewish there. I felt connected to it. I think the thing that it all ties back to for me personally speaking from the I is that my dad would often say to me and Jewish people, we're all interconnected.

All humans are part of something. And Jews are part of something together as well. And we all need to look out for each other and see Jews on TV and Ukraine, or do you see them in China? You're connected to them. And it's important to take that seriously. I just didn't know at the time how much that would translate to my work, ultimately, so many things that exist in Jewish tradition help inform a lot of the challenges we're having today.

I'm expecting a child in a month, that type of thing, or what have humans done in the past during pandemics? How have Jewish communities handled that at 500 years ago? 800 years ago. 1500 years ago, those types of things, it sort of just reminds us in some ways we're not alone in this. This has happened before and things like a pandemic.

Was it the desire to do something social impact to your charitable generally? Or [00:04:00] was it specifically the Jewish cultural stuff that drew you into the sector? I think it was both. It's really a blend. What drew me in was an opportunity. Ultimately, I was working at a public affairs firm in New York city and my boss, there was a leader at something called UJA Federation of New York.

One of the largest federations, which is an organized collection of Jews who pool resources and give it to various causes that are in need. And I learned a lot from her in terms of how that works and what that means. And ultimately just assigned me to work on some of these things while I was working for her.

And I just thought it was so cool. I was working on this thing called the inter-agency task force on Israeli Arab issues, which focuses on Arab minority relations issues in Israel, Arab citizens of Israel, and in strengthening Israel for all of its citizens, including Arab citizens, 20% of the population.

And I just thought that was so cool. And ultimately I love the fact that. Issue in this cause and something bigger in strengthening life for the all Israelis and strengthening life for Arab citizens of Israel who have certain struggles and certain stigmas. And I love that piece. And then ultimately I feel connected to these people.

I've started talking to these people. I have this shared frame of reference. We're playing Jewish geography. We're having conversations about where they went to camp and never getting to the work. And like, I was like, oh, so it can be. It can be, we're making a difference in the world and I feel really close to the people I'm supporting and the people I'm working with in a way that I hadn't quite found.

So yeah, I was definitely drawn to both first. I was the JDC, right? The first job at JDC, the American Jewish joint distribution committee, correct. Where I was for about nine years. I'm actually a little bit fascinated by that. Tell us a little bit about the JDC. You give us the introduction. What is it? And part of the reason I ask is first of all, they're massive, but I feel like they're also the best cabs.

There are enormous and they have a huge footprint, but nobody knows. It's true. It's about, I think at this point 105 years old started basically at the start of world war II and it's international humanitarian relief organization working, not just Jewish communities, but primarily in Jewish communities overseas, outside of north America.

No [00:06:00] operations inside north America, other than administrative fundraising and engagement for young adults, which we started with it within twine, which we'll get into it a little bit as well. With our trips to India, the JDC works in 70 countries around the world, rebuilding Jewish life in certain places like the former Soviet union, where.

Tiny. Who's fairly complicated to be Jewish during the times of the communism and then working in Latin America, various different levels of community building and infrastructure building. They're working in Ethiopia on what JDC calls non-sectarian work to build Wells, to create sources of water for a remote population.

Building community and all throughout Europe, which is something that we also do at my current organization. And they do some fundraising in the Jewish community of India and the north American Jewish community is instrumental in ensuring those things can exist. And I think part of why JDC is a secret is that organization in so many ways is seeking to create sustainability amongst so many of these communities.

Yes. Put the organization's name on things, but as much as possible. Yeah. It's a JDC initiative in Ukraine and it's also the Jewish community of Odessa that we're talking about. It's not JDC thing. It's a Jewish community Kiev or a St. Petersburg, Moscow on and on that type of thing, it brings up an interesting point though.

How has the JDC funded? I just looked it up this morning. I made 400 million give or take in annual revenue, half a billion in assets. I know they do some grassroots fundraising now. But basically their history, it's a brand new initiative. So how are they funded and how do you negotiate that sense of anonymity, that desire to promote your communities and your partnerships rather than yourself, but still maintain such a high level of.

Well, a couple of things. One is I mentioned Federation in New York, UJA Federation of New York. That's one of, I don't know, 150 Jewish federations across, I think north America, something like that, a hundred fifty, a hundred sixty three, those were created to ensure alignment across Jewish communities where it's like, all of these needs are important.

Let's have a dialogue about how we can do this together, because I'm about to have a conversation for my organization, [00:08:00] with a guy who you're about to have a conversation with. And I don't want to ask them for a million dollars. If you're going to ask him for a million dollars and not seem like we're organized and why don't we just do this altogether?

And then we can pull our resources. And what these federations ultimately do is they give us significant amounts of their local communities. So I mentioned New York before, there's also one in San Diego. They give them a significant amount to their local community. And then they also say, you know what, 25% of this, that we raised annually, or whatever amount is going to go overseas.

And we'll give some to something called the Jewish agency for Israel, which promotes making Aliante Israel, moving to Israel, creating a life for yourself in Israel, learning about Israeli culture, learning Hebrew. If you're living in Germany or living in Russia, those types. And then some of it will go to an organization like JDC.

