Building Leadership Networks Online


Volunteer leaders have always been a vital resource in our community, providing their time, expertise, and networks to amplify our work and the work of our partner organizations.  

But when the pandemic hit, we weren’t sure if our leadership development programs would continue. Could people really learn, engage, and build new relationships over Zoom? And would anyone be willing to spend the time to do so? Luckily, our volunteer co-chairs stepped up, pushing us to find ways to reimagine this work and helping us pivot to a new form of leadership learning.

How can you translate the same sense of community, discussion, and rapport found around a physical table to a Zoom screen? As it turns out, the key is exceptional volunteers.

This year’s Co-chairs of the Women’s Philanthropy Leadership Series, Amy Sucoff and Michelle Zisow, stepped up to pull off a phenomenal virtual program. They ensured that each session was well thought out, promoted community-building, and expertly asked the right questions to prompt discussion and engagement with the session’s presenters. Amy and Michelle were so warm, welcoming, and genuine over Zoom that they made the participants feel as if they were truly in the room with one another. Though their interactions have been entirely virtual, these women have still managed to build a strong and connected network of leaders.

The Dewey Stone Kadimah Leadership Program, developed to inspire the next generation of Jewish leaders, is in its second year of virtual sessions. The pandemic hit halfway through the 2019–2020 program and Co-chairs Marissa Wainwright and Brenda Tobin had to quickly learn how to replicate their sessions over Zoom. This year, Brenda was joined by Brett Ponn to lead an entirely virtual Kadimah program. All three of these Co-chairs have expertly engaged their virtual participants by asking stimulating questions, prompting meaningful discussion, and finding opportunities for more casual social time. As one participant reflected, “They’ve done a great job taking this in-person class and moving it over to Zoom, while still making it fun and engaging.”

Launching a program during a pandemic

Early last year, Catharyn Gildesgame and Jude Sydney — two longtime CJP volunteers — came up with the idea to launch a series of Leadership Learning Circles that would bring people together to learn from one another, share resources, and build relationships. But just as we were getting ready to launch, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. When COVID-19 shut down all in-person activities, Catharyn, Jude, and their fellow Co-chairs Bill Gabovitch, Diana Lloyd, and Michael Shiner, moved the program online. Together, they worked hard to brainstorm ways to ensure that the Learning Circles would still be meaningful and effective.

The program launched in the fall of 2020, to great success. “I loved participating in this pilot program and having the opportunity to meet such incredible leaders in our community,” said one participant. The second series of the Leadership Learning Circles began this spring, and we are excited to see how it evolves under the direction of our wonderful volunteer leaders.

Supporting our partner organizations

In addition to building a leadership pipeline, we want to make sure that our partner organizations have access to the many wonderful volunteer leaders that our community has to offer. CJP recently launched the Hineni Volunteer Network, an initiative under the direction of David Adler, Leslie Pucker, and Brenda Tobin, which connects skilled volunteers with governance and leadership roles at other organizations. This initiative is still in the pilot phase, but stay tuned for more information coming this fall, or reach out to Dara Klein for more details.

We are grateful for the many volunteer leaders who are a part of CJP and help to shape our strategy, raise funds, keep our programs running, and find new ways to build and support our Jewish community in Greater Boston. To learn more about these leadership programs and other opportunities, contact us at