JCC hires new leader

As the Stroum Jewish Community Center embarks upon a new era in its history — a capital campaign underway, a strategic growth and outreach plan, a newly hired CEO — its lay leadership expects big changes. To help move these plans along, the JCC went outside of its own ranks, launching a local and national search to hire a leader whose nonprofit credentials are based upon her successful volunteerism, while her professional experience comes from years of working in the business sector.

Judy Neuman, who the JCC announced on Aug. 4 had been hired to lead the agency, beat out more than 40 other candidates for the position, said JCC Board President Lindsey Schwartz. A record number of applicants expressed interest in the position.

“We just feel like this is a really important time for the JCC,” Schwartz said on the hiring of Neuman. “We really have the opportunity to make a big statement to our membership and to the community that we have the opportunity to achieve all the goals that we’ve set for ourselves, that the board has set through our strategic process.”

The goal was to find someone who saw the agency as something “besides being the Mercer Island hub, and Judy … clearly brought that perspective,” said Robin Boehler, who co-chaired the executive search committee with JCC Board Vice President Aaron Wolf. “If the board was interested in more than just a Mercer Island facility, then she was really interested in this job.”

Neuman expressed her excitement about her move into the nonprofit sector.

“Having worked as a lay leader in the Seattle Jewish community for the past 20 years, it is with pride, joy and privilege that I now have the opportunity to work professionally for a community I am so passionately devoted to and an agency with so much promise for the future,” she said in a letter to JCC members.

Neuman has a big job ahead of her: In addition to having to acclimate from the culture of the for-profit world to a nonprofit agency — the national association of JCCs offers a submersion program for such executives — Schwartz said she will need to get to know the inner workings of the center as well as spend time with the leadership at other major local organizations, learning “about their perception of the JCC, and about things the JCC could be doing better.”

Membership, while not dropping precipitously, has experienced a downward trend over the past few years. Newer, more modern equipment at the city-owned Mercer View Community Center has likely taken some of the users from the JCC’s fitness center.

And then there’s the capital campaign to raise about $20 million to update its 42-year-old Mercer Island facility: “It’s fair to say that it’s still on track and we think that Judy, with her experience … will be a major asset to that,” Schwartz said.

Renovations would include updates to the fitness center and the popular early childhood program and Parenting Center.

“We want to make sure that we’re relevant here for the 21st century,” Schwartz said.

It’s likely that Neuman’s experience in working with local Jewish agencies will be helpful for the fundraising aspect of her new position, not to mention her ability from her first day, which will be during the week of Sept. 7, to pick up the phone and call the top brass at nearly any local Jewish organization and not have to introduce herself.

Her professional experience includes having worked as a principal for the venture capital firm Maveron and most recently as managing partner at the CenterStone Executive Search firm. But it is the year-long gap between those two positions that exemplifies her work for the Jewish community: She spent 30 hours a week chairing the committee that pushed forward the first phase of Jewish Family Service of Greater Seattle’s Family Matters campaign.

Family Matters, a combination of capital, programmatic and endowment fundraising, has expanded JFS’s reach into new social service arenas and will eventually result in a new, larger facility to better help in providing those services. She has sat on that agency’s board for 16 years, including a term as president.

Earlier in the decade, Neuman chaired the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle’s community campaign that brought in record donations (at the time) during the tail end of a recession.

Though in some ways the title is semantic, Neuman was named CEO instead of executive director, which was the title held by previous people in this position. It is a change that reflects a more active role that the organization wants Neuman to play in the Seattle-area Jewish community.

“It’s a statement that we wanted to make to the community that the importance of the position, and with all the things that are going on, that … there is more responsibility than there has been in the past. We just felt it would be the appropriate title, moving forward,” Schwartz said.

The process of hiring a new CEO at the JCC had a process of its own. Rather than relying solely on an outside search firm or a committee made up exclusively of staff and board members, the board brought in Boehler, former board chair of the Jewish Federation, to co-chair the search committee.

One of the first things that Boehler did was to identify non-board members with some history with the organization to join the search committee.

“They were all users of the ‘J’ at some point in time,” Boehler said. “Most of them had other associations with the community that made it desirable to have them for one reason or another.”

One thing the entire committee agreed on was that the JCC should be the center for Jewish outreach. They all saw it as representing “the most friendly place, the least threatening place for a non-affiliated person to connect,” Boehler said, though they agreed that the JCC may not be living up to its full potential.

After bringing in several candidates from around the country to meet with the board and JCC staffers, Neuman’s vision, knowledge of the region, and network of contacts made her the best fit, both Schwartz and Boehler said.

“Judy is a great addition to the constellation of CEOs in the Jewish community, and it’s all the better for our community that she’s accepted this job,” Boehler said.

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