And then these federations in turn also can say to their constituents and their donors, you give us $18. 12 of those dollars is going to stay here in San Diego to support Jewish summer camps and to support work for the elderly and Holocaust survivors and number of different things. And then we'll send $6 overseas to support all different number of causes over there because that's the work of the San Diego Federation or any number of federations because they are all collectively helping drive.

That's a big piece of where that money comes from. And then JC also has a board of about 150 people, and they have to make minimum gifts that are fairly significant. They're often some of the largest philanthropists in their giving communities. There's more, there's private foundations to give as well on it.

You brought up a couple of things that I want to just dive into a little bit deeper. Given the complexity with all these organizations, the federations I'm sure all the way down to the JCCs and everybody else. How does the JDC maintain a life? Across the board and everything they do. What do you think is the unique value proposition that JDC offers that keeps them so relevant as part of the backbone of that infrastructure?

In terms of achieving alignment. I think that they do this as best as they can being in that many countries and a significant office in New York city and then Israel and all these different operations, like across 13 times zones in the former Soviet union. I think that they really do their best to [00:10:00] assess strategic plan and go out and have everyone executed and yeah.

All with the goal of supporting Jewish life, wherever Jews choose to live in the. Not to even mention all the work that they do outside of the Jewish community, in terms of that alignment, having a board of directors, that's, hands-on having a staff that's really passionate and Blaine knowledgeable, and a blend of staff on the ground in these communities and in some of these hub offices.

So that it's not just top down, like we're in New York city. And we think it's really important that you guys do your programs like this, giving a fair amount of autonomy to these different communities, to achieve their goals and to support their communities, how they need it. So you started at JDC. And given what you described with his massive board, many of whom are major philanthropists in their own market.

What was that like being thrown into that fire? What were some of your objectives as you were engaging with the board and wrangling them, what was most important to you? Yeah, it's an interesting role. I think a little bit about how that department worked at the time. We have all these different areas in which we work and we have all these different committees that help govern our work in those regions.

And I found myself all of a sudden working on basically call them desks. I was on the Africa Asia desk, which is such a weird combination of things. When you think of it, it's like, so we're talking about Morocco and we're also talking about China and also kurgastan, which is also former Soviet union a little bit, but it has this blend and like those types of things that I've often said personally, that I feel like working at JDC was like my master's or PhD in global Jewish life.

And just like touching these places and thinking about them in ways that I'd never thought of it before. One, I was educating myself and two, in terms of working with the board yet lots of personalities, ultimately though the board was there. The board is there to support the staff and to support the work and the outcomes of the organization.

And it did feel collaborative. Let's talk about entwine. What is it? What was the purpose of it? And then we'll dive in further. When I arrived at JDC, there was some limited young adult engagement. If you said to the CEO, how can somebody who isn't some of these board members or people who have significant capacity to make a real [00:12:00] philanthropic differences in the future of the organization?

How can someone like that get involved? There was some ways it was fairly limited. There was a limited participation in something called the global Jewish service Corps, where I could place north American, young adults overseas. And there's a fellowship, but for one outstanding individual every year to go plan their life abroad and go experience a number of these communities themselves.

Ultimately though there was very little and I was one. Several, but not very many young adults who are working at the organization at the time. And so I was brought in on a couple of times, this is where it's like, so what could the future of young adults engagement look like here? And we would talk about things.

And so much of it came back to travel, young adults experiencing this overseas. And you asked like, why does this exist? How do we get to that? And you haven't participated in a lot of the conceptualization of it and a big reason for the why is some of what I was talking about before. And that value proposition, if somebody believes that it's important, that there's strong Jewish life overseas, and they believe in the notion that.

Have the right to live wherever they choose to live and they don't have to move to Israel. They don't have to move to America that they can continue to make a life for themselves. And who's Pakistan, it's up to them. That's their decision. And if they need support, then perhaps that's important. And if you think that's important, you can't make a difference in that.

If you don't know it exists. And our idea was let's raise awareness for these issues. And then through that, we're raising awareness for the organization as well, and really have conversations about these issues. We started having defense in New York city and Washington DC and all over the country about what does Jewish life look like in the former Soviet union?

Now just have a conversation, like bring in panelists. We did, we did a zoom call or whatever it was, WebEx or something in like 2011 or something like that with somebody in Kazakhstan telling us about their life there and what Jewish life is like there. And it's really about raising awareness. I think today it's still is too, and also engagement.

Connectivity. And so much of what was important in our opinion, like I'd mentioned before, it was these trips and there's something so unique that happens when you go and travel with other people, the connections you make with just your peers that you're traveling with. And then these long lasting connections you make with people that you meet overseas.

And particularly the era we live in now, you become Facebook [00:14:00] friends. We're connected to them forever. Those don't really fit there. They don't unfriend people. You just know who they are forever. You'll see updates on them for the rest of their life, and you are connected to them. And any number of people are.

And so to draw the graphs of who, who we're connected to after something like this and make young adults understand, there's something that you can impact through an organization. Like this was really powerful. We saw a lot of great outcomes from it and still out there doing it. Start shifting to Morehouse.

