‘A new language to talk about day schools’

‘A new language to talk about day schools’

Questions for… Rae Ringel

Staff Writer, New Jersey Jewish News

Helping organizations — especially Jewish organizations — function more effectively is Rae Ringel’s passion — and it’s what she’s been doing professionally since she got out of graduate school. She spent 10 years at Jewish Federations of North America in New York, and now runs her own leadership coaching and consulting business, The Ringel Group, in Washington, DC, where she lives with her husband and four children.

This week, she brought her expertise to a seminar designed for leaders and advocates of the three area Jewish day schools and to the Foundation for Jewish Camp’s annual conference (see page 4).

Her focus at the day school seminar — held March 13 at the Aidekman campus in Whippany — was on fund-raising and board development. “I teach the day school world how to tell their story, how to be ambassadors for the school, and what that means,” she told NJJN a few days ahead of the conference.

Ringel worked directly with the three area schools — Golda Och Academy in West Orange, Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy/Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School in Livingston, and Nathan Bohrer-Abraham Kaufman Hebrew Academy of Morris County in Randolph — between January and May 2011. The seminar marked a kind of “culmination” of their work together, she said. Her background with Jewish schools runs deep; the national organization Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education was her first client when she started her business in 2003, and she’s been consulting with day schools around the country ever since.

Working with Jewish overnight camps is a relatively new venture for Ringel; she’s been involved with FJC for about a year, she said. She commented on the structure of the annual conference, known as the Leaders’ Assembly, which was held March 11-13 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in New Brunswick. She instituted an “open space” structure in which participants basically decide what the agenda will be. “The goal is to change the way people talk to each other within the organization — it’s a new way of dialogue and a new way for constituents and colleagues to shape their own agenda,” she said.

Ringel, who lived in Short Hills as a teenager and attended Millburn High School, spoke with NJJN in further detail about her background, the work she does now, and both local events.

NJJN: What are the biggest fund-raising challenges facing Jewish day schools?

Rae Ringel: First, there’s the lack of engagement for fund-raisers and how to provide a new perspective of fund-raising as community engagement. The inspiration of the asker is also huge. Second, typically, for day schools, the first line of donors is parents and grandparents, but they are also the most tapped out, since they are paying tuition. Third, we need to see the institution of day schools as relevant to a wider range of people.

NJJN: What do you want people at the day school seminar to walk away with?

Ringel: I want to provide them with a new language to talk about day schools. I want them accessing more people and getting more people excited and engaged in what a day school can be. It’s about fund-raising, recruitment, and advocacy.

NJJN: Do you think the world of Jewish fund-raising has changed fundamentally over the years you have been offering advice?

Ringel: No, not fundamentally, but it has become more sophisticated, more donor-driven, more relationship-driven. There’s not just a single transaction anymore. On the other hand, it used to be almost entirely lay-driven and now it is so much more professionally driven because they just don’t have as much volunteer manpower.

NJJN: What is your own Jewish background?

Ringel: I grew up in a very culturally Jewish home, and I had a bat mitzva, but we were not involved organizationally. I went to summer camp on Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire, not a Jewish camp. Ironically, in my junior year of college [at the University of Rochester] I was looking for a big adventure during the summer and…I chose a camp in Malibu, which happened to be Camp JCA Shalom. That summer changed the course of my entire life. I ended up going on Otzma leadership and service program after college, spending a year at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem, working for UJA, and getting a master’s degree in organizational psychology, all because of that summer. My husband is Israeli, and we’re a shomer Shabbat family now.

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