Behind the Keshet-Jewish Mosaic Merger

June 18, 2010

By Jacob Berkman

Image is the header for the Fundermentalist. Text on the image reads "Jacob Berkman keeps his third eye on Jewish philanthropy."

Two of the country’s leading Jewish organizations focused on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender inclusion announced Friday that they are merging, forming the largest American organization working for Jewish LGBT rights.

Keshet and Jewish Mosaic: The National Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity will form one entity known for now as Keshet that will pursue education, community organizing and research on the Jewish LGBT community.

The merger was aided by a grant from the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation.

Fundermentalist’s take: This is the second week in a row that we have led off with a story about the Jewish LGBT movement – and yes, it is gay pride month – but this is less an LGBT story than it is a positive organizational story.

When the recession hit nearly two years ago, the battle cry went out for nonprofits to merge and for a general contraction of the Jewish organizational world. We have seen several Jewish organizations cave due to financial pressure, and we have seen quite a few struggle mightily to adapt to the changed economic climate. Yet despite a push from some foundations to encourage mergers, few actually have happened.

Here, however, Keshet and Jewish Mosaic both looked at their mission statements, saw that they were virtually the same and decided that they and the blossoming Jewish LGBT movement would be better off working together.

Each pushes for inclusion of LGBT Jews and other Jewish minorities into the Jewish mainstream, but they have different tactics. Keshet largely has been a grass-roots organizer that has helped train other Jewish organizations on inclusion. Jewish Mosaic, while it also does some grass-roots organizing, has been more of a house of research on LGBT Jews.

Still, aligned missions and the desire to merge were not enough on their own to make this happen, according to Idit Klein, the executive director of Keshet, and Greg Drinkwater, the director of Jewish Mosaic.

The two groups have a history of working together on projects, including on a poster series of famous historical and contemporary gay Jews that is a takeoff of the Jewish Women’s Archive’s Women of Valor series. That bred organizational familiarity.

Working together, Klein and Drinkwater said, led to a number of conversations over the last year or so about the possibility of merging, but merger talks did not become really serious until several months ago, and they did not really take root until the two groups hired a consultant with funds from a grant from the Schusterman foundation.

Key board members also said it was important that the professional leaders of the organizations, Klein and Drinkwater, be empowered to figure out the merger before making the case to their respective boards on why this was important.

The two groups still have to figure out many of the logistics about how they will fit together, and will do so in the coming months as they embark on a strategic visioning process to work out many of the details – including what the new entity will be called in the long term.

But the merger was made relatively easy because organizational ego did not get in the way; it easily could have.

First, the name in and of itself could have been a problem. Another organization in Jewish Mosaic’s position may have had an issue with the fact that its name — and organizational identity — essentially will disappear as the new entity becomes known simply as Keshet.

In this case, the decision to do so was easy, Drinkwater and Klein said. Keshet already was its own registered 501c3 nonprofit organization, while Mosaic was a subsidiary of Jewish Funds for Justice. It simply made sense for Keshet to absorb Mosaic instead of forming another 501c3, and made further sense not to file for a name change with the IRS.

The bigger pitfall, however, could have been the egos of the professionals. Klein and Drinkwater said the issue never arose.

Klein will be the executive director of the new entity, while Drinkwater will become the deputy director. For many in Drinkwater’s position, that could have been a difficult pill to swallow.

Klein said that going into the merger talks, she was prepared to discuss a co-executive director situation, but Drinkwater was happy to become the second in command. The decision plays to each of their skills, as Klein will take on more administrative responsibility and Drinkwater will be able to focus on programs and research.

“We can only have one executive director, so we made a choice as to who was better fit in terms of professional interests and skill set,” Drinkwater said. “This is being completely honest. I have very little personal investment in me, Greg Drinkwater, shining or being in the spotlight. I am interested in seeing the change happen.

“That is one of the challenges that prevents mergers that would be beneficial to the Jewish world and the larger nonprofit world. Are you making an investment in the organization or in personal ego? There is a certain balance, and I think a lot of individuals are pushing too far to the wrong side of that balance.”

Officials from the new Keshet have shied away from calling the new entity an umbrella group for the LGBT movement, but in combining the budgets of the two organizations — about $375,000 for Mosaic and $950,000 for Keshet — and by having offices now in Boston, Denver and San Francisco, not to mention the backing of a behemoth Jewish foundation like Schusterman, the movement certainly has a flagship that can help it gain more traction.

“There was a recognition that coming together and having a larger national presence would give us a way to leverage our position in a way we couldn’t before, even working collaboratively,” Drinkwater told The Fundermentalist. “Fundamentally, we are now a larger organization with a larger footprint. That is the motivation for the merger.”