But one more question, since you mentioned in starting and. As a new initiative within this massive institution that's been around for, for many years. Talk about if you could, the climate of entrepreneurship there, how did that get started? How do you build traction for a pilot program within this large bureaucracy?

And what was that experience like? And it speaks to some of the challenges. What made it work that you did versus I wouldn't have gotten off the ground, right. Looking at your resources is a pretty big piece of that. Who are your advocates internally? And in our case, the CEO at the time was a big advocate of it.

And there were several board members who thought it was. And ultimately when you make the case to the board and to senior leadership, it's like, don't you think there should be more opportunities for young adults to engage in this work, understanding that they're not going to be giving at the level that our board is basically like whipping the votes, like getting some internal buy-in and strengthening the skin around you.

So that perhaps if there are people who have thoughts that are like, oh, And maybe this shouldn't exist at all. And it's like, yeah, we have enough of a foundation here that we're going to be able to do our thing. And then there's a lot of listening as well. Like I mentioned, participating in a couple of groups, what do we think our strengths are?

What do we think people would want to engage in? And so then also talking to other board members, children about what they think, and then putting them in leadership roles to have a role within the organization to help drive something like in twine and then raising the McKee. It wasn't just that we had enough money at the organization.

Let untwine exist. You had to go out and raise money from several foundations and board members to increase their gift to the organization to make it happen. And also when you do something like that, then you have a little bit more freedom to exist in general, because you've raised money and go grant [00:16:00] agreements and all that.

There's those pieces. And then, like you said, when you're a a hundred year old organization, there's like, well, we've always done it this way. So why are we going to do it that way? And just changing hearts and minds. And when you start to showcase the. Uh, at a board of directors meeting show, like, so this is so-and-so and she had very little involvement with the Jewish community before this, but it's her friend invited her on this trip.

Let's talk about how this has changed her life and transform her understanding of what Judaism can be, and also how we can support Jewish life overseas. If we think that examples like this are important, just like we have to invest X more dollars into this, and we have to make sure that this is around for a long time and then standing ovation.

So yeah, it's a number of different things and it feels like you're fighting on different fronts at all times. And it's really exciting. Like you said, it's an internal startup. We're creating the script as we go. We get to sort of choose our own adventure here in several ways. Did you have to work hard to continue to prove the value of it?

Or was it, they just sort of got it after the first couple of trips and for a year or so, like they just understood the value or was it an ongoing battle to continue the funding and continue the. I don't know that it's any different than lots of other initiatives where it's okay. Like I see the value in it, but, and tell me more, what's next?

How does it grow? Like how does it scale? And then also an existential question of could something like this sustain itself. Should we be asking our participants to give back in more explicit ways? We have more goals around that. So I think the answer is both where it's yes, this must exist forever. Also, please continue to prove why you're useful.

And I don't know that that's necessarily unusual for something that's this fledgling that's being created. That's coming out of nowhere and is a startup and needs continued. Buy-in all right. So you have these roles, you worked on entwine, you built this thing. How'd, you know, it was time to leave. When were you ready to move on to the next adventure?

And what prompted that? It was circumstantial. I was living in New York city, my wife and I had just had a kid or living in this one and a half bedroom place in park slope. And we're like, why? This is so hard. We're in a family here. Maybe it's now's the time I west from Chicago, we were like, okay, let's take a leap.

Let's go to Chicago. Let's give that a shot. And JDC was super supportive and [00:18:00] said, okay, you can work remotely from there for a little while. You look for something new and ultimately we'll put out a job description. We'll look to replace your position. I saw the moisture house was hiring and I saw it was a fundraising position and I had not done fundraising before.

And I was like, okay, I know this is important. I know that leaders in organizations spend a significant amount of their time doing this. I see myself as a leader or I would like. And I think I might be okay at it. Let's give that a shot and yeah, that was the choice. And it also worked well for me with Moishe house, because through JDC and through all these trips overseas, the first Moishe house I went to was in one SRAs in 2010, leading university of Wisconsin, Hillel's trip overseas to there.

And all of a sudden I'm at Shabbat dinner at Moishe house in Buenos Aires. I don't know what this thing is. Really. I saw it on the itinerary, asked a couple of questions. I was like, all right, this sounds good. And I show up and they're hugging me. They're like welcome to our home. Our home is. And ultimately, I felt like I knew these guys forever.

I feel like I went to camp with them as much as I was like, I went to, it was in Kia with JDC. Next warehouse. I went to, it was in Warsaw with JDC. So I kept seeing it, experiencing it internationally. And so I knew when I saw this, I was like, this is great. And for me, the global piece, the pluralistic piece, the nondenominational community building piece, like it really resonated with me.

So give it a shot. What is Moisha house? What are the programs like? How do you describe it as an organization? What the objective is, what the impact is. What's your house was created out of the idea that the young adults do want to be involved in Jewish life and be part of the Jewish communities. And there's lots of different institutions that have existed for over a hundred years.

In some cases, like I mentioned, federations like synagogues, and those are really important in many young adults to get involved in those things. And also lots of other young adults will never go to those things for a lot of the reasons why you and I talked about when are we going to synagogue when we were kids?

