Why the Mandel Executive Leadership Program is Expanding Eligibility

Article first published in eJewish Philanthropy on May 10, 2023

The Mandel Executive Leadership Program, first launched in 2018, was originally designed for mid-career professionals on track for executive leadership positions at federations and Jewish community centers. As our first few cohorts moved through the program, we expanded eligibility to serve a wider range of Jewish communal professionals. Our third cohort included fellows from Jewish community relations councils and American Jewish Committee; our fourth cohort also included Hillel professionals.

As we began planning for Cohort V (2024-2025), we decided to look more systematically at how the career trajectories of rising leaders weave through organizations, networks and sectors of the Jewish nonprofit arena. To do so, we analyzed data provided by our colleagues at Jewish Federations of North America and Jewish Community Centers Association of North America. The data collected included lists of all CEOs and executive directors who onboarded between 2018 and 2023, as well as each executive’s prior professional role. From our analysis, we discovered even more crossover between organizations, networks and sectors than we expected.

Executive Leadership Trajectories

Since 2018, 66 new CEOs were appointed to serve Jewish federations in the United States and Canada.  We were able to learn about the prior professional histories of all but three. Thirty-two of the new CEOs entered their current role directly from a role at a federation, either the same federation where they were appointed CEO or a different federation. Thirty-one of the new CEOs worked outside of the federation network in their immediate prior role.

The most common feeder organizations into federation executive leadership were human services agencies (5), Hillels (4), Anti-Defamation League (3), Jewish educational institutions such as day schools (3), and synagogues (3). Ten of the new CEOs held prior positions outside of the Jewish nonprofit sector, in law, healthcare, education and other fields.

During the same period, Jewish community centers appointed 56 new CEOs and executive directors. Thirty held prior positions within the JCC network, either at the institution that appointed them as CEO or at different JCC. Twenty-six were appointed from outside the JCC network. The most common feeder organizations for JCCs were federations (7), synagogues (4), educational institutions (3) and Hillels (2). Nine CEOs transitioned into their current position from outside the Jewish nonprofit sector, from roles in family services, law, business and education.

We see a similar pattern of crossover between organizations and networks among our program graduates. Among graduates of our first executive leadership cohort, several federation and JCC professionals were appointed to top executive roles within their own organizations and networks. Others, however, moved into executive leadership roles across a variety of Jewish organizations, such as Young Judaea Global, American Friends of Tel Aviv University, and Jewish Family Services of Springfield, Mass.

Executive Leadership Cohort V

Examining the career trajectories of recently onboarded CEOs and executive directors, we’re reminded that Jewish communal service is itself a profession. Rising leaders in Jewish organizations move readily between organizations and networks throughout their careers. In fact, our findings show that approximately half of new federation and JCC executive leaders were appointed from outside these two networks.

We’ve taken these findings to heart. After extending the Mandel Executive Leadership Program’s reach incrementally, we are excited to open the next cohort to a wider range of Jewish communal professionals. For Cohort V, we invite applications from all mid-career Jewish professionals who aspire to and believe they are on track for executive leadership in the Jewish nonprofit sector.

We plan to continue Mandel’s longstanding support for federation and JCC networks, while also encouraging applicants whose positions are with other kinds of Jewish organizations, including JCRC’s, Hillels, human service agencies, social action organizations, advocacy groups, private foundations and start-ups of all types. We believe this approach closely aligns with the dynamic career trajectories of Jewish nonprofit executives, and that it will expand and enrich the discourse among our fellows and graduates.

Over the course of 18 months, fellows study in a cohort setting with the program’s multidisciplinary faculty in the areas of nonprofit management, social analysis and visions of Jewish life. The cohort convenes in-person for seminars in Boston and Israel, and remotely for short courses, practice groups and individual work with a mentor.

Jewish communal professionals who aspire to executive leadership roles are encouraged to visit our website to learn more about the program. The window for applications for Cohort V will remain open through June 15.


Ted Sasson and Hanna Paris