Heather Ring has had a winding career that’s led her from the law to the Minneapolis Jewish Federation, where she has settled in as the organization’s new chief development officer. Ring talks about her road to Federation, the challenges of get started at a new job, and how fundraising has evolved in this week’s Who The Folk?!
How have your first several months at Federation gone?
Energy filled whirlwind comes to mind. Honestly, it’s been fantastic. I have to give credit to the teams with which I have the pleasure of working. I have had the opportunity to meet a number of hard-working and smart staff members, lay leaders, and community volunteers. The culture at Federation is truly changing, and I am a firm believer that culture matters exponentially in an organization and can be a key indicator of success. Things are changing, and challenges arise every day, but we approach them with excitement and as a team. There are so many skills and talents at our fingertips that I am always reassured that together we can do this. I also enjoy the great sense of humor around the office, which always brightens my day!
Why make the move to Federation from The Innocence Project?
It was a very tough decision for me, as the Innocence Project was a cause that was so close to my heart, and the work I did there is so close to my background as an attorney and fundraiser. In the end, I’ll share what I told my board: The Innocence Project provided me with the most gratifying and growth-focused professional experience of my life up to the point I left. It helped me realized I enjoyed being a change agent and could leave knowing the organization was in a more sustainable and better place ready for new energy and leadership to take over. MJF presented new professional challenges for me, including managing a development team and working with a larger organization dedicated to a community with which I connected. MJF was also in a transition phase. The opportunity to be a change agent arose, and I seized it.
What is the biggest long-term challenge of your role?
Trust building and relevance. Federation has always done important work, but coming in as an outsider and learning about some of the frustrations our community has with us, it’s clear to me we could have been more transparent. We could have listened more. We have to regain the community’s and our partners’ trust, get our message through, and really demonstrate in a meaningful way the impact we have on our community. How we engage, empower and inspire our local Jewish community.
You have a law degree and practiced for short time; what was it about practicing law that made you not want to practice?
I was a criminal defense attorney, and what appealed to me most about that work was my interaction with clients. You meet people at a low point in their lives when your particular skill set is needed. It’s one part social work and one part legal work. Though many ask how I could do this work, I tell them it’s because I acknowledge that human beings make mistakes. I also acknowledge that we have one of the best legal systems in the world, that does all it can to both protect the rights of the victims, public safety and the rights of the accused. Not an easy or perfect balance, but I was dedicated to being a part of that balance. I actually still stay active in the legal community and am very excited to be working with my colleagues through the Cardozo Society. I still feel very much connected to the legal community, and look forward to inspiring the good work of our Cardozo society members.
Has fundraising gotten more challenging over your years of doing it?
I’ll answer this one as an attorney: It depends. There exists in this country extraordinarily philanthropic donors backing a variety of causes dear to their hearts. There is also an extraordinary transfer of wealth occurring in our society as boomers retire. This creates a lot of philanthropic opportunities, but also creates a lot of philanthropic choices. With online giving options and an increasingly interconnected world where awareness of needs has heightened the competition for philanthropic dollars can be intense, the work can be challenging. Though donors now have the choice at their fingertips, they are not always in the best position to identify the needs of the community they most want to support. That’s part of what made Federation so intriguing to me – we have the second part down, now how can we adapt to give donors better choices? I look forward to solving that challenge.
Favorite Jewish Holiday?
My best memories are of Passover with my grandparents. The whole dinner and story were magical to me, and it was a time in my life when I was surrounded by supportive family members, many of whom are gone now, but who I loved dearly, and whom I still look to for inspiration and guidance in my life.
Favorite Jewish Food?
I like kugel – and that kills my family who truly believes that sweet and noodles have no business together. I recently had the pleasure of tasting Rugelach from the Marzipan bakery in Jerusalem, and that is pretty high up there as well. I also love a good corned beef roast.