Not necessarily. I might not ever joined a Federation. I might not really even be welcomed in some ways at a Federation given to my giving abilities and that's shifted and changed and all that ultimately Morehouse was created out of this notion that young adults do want to be involved in. What's a new solution for that.

This can be one. The [00:20:00] idea is peer led. So young adults planning programs for young adults, not staff. We have three to five young adults who live in a Moisha house together who plan five to seven programs a month for their communities. And those programs are Jewish holidays and Shabbat there's cocoon alum, giving back to the world, volunteerism, learning about bigger topics, there's social programs.

And then there's like Jewish learning. So Cabrini in a rabbi. Together a study sheet, learning something from our traditions. So you might do like some sort of study on something from the Ptolemaic one night and then the next night you're watching the super bowl or that sort of thing. And those are both more shots programs, and you need both.

So the idea that young adults know how to build community for themselves and are looking for the outlet to do it is what, which house is all about. So these residents receive a rent subsidy to turn their house essentially into a community center, five to seven times. They also receive a program budget.

They decide what their programs are and we give them sort of like bumpers to stay within. And then they create the programs that they think their community is going to be most engaged by. And it started as a really small idea in the bay area in 2006 and started with one way to house. And we have about 140 Moishe houses and 3,000.

I want to dive into your role there, but first culturally, you come from JDC, which is a a hundred year old organization, millions of dollars to this grassroots, decentralized startup, essentially. Did you have culture shock? What are some of the differences that you noticed and some of the opportunities that had opened up for you that was with an internal startup at GDC for a little bit at the end there as well.

So it didn't work with a founder there too. And then also though someone who created this thing completely on his own, his name's David Siegel, man, he's the CEO and founder of. Working that closely with a founder like that. Who's so passionate and just so committed. His story was so impactful to that was a major piece of it.

And yeah, there was some key differences. I guess when I started a budget was like 3.6 million or something like that. This year we're like 15 million. We've grown so much in terms of professionalism at the time, I think we had be 20 ish employees, 25 when I started where like over 60. There was a lot of rough [00:22:00] around the edges and also like at the same time for that to exist.

And at the same time to see whoa, this is like super impactful. I love talking to these residents. They're so passionate. They're creating these really cool experiences than other communities are really coalescing around. It was exciting. It's still exciting. I still love showing up to work everyday. It's been cool to see the transformation.

I looked at the numbers to what are some of the secrets to the success of going from that early stage to like, I mean, 16 million is no joke. That's far and beyond what most organizations will ever raise. What's that path been like? And how have you been a part of that? There's so many different pieces to the success.

One is having a founder and CEO who is as passionate and willing to fundraise to the degree that David has is a major piece of that. And so much of that 16 million is not just houses anymore. We do a lot more than houses. Now his vision for houses are an important piece of what we do. And also we need to keep layering in new modes because some people will never come to a militia house, but they will go to a summer camp for young adults or they'll participate in one of our open door communities.

These pluralistic independent spiritual communities led by rabbis all over the country. There are super popular and really attract young families in particular and young adults. So like how can we have impact beyond the house is thinking that way, like really helps you grow as well. Transparency was a huge.

I remember thinking it was so noteworthy when I first came to the organization and David is opening up the budget and he still does it. He opens up the organizational budget in front of all the Bush house residents and says, here's our income. Here's our expenses. Let me walk you through all of it. And if you have questions.

Then, let me know. Of course they have questions, but this is just like, we're an open book. This is how we do it. I think that our funders appreciate that as well. In terms of growing like this two other things that come to mind. One is two really strong, passionate institutional supporters who were with Moishe house from the very beginning, or like with support from organizations like that.

Then my team of field fundraisers goes out and we're able to raise money and local communities from philanthropy. That's a really Roundup into the number that you were just talking about there. And then a really passionate board of [00:24:00] directors to our board is like a family. It really is. And it's like 20 people and it means giving a lot of your time.

And it also means you're going to give like a good amount of your soul too. Cause you're connecting with these people who become your family. And that has really played out year over year is an experience that I've seen through this and to hear from other organizations too, it's like to become a model in that way.

I think feeds into all the other different pieces. So if that's really humming, then so many other pieces can keep it. Can you talk a little bit more about that level of transparency? I mean, opening the books like that transparency is a crucial aspect of the success of any organization these days, but in the nonprofit sector, I feel like it's kind of a revolutionary idea to have that level of openness with in this case, it sounds like not just the board, but also just program participants, residents in the house, that sort of thing.

Was that always a part of the ethos. Did it evolve for some reason in particular? And what's the role that, that plays in Moisha houses, ongoing culture. I think a big reason did this happen is because of David's belief in how valuable it is to understand budgets. Like if you think that it's important, that organizations that exist should exist, you should probably understand how their budgets work.

He says that all the time, even at our staff meetings, when perhaps our finance director will walk through like the budgetary process and where we are for the year with that. And then he'll say, are you sure who has questions on this? This is the time like we're talking about all these pieces. Now you can ask me anything in front of everybody.

