Who The Folk?! Erika Applebaum

As the new Director of Community Impact and Engagement at the Minneapolis Jewish Federation, Erika Applebaum brings with her a plethora of non-profit expertise, as well as experience with raising – and giving away – money. With just six weeks on the job, she’s still figuring things out while injecting new ideas into her department. Who The Folk is Erika Applebaum?

Is this your first foray into Jewish non-profit work?

I was on the board of NCJW in St. Paul and was the race chair for their 5K race. I sit on the board of Sholom for now, which is new. I used to be a lot more involved in the Jewish community, and then got real involved in the Innocence Project and social justice. I was dealing with a lot of Jews, just in a different realm.

What was your work with the Innocence Project?

I was the founding executive director in Minnesota and was there for 12 years. So I did everything from licking the envelopes to the strategic planning. I sat on the national board and chaired the membership committee. I left to go to one of our big funders who was starting a corporate foundation. So I went to try and give money away instead of having to raise it. It was nice to be on that side after spending so many years trying to raise funds.

My story now is that I wanted to get back full time into non-profit work. I started consulting for small to mid-size non-profits, everything from strategy to development. I was helping on the operations end and keeping those systems in place. Federation came to me, so I get my passport stamped every morning on the way over.

Are you a St. Paul native?

I’m from Los Angeles. I lived there until I was 5, and then moved to Palm Springs and lived there until I was 15. I used to roller skate to work every day in Palm Springs when it was still a small town. I worked for David Salk, the nephew of Jonas Salk. He owned a pottery studio.

Is it nice to work for someone after consulting?

It’s an adjustment, but I really enjoy it. In my role at Federation, I see it as a huge plus that I’ve been on the same side as our partners. I’ve had to go through grant processes. I’ve had to learn how to run organizations. I can understand that side. I think that’ll be pretty powerful. I also hope that I can use some of my entrepreneurial skills to help the different organizations. My goal would be, once we get things organized and have allocation processes set, why can’t we provide more than money? Why can’t we provide additional help, whether it’s workshops, or help with budgeting. I’m hoping I can bring some of those skills to the community impact department. I think the Federation, and this is from all of one month, we have resources. If the idea is to build a strong community to fill in the gaps and look at the needs, if some of those needs are more than financial, why can’t we provide those things as well, if we can help in other ways?

I want to deepen the partnerships with the organizations. Because I’ve been on the other side, there are certain foundations where you feel it’s an adversarial process. I want people to be honest and talk to us about the challenges. I really want it to be a partnership and not just Federation coming down and saying, ‘We think you should do it like this and we’re giving you all this money so this is how it should be.’ I’m hoping it will be an open dialogue. I’m committed to really strengthening these partnerships and even getting organizations that aren’t working together right now working together because we can learn so much from each other. We are serving the same people.

Are there other community impact departments around the country that are operating in this way?

I know that Foundations and grant-making organizations are moving that way because that’s how they are going to make an impact. For a foundation to make an impact, if you’re a foundation, you have goals that you are giving money away to do ‘A, B, C and D,’ and you’re looking for organizations that are doing ‘A, B, C and D.’ So why wouldn’t you talk together? The foundation will further their mission if they have a better partnership with their organizations. That’s the goal. What can we do to help organizations and further our mission?

What does the Community Impact and Engagement Department do?

The money that people give through the fundraising arm, we make the allocation. We work with committees to allocate the funds. That’s one piece. We look at the community as a whole to see if there are any gaps in an organization. For instance, if there are needs in the community, each individual organization doesn’t need to be working on them in a vacuum. Can we do it more efficiently as one community?

There’s the engagement piece also. Harry Kay is going to live under Community Impact. With Harry Kay, you have leaders coming into the community that are being trained. Community Impact department knows what’s going on. I’m hoping to have relationships with all these different organizations; why wouldn’t we help place those people into those different organizations and see how we can help? It’s fine that we’re training people to do things and train them for the community; let’s get them in a place where they can start making a difference and helping.

Favorite Jewish holiday?

Passover. Really good memories going to see family I didn’t see during the year. It was nice.

Favorite Jewish Food?

There’s so many. I want to say kugel because of the video from the JCC. I keep thinking about raisins or no raisins.

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