Laura Linder is the President and CEO of Jewish Community Partners (JCP),the operating umbrella for Memphis Jewish Federation (MJF) and Jewish Foundation of Memphis (JFOM). JCP works to develop a vibrant and sustained Jewish community that is cared for, connected and engaged in Memphis, Israel, and throughout the world.
MJF serves as the central coordinating, fundraising, strategic planning, and budgeting agency for the Memphis Jewish community. MJF’s staff works to meet the community’s current and future financial needs through an Annual Campaign, which provides for Jewish Memphians in need at all stages in life. From free Jewish books for kids to Jewish education grants for schools and camps, enrichment programs for special needs adults to hot kosher meals to the homebound, MJF funds innovative programs that combat poverty, fight antisemitism, connect people to their Jewish heritage and Israel, reignite Judaism, and provide comfort for the most vulnerable.
JFOM works with nine Memphis-based Jewish partner agencies to secure their financial future through endowments. The Foundation also works with families to assist in attaining personal charitable goals through Donor Advised Philanthropic Funds, and charitable legacy planning. Through its work with individuals, families, and organizations, JFOM helps build and sustain a vibrant Jewish community.
JSM: When did you become executive director of Jewish Community Partners?
Laura: I became President & CEO officially in 2015, but I stepped into this role during summer 2013 when we created an operating consolidation between the Jewish Foundation of Memphis and Memphis Jewish Federation. I have been the CEO of the Jewish Foundation of Memphis since 2001.
JSM: Are you a native Memphian?
Laura: I was raised in Fort Wayne Indiana.
JSM: Were you involved in Jewish youth organization and other tikkun-related experiences?
Laura: I was very active in NFTY growing up in Fort Wayne and served as president of the Fort Wayne chapter for two years. One of the highlights of my teenage years was going to the conventions! I met Jewish teens from across the Ohio Valley region. I also went to summer camp at one of the URJ Camps – Goldman Union Camp Institute in Zionsville, IN. Many of my camp friends were also involved in NFTY across the Ohio Valley. I’m still friends with many of these people.
JSM: What was your first experience in Jewish Communal Service?
Laura: When I was a student at Indiana University, I was asked to co-chair the student campaign for United Jewish Appeal. It was my first experience with raising money, and it was really great! That experience led to my interest in pursuing Jewish communal service as a career.
JSM: Who were your most influential role models in making this decision?
Laura: I made great friends at Indiana who were actively involved in Jewish life – they were definitely very influential in the decision I made. However, it was during my first professional experience with United Jewish Appeal where I met great professionals who mentored me and helped set me on my career path. It was fast-paced and exciting work.
JSM: What changes have you made at JCP since taking this role?
Laura: We created a whole new operating model five years ago with the consolidation of two significant non-profits. So, everything is different. We have developed strong synergies between our annual campaign – which raises $3.5 million annually to support Jewish needs in Memphis, Israel and around the world, and our endowment function at the Jewish Foundation.
We are now able to take a much more holistic approach to our work with donors – ultimately for the benefit of our Jewish community! In the last few years we hit $100 million in assets – which is really quite an achievement for our size community.
We’ve had some big successes including our women’s engagement efforts, which have resulted in 100 women traveling to Israel together under our auspices. We also launched a new grant program – FEDOVATION – that infuses new dollars into innovative programs that address a specific need such as programming to support our Jewish Special needs population (e.g. Equine Therapy), engagement of next generation (e.g. Temple Israel’s School of Jewish Rock), recruitment of new families (100 new families), etc. And one of our biggest accomplishments has been our security initiatives, which resulted in the hiring of a regional security director and stepped up activity around keeping our community safe.
JSM: What do you see for the future of the organization?
Laura: JCP brings the entirety of the community together to address the big issues facing our Memphis Jewish community. We are the only organization that is able to do this – and this role will continue to grow as we address issues related to security, our aging population, training the next generation of leaders and donors and overall sustainability of our local Jewish community.
JSM: Is there anything that the community would not guess about you that you would like to share?
Laura: I’m pretty much an open book – so not really!
JSM: What do you wish that everyone knew about Jewish Community Partners, the Memphis Jewish community and/or Memphis in general?
Laura: The success of our community – and the sustainability of our Jewish organizations, synagogues and schools is dependent upon everyone coming together, contributing to Federation’s annual campaign, and being open and welcoming to all.