It's. I think that he believes that if you understand that part and you understand that we're not hiding anything or that all the pieces matter that you matter too, and drives better outcomes probably from your staff as well and resonates with funders to you were never a fundraiser before you were sort of on these little startups, within organizations and doing trips, which has a fundraising element to that, I suppose.

And indirectly now you're thrown into the fire. What was it like becoming a fundraiser, not having done that. From being real. I was in denial initially. I was like, yeah, so sure. It's fundraising, but that's, isn't that nice that people just give us money and it's fine. I mean, I don't even never even have to ask them whatever, that'd be fine.

I don't have to do anything that doesn't really have to do that. And then I got here and it was like, so you have annual goals in terms of how much you need to raise and those types of [00:26:00] things. And I was grateful for that. Ultimately I was like, oh yes, I'm being held accountable. This is perfect. Fine. Okay.

I'll go out and do this. It was a little harrowing initially. It's like, so how does this. What are the first things that really had to endure was this notion of, so now that I'm a fundraiser, does that mean that all my friends are going to think I'm going to ask them for money? And what I realized through that was all of my friends are gonna think I'm going to ask them for money.

If I ask my friends for money and I don't have to ask my friends for money, There's lots of people who care about what we're doing, who can support this and will support this and want to have conversations with me. And I got to go find them and being said no to was part of it being ignored as part of it, because the upside is way more there.

And you're going to experience more of the upside of your. Did you start getting on airplanes and going to Houston and going to Dallas and get these meetings in Chicago and just putting on suits and having conversations about philanthropic priorities and the impact of my organization. I loved it. I really loved it.

I still love it. It's a new puzzle every day, every grant application, every conversation with a supporter, a potential. It really is fun. You get to know them, they get to know you and some of become part of your family. Sometimes it's a relationship. That's transactional. I got to build this incredible team and the way that I saved the JDC was like, man, fuck my PhD in global Jewish life.

So grateful that I get to work on the international piece too. In one third of our 140 Moishe houses are over. I got to learn about the Jewish Federation of new Orleans and the Jewish community of new Orleans and Detroit and Columbus. And I found that fascinating. I still find it fascinating. I'm still energized by what's the difference between Judas in St.

Paul and Minneapolis? How does that dichotomy work? I love that. And I've enjoyed being a fundraiser. Did you ahead of anxiety in the early days about making certain asks and if so, how'd you get past. Yes, I did. And yes, I do. I still, and I feel like anybody who says they don't, I don't know if I necessarily believe it.

I did. And I do, and I get past it by knowing that they're talking to me because like we're out here for a reason, they know what's up. They know why we're having this conversation. They might say no, they might say yes. And I know that I have the support [00:28:00] from my, and the understanding from my team. If they say no, then you probably did your best.

And when I say to my team too, and I believe it wholeheartedly, if nobody's saying no to you, then you're probably not asking it. You're probably not talking to enough people because who shoots a hundred percent from the field. It just doesn't happen. It's not really, even if it happens for a year, you're not going to replicate it.

You probably shouldn't replicate it. It's going to happen. And it's going to be stressful. Sometimes it's going to be really hard. Some of these conversations that put you on the spot and ask you tough questions and that's part of it. And yeah, I said before, I love being a fundraiser and I guess it's part of the rush.

I don't know, but it's definitely, still feel that. Let's expand on that a little bit. How do you think about making an ask what's that individual's gift cycle, like with an individual donor and especially how do you customize it? You mentioned people are different in Chicago versus in Dallas versus new Orleans.

How do you go about customizing the ask and customizing that cycle based on who the donor is you're talking to and what they care about. Everyone's an individual there's best practices and there's things that people expect as donors. And then every single person is different. And then I'm wearing, if anyone says, this is the way you do it, or like, this is what donors expect or anything like that, because anyone who works in absolutes around that, it's just, I haven't seen it to be true in several ways.

So there's certain things that we do without first, trying to understand what they've given to previously, what they care about, what they support, try to get an understanding of the different levels to which they've given previously. And to what organizations and some certain methods sometimes can be extrapolated from that.

If they give a certain level to this organization, then it's likely that their gift to us would be maybe a third of that, at least for a first time gift or something like that. If it's. Third or fourth or fifth time asking them for support. Maybe we're talking about multi-year gifts. Maybe we should be talking about the significant increase even more and more.

Now we're talking about legacy giving or giving space for those types of opportunities. And then, yeah, I feel like you were standing together as well. Like how do you engage these donors? Like throughout the year as well and make them feel connected to the work. And we have a whole touchpoint system where we're sending [00:30:00] updates throughout the year that are related to what they care about and also broad updates on the organization.

And then also trying to build. Just conversation about what's going on in your life, what's going on at your community. And what can I learn from that? That I can extrapolate further into my work and my better understanding of your community, and perhaps better understand where this gift and this relationship could go in the future.

And the last thing I'll say about that is we have lots of different things that donors can support. So. It started really with local support. And so I'm wish it has basically costs between 50 to $70,000 a year. And your support will stay in San Diego and ensure that this is going towards young adult engagement.

