In a rare youtube video posted on TED.com, famed Austrian Psychoanalyst Victor E. Frankl proclaims in a thick accent, that the primary motivation in life for a healthy majority of American students is “finding meaning in their lives.” The other option; “make a lot of money” is quickly dismissed by Frankl with the wave of a hand. This lecture was filmed in 1972 and I wonder if the same holds true today?
The topic of idealism versus self interest in Jewish organizations was brought to light recently following the release of the second annual Forward survey that chronicles the salaries of 74 leaders of Jewish organizations. With almost all top executives earning six figures and a large portion earning close to half a million and more; some donors were left seriously disappointed, wondering if this was the best allocation of their philanthropic dollars. “In a time when so many are in need, it would behoove Jewish communal leaders – and the Jewish community as a whole – to take a long, hard look at these salaries and determine whether they accurately reflect our Jewish values,” commented one reader on the website.
There are certainly elements of truth to this, and communal organizations should strive to appoint leaders that are idealistic and selfless enough, perhaps the kind that might volunteer to take a paycut on their own accord. However, there can be no doubt that appealing to the self interest of those that lead idealistic efforts will ultimately ensure the delivery of a better service and enhance the bottom line in the implementation of the mission at hand, ensuring that more people are helped and better work is done.
Whilst there are a select few that are not motivated by self interest at all, most are, including those that have taken responsible positions of community leadership, and have greatly benefitted the community by their accomplishments and achievement.
Ultimately our primary concern must be that the delivery of services is at its best, and a sure way to guarantee this in the non-profit world is to incorporate some of the selfish elements that drive the free market economy. This includes appropriate financial compensation, maintaining a competitive environment and granting recognition and prestige to those that have earned it.
Although success and growth in a capitalist market is fueled by greed and self interest it ultimately creates more wealth and enables the society to better address the needs of its dependants. The same should apply in the world of Jewish philanthropic organizations.
To take this concept a step further, the Commonwealth Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks highlights in his book ‘The Dignity of Difference,’ that the reason why widespread self interest is able to ultimately bear positive fruit for the community at large is because of the ‘social capital’ within that society, namely, the level of trust. Because of the idealistic inclinations of many working for non-profit organizations, a charitable environment should have even greater ‘social capital,’ guaranteeing a potent recipe for enhanced results.
It is the responsibility of those entrusted with overseeing each organization’s governance to ensure that these high standards are maintained and upheld, and to quantify correctly the value that is being delivered by the organization’s senior executive officers. If it becomes apparent that the good of the cause is no longer being served the appropriate steps must be taken to ensure that this is remedied.
At the same time, qualified executives should not have any second thoughts about collecting substantial salaries, provided they are in good faith delivering for those in their care and are able to quantify the added value that they have brought to their respective organizations. Ultimately there is no greater achievement for an individual than successfully being able to harness and direct the powerful motivation of self interest to the service of helping others.
The Author is the director of the Algemeiner Journal and the GJCF and can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.