Back to Blog

“You’ll-Figure-It-Out” Didn't Work for Me

October 22, 2020
Hebrew Free Loan Society homepage

Have you ever expressed doubt in your ability to succeed at something, only to have someone reply, “Don’t worry, you’ll figure it out”? First of all, I’m Jewish - of course I’m going to worry. Secondly, while a trial-by-fire approach certainly has its benefits, I’ve always believed that we set ourselves up for success through diligent preparation and focused learning. Yet when I entered the world of nonprofit boards six years ago, it was made clear that this would be a “you’ll-figure-it-out” journey. At least, that was the case before Slingshot.

First, I need to tell you a love story. When I was 24, through a combination of networking and that magical force of b’shert, I discovered and instantly fell head over heels for the Hebrew Free Loan Society (HFLS). The organization dates back to 1892, when Jewish immigrants in Manhattan’s Lower East Side formed a collective group to make loans at zero percent interest. That defining practice has remained intact 128 years later, and since then, HFLS has lent $350 million to 875,000 borrowers at a 99.9% repayment rate. I had never encountered an organization that blended financial empowerment with Jewish values. I plunged headfirst; got to know the organization and its leaders inside out; and eventually joined the Next Generation Board (of which I am currently co-chair).

Over these six years, my board experience has been full of self-growth, a healthy dose of mistakes, and plenty of laughs (you have to enjoy what you do!). But there was no formal “Board Membership 101” class for me to take. I was surrounded by inspirational leaders and impressive colleagues, so I tried my best to learn by osmosis and cultivate mentors. It felt analogous to playing baseball for the first time ever, stepping up to the plate, miraculously getting a hit, and just being told to run. Somewhere. Fast. Without being taught the game (and with plenty of failed attempts) you ultimately can figure it out – but to become the best player you can possibly be, is that enough?

For me personally, it wasn’t. And in the midst of a global pandemic no less, along came PJSF x 21/64 Board Leadership Course, distributed by Slingshot offering exactly what I had been looking for. Their two-week Board Leadership Course united seven passionate, driven, young professionals seeking to build a foundation for future growth. I had deeply underestimated the role of community of this endeavor; our common goal transcended any and every difference in age, profession, or experience level that existed between us. We started from square, and beyond discussing the “Whos” or “Whats” of Board leadership, we tackled the elusive components that aren’t always addressed: the “Whys” and “Hows” of fulfilling board responsibilities.

Do not for one second assume that this Board Leadership Course was a sequence of tedious Zoom meetings with participants on mute. The experience was immersive, fully engaging, and never fatiguing. Slingshot invited a host of speakers to address an incredibly diverse array of topics, ranging from gaining confidence in fundraising, to the “what-if” legal situations that a Board might face, to the need for more female executives in non-profit leadership. Conversations were intimate and inclusive; questions were never discarded as insignificant or simplistic. Slingshot took the time to get to know each of us for who we were, and more importantly, who we aspired to become.

 I don’t have any delusions of playing major league baseball, but being the best Board member I can possibly be is a goal I take very seriously. Every time I step into the HFLS boardroom, begin to type an email to my Board, or serve as an ambassador for the organization, I think back to Slingshot’s training. I think about my personal “Why” and the “Why” of HFLS. And I think about how now, I don’t have to “figure it out” and simply hope for the best: I have the formal and lasting knowledge, training, and community to support me on my journey.

I am so excited about the work that HFLS does and how Slingshot prepared me to better serve this organization that I wanted to share my story and the great work that HFLS is doing with the whole Slingshot community. HFLS was founded in1892 and survived the Great Depression, both World Wars, years of conflict, and difficulty in the U.S. and abroad. Here is what HFLS has been doing for low-income New Yorkers in these challenging times:

- This year, HFLS has distributed 1,300 loans to New Yorkers in need, totaling a whopping $17.8 million - all at 0% interest. 

- HFLS was among the first non-profits in NYC to deploy a zero-interest loan program for those specifically impacted by COVID-19.

- From March - June, HFLS postponed loan repayments for 2,000 borrowers, allowing them to keep more cash during the apex of COVID.

- Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Sierra Leone, Nepal: these are a few of the 65 nations with immigrant communities now receiving HFLS loans. While our borrower base grows, we remain rooted in the Jewish value of helping others to uplift and empower themselves.

And here's what's in the works for the rest of the year:

- A Citizenship Loan Program to cover the (surprisingly lofty) costs of U.S. citizenship, primarily for Spanish-speaking applicants.

- A new initiative to serve 60,000 independent contractor drivers (e.g. for Uber, Lyft, etc.), the vast majority of whom are immigrants.