There, we have significant need overseas raising money for my house overseas as well. So I called the Moishe house international fund, talking to them about what our impact was over. Explaining, like it's harder to raise money in the local community in a place like Sofia, Bulgaria than it is in a place like San Diego or Chicago or New York, Philadelphia, whatever your sport goes so far over there, all different pieces within the organization that, uh, that might speak more to what they're passionate.

Got it. A couple of questions along those lines when you first started, I'm just assuming it was Larry going out there trying to engage a bunch of donors, and then you sort of built the team underneath you. Right? How do you, how do you scale out these individual fundraising cycles to a larger team? And how do you think about the career development of some of the folks that you have out there in the field?

I love that. Um, so how do we scale it out? That was sort of born out by the local need, particularly in north America where it's like. The way that my organization works is like we do have, so I mentioned we have three more shots at San Diego. We have six in Chicago, we have 10 or 11 in New York city on and on how can we place people in different regions so that they can service all of these communities meaningfully.

And then how many trips does it really take to manage our relationships? Seattle and Portland and floss Vegas, basically how we'll do it on the west coast. And so we scaled it out based on our need and what we thought it would take to maintain the [00:32:00] portfolio that these people are inheriting. These, my team, we call them directors of advancement are inheriting, and then also what's reasonable for them to grow and say, how much new money can you raise while retaining this year?

83% of your. Um, and then just modify the system as needed from there, but that's the general idea behind that. And then now we have somebody in London as well to managing our overseas local fundraising as well. And then in terms of career development at Moishe house, we have something called a career path that very clearly outlines the stages for everybody in the organization, wherever you're starting.

Here's what is. Ahead of you basically. And how do you, and how do you move up here? What are the qualifications that we're utilizing to move up? And so a lot of that involves professional achievement within the organization, like in, for field fundraisers, it's how much new money are you bringing to the organization and how much are you retaining them?

Like, are you moving the needle in several different ways, on different initiatives that you're touching and people look at you like a leader. So those are some of those pieces. And then. Professional development as well. I am taking the time to go out and do that and giving them a budget to go out and do that.

If you're not learning, you're not growing. And I think that's real and I probably could spend even more time doing that myself. I know I could. Um, I think you're right. I think, I think it's a good learning for sure. I think I could probably hear it once a week and it wouldn't be, maybe this has been a dive into here.

Maybe there's not, I'm not, I'm not sure. But what is Moshe house think of is, do you guys have like an atomic unit of impact? Like I asked because you're so invested in community building and that can be a solid. Thing. How do you measure, how do you think about the impact that you're having and is it quantifiable in a way, or is it just, you're saying we're putting good vibes out there and building affinity?

Yeah, there, there are several metrics that we are tracking all the time with each Moishe house doing however many programs a month in COVID has been a little bit different, but doing three to seven programs a month or tracking that piece and, uh, Attendance at those programs as well. And from some of those things, some of our previous evaluations that we have undertaken, and our evaluations are longitudinal now where we can track impact of dead, which has had on somebody like [00:34:00] over a long period of time as a resident or a community member.

And so then some of the measurements that we're looking for there. For some of the things I was saying earlier with JDC and some of that, I was assuming that they were tracking some of these things, but we are for sure tracking, like, I feel connected to the Jewish community. I feel, I feel like I have friends who are part of this community.

I feel connected to the local Jewish community feel connected to the global Jewish community. I feel like I'm a leader. I feel like I can lead, um, Jewish rituals. What are some other ones? There's a bunch we do have, we do have. An extensive evaluation process. And I believe we're going to start with our next one either late this year or early 20, 22 and have several indicators that we're looking forward to that are somewhat of what I just said.

It sounds like a sort of a survey and then you're tracking it over time. Yeah, that's right. Gotcha. Cool. I'm just curious, like, as you look back on this type of work, a lot of it is affinity, building relationship, building community, and culture, building, connecting people here with people in Odessa. And when I siren.

Mumbai all these places. Why is that so important? How does it relate to a lot of the problems we're seeing today with just social justice issues? Lack of understanding people being polarized, not being able to talk to each other. I'm just curious, like, you know, your take on it, how you think of your own work in relation to some of those issues.

Yeah. So sort of what you're saying in terms of social justice, like, and in several ways, most of the houses themselves have become conveners for topics around those conversations. One thing that comes to mind for that, and I think this does speak to your question, uh, but after the murder of, uh, George Floyd, the Moshe house, Rome reached out to them, which house twin cities, and was like, we want to do a program with you guys and learn about.

Racial inequality in America, in Minneapolis. And also we want to talk about what we see here in Rome, because this really shone a light on it, and people are really want to talk about it. And you guys are on the front lines and like that built that community between those two places, but also like a coalesced other people in the community who saw that program about to happen.

And like, I want to join that. I want to be part of that conversation. Giving people a space to have those types of conversations. Like it's not like the mission necessarily of more, but it's a thing that more showers [00:36:00] can do. We're apolitical, but also like for topics like that, like we can definitely be a space in a convener around that Panda, I think in general, like you should talk about like, you can say during COVID, and, but beyond that too, like mental health and feeling like you have.

Friends feeling like you have a space, even if like my significant other dumb me and my friends, aren't returning my texts. I saw they have a program that looks really interesting to me. Or if they just have a shut, I'm just going to go and like, I'm going to RSVP. I'm going to go. And then I'll feel like I'll feel like I'm part of something bigger.

Cause you are. And that's what I'm able, I think, to extrapolate about our impact. That we are creating these spaces for people to feel part of something bigger than themselves at all times, creating spaces for people to create these types of spaces and make them their own. We give some very rough guidelines with what we expect of them, and then they go out and create what they want the world to be.

And I love that. And then we could go into marriages. CD's and that type of stuff, it all happens. It's all real. We have, we send out bibs and we send out all sorts of wedding acknowledgements and all that. It's like the creative. It really is awesome, but like the friendships that are forged, like I talked to residents who now I'm doing this for seven years.

It's like a residency. Four years ago, whatever about, about when they have a time, when they were residents, I still talked to so-and-so. I still talked to so-and-so. I was like, oh, I got to get back in touch with them. That was just like such a great time in my life. And now I'm involved with this organization because of that.

And like, I became a leader at this organization because of that. And this was just like one, this is just one offs of me talking. I know that with our models, that's happening all around the world. And I strongly believe in this sort of Johnny Appleseed method of create more of these. I want more, more, more, oh, let's just see like buckets spring out of this.

And we keep saying yes and keep providing the funding and keep providing the space. I could keep.

Yeah, good answer. Um, what's next for you and from what your house, what are you looking forward to in the next year? Yeah. Uh, so sure for the organization, Dan, this has been a lot of, about a lot of stop and start with COVID in terms of, can you have people over to your house or not? I, it looks different in 30 countries around the world.

So north [00:38:00] America, we had. Yeah, summer and fall was different than how things are now, where we're just not really having people over all that much from the former Soviet union in 13 of our Moishe houses. But they're basically all in what we call a phase three, which means they're having people over to their house.

It's in line with local regulations. We're looking forward to like getting back to business as usual. As much as we possibly can with some of that stuff, have people back over to the houses and it takes the spring or the summer. And so be it, we didn't get to do our Jewish summer camp for young adults last year.

And we're talking about what it can look like to do something in person and a distance fun type of way. This year, we were supposed to have a hundred. 20, I think retreats last year, staff led and peer led and we did, I think like 15 before it all shut down. We're starting to talk about what that can look like again.

So we're excited about getting back in person as much as we possibly can. And also because you're going to leverage a lot of the learnings that we've taken from what we've been doing virtually and the successes and the. That's afforded us. And then I know I'll mention one other thing. We were talking about the Jewish learning piece that we get to do.

One-on-one Jewish learning as an organization. Our board has the opportunity to do it as well. One hour a week, if you want during work time. And we've started to, you started to shine that deer that out to other organizations. This resonate with you. Do you guys want to do this? And we could raise some funding and maybe pay for some of this tapping for you guys as well.

We have a couple of other organizations who've signed on to start participating in that. And I think that's a, it's a pretty great thing to spend time, spend time learning and thinking about tradition and something larger than yourself and larger than really any of us during work time. And have that be.

They encouraged by your supervisor and your employers pretty sweet. So we love that. And then for me, I don't know, I I've, I've love where I'm at. I love what I'm doing. The fact that they allowed me to move to St. Louis and continue in my national position and run the team I'm running. And I love the outcomes that we're creating in the world.

So, um, I'm not eager to necessarily do anything else. I think that my future probably lies in Jewish communal life in one way or another. And I've loved doing it. Yeah. That's the passion really comes through with. So outside of this, outside of what [00:40:00] you're currently working on, what do you think is the most important cause that people can tackle right now?

Oh, gosh. Yeah. So, uh, um, Hm. We're an apolitical organization. So I'm saying that a lot of gun, but yeah, I think, I think that there's lots, lots to be done in terms of, uh, local communities in terms of. Flipping seats, whatever direction you'd like to go in supporting, supporting vulnerable candidates and all that.

Um, so politically I think that's a piece for sure. So I can name a hundred different things. It's like, I also know I'm really passionate about is, is art and public art, and more ways to, we can get more public art into more places and beautifying the spaces that we already have. And it's not just through artists, through nature, it's trees and preserving, preserving, vulnerable trees that we have in some of our cities in our suburbs where people are just like.

Yeah, but we can also just put it on like a new shopping center right here. And I don't care if we can just cut this tree down. That's fine. We'll make it more, more affluent, more interesting to other people. I think these are some local causes where I'm just like, yeah, like me personally, I'm starting to like, attend like mild by smaller municipalities, uh, meetings on those types of things and oh yeah.

I have a voice. This is cool. Yeah. I can definitely make a difference. This is great, but those are a couple of things that I'm passionate about in particular. And of course, I think we all have so much more learning to do on racial justice and anti-racism. The racists and living that truth and calling it out when we see it.

And there's still so much more that we all need to be doing on that. And organizationally, we're doing a bunch too, and trying to apply that to the houses, to show our board of directors. And yeah, I can keep going for you personally. What's the path not taken if you weren't in the social sector. What do you think you would be doing?

Or what would you be excited to take on as a potential career path? It's really hard for me to see where I would be. If I wasn't in the social sector. When I was working in public affairs, I was working on political issues. I was working on campaigns. I was working in support of candidates. Like the first job I had in Chicago with just called determined.

I met Barack Obama, like a young Senator, like I bet [00:42:00] who was like one of our clients. Like I was like, I w I was out there like doing that type of stuff. I feel like I probably would have found my path through that. Maybe like a director of communications for a campaign or for a Congress person is probably where I would've ended up.

I think, I think the path was always going to take me somewhere in nonprofit. I just didn't necessarily know it. I think it would have happened. I don't know though. I have a similar answer. That was, I almost went down the political direction too. And it's something that is still. So when you are ready to retire, when the sort of the career life is behind you, what would you like to have accomplished?

What's one thing that you want to look back and be like, we did this and I feel great. I don't know if, and I don't have enough ambition. I feel as though I feel as though if I were tired right now and I looked at what. I helped fuel the number of Moisha houses. They could turn their lights on, or the number of people who like had a better understanding of what Jewish life in India looks like and all that that's that that's all pretty good.

They like this whole notion of, um, to save a life is to save or it's to save an entire world or something like that. To give someone one experiences, it could create a thousand worlds from there. And I really do feel that way in so many ways. If ultimately, I ended up raising an endowment for some sort of, for several institutions or for several months.

That means that these things can exist forever without having to raise money in the same sort of scramble. Sometimes that it feels like we have to do, but that would feel pretty great where it's, you know what, this is not going anywhere. This is permanent, how we did that. That would feel pretty great to plug away at the work that I'm doing right now.

If I did this for the rest of my career, like that would be enough. You touched on something interesting, which is, I guess it's not unique to Moisha house, but it's certainly Moshe house would exemplify. This is it's really a platform for so much. Possibility. Right. You met, you mentioned the Roman chapter reaching out to Minneapolis and like seeing what can at created there.

Yeah, that's right. And so that's working for an organization that makes things like that happen. Yeah. I, I it's, it's, it's kind of all I ever wanted in some ways I should think bigger. I should have more ambition, right? Well, no, not at all. I think it was a great answer. Finally. How can people [00:44:00] learn more about the work that you're doing and support?

Sure. Moisha is spelled M I S a G it's Check us out. If what I'm describing sounds interesting to you. On the website, you can see where all 140 ish of our mush houses are in 30 plus countries around the world. You can learn more about our Jewish summer camp for young adults, which is also pluralistic and five and it's twenties and thirties, English assets, generally twenties.

We have retreats. So that's all on the website and, um, we'd love to see you at something awesome. Thank you so much. This has been a blast to catch up and love hearing the insights. Appreciate it. It's a pleasure. And thanks for what you're doing, giving a platform to, to people like me and other organizations to, to share the impact they are creating and the, the, their vision for the world.

And it's pretty awesome. I think we'll leave it. Our interview lasted nearly two hours and there were some great stories and insights that didn't quite make it into the show. We hear more from Larry, including the Moisha house, founding story, and additional details behind how he thinks about career pathing and assessments for his colleagues.

Check out the show notes at causing purpose dot. Please join us next time when our guests will be the founder and CEO of almost fun, Lisa Wong, almost fun as a different kind of tutoring program. One that leverages cutting edge technology and learning practices to ensure low income and BiPAP students have culturally sensitive, accessible, and engaging educational content that empower their learning.

Almost fun as an alumnus of fast forwards nonprofit accelerator. Founded by Shannon Farley. We interviewed a few episodes back in the next episode, in our series, featuring startup founders. Hope you can join us causing purposes of production and on behalf of myself, Larry and our entire team.

Thanks so much for listening and we look forward to catching up with you again soon. .

People in this episode


No items found.

Keep on Listenin'

Solving Climate Change By Empowering Campaigns with Climate Cabinet Executive Director Caroline Spears

Caroline Spears is the Executive Director at Climate Cabinet, which began as a volunteer-based team in 2018, when a Texas state legislature candidate asked for climate talking points and policy solutions that were relevant to her district. They realized that this need was not unique: many candidates want to run on strong climate platforms but don’t have the time to simultaneously run a full-time campaign and do cutting-edge policy analysis. Thus, Climate Cabinet Action was born. Climate Cabinet Action has supported candidates and pushed climate on the campaign trail in four campaign cycles, including 2018 state legislature races, 2019 presidential primaries, 2020 state and congressional races, and 2021 Virginia House of Delegates elections. In 2020, they worked with 100 campaigns. Caroline grew up in Houston, Texas which is known for great food and for being the energy capital of today. She grew up with conservationist and pro-oil conversations happening around her and she took note of the tensions. She remembers evacuating for Hurricane Rita and the effects of Tropical Storm Allison. She saw the realities of climate change around her and saw her city grow an awareness of what that really meant. As she got into high school, Caroline took a specific interest in climate change as she tried to process and sort through all of the conflicting research she was hearing about what worked and what didn’t. She was fascinated by the combination of science and social science. In college she focused on answering these questions, even changing her major just before graduation and extending her graduation by two years to be able to take every climate class offered.

Caroline Spears

Latest episodes in your mailbox

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

Search podcasts, blog posts, people