After a months-long search, the Jewish National Fund of Canada announced that Lance Davis, who served as JNF Toronto’s executive director since 2012, is its new national CEO.
The search for a new leader began in January after Josh Cooper, who was then JNF CEO, announced that he had accepted a new role as president and CEO of Baycrest Foundation.
“I’ve been the Toronto director for more than four years now… I’m honoured that I have a chance to work now with all the other communities,” Davis said, just hours after being confirmed as the new CEO by the JNF board on April 7.
Davis said over the last number of years, the leadership at JNF has achieved “a great deal of momentum. We’ve grown dramatically,” he said, adding that his plan as the new CEO is not to stray too far from what’s been working.
“We’re not taking a sharp right turn, or a sharp left turn. We’re going to build on that momentum to bring us to a new level and that is what the goal is.”
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Davis, who turns 46 on April 21, said in his new role, he hopes to “enhance” the organization’s message so that its supporters understand that JNF is about so much more than planting trees.
“We need to enrich our message to the public about what we do and how we do it and what our impact is in Israel… so people get why they should choose JNF when they want to make a donation to support Israel. That is really what I want to focus on,” Davis said.
“We want to get the word out there about the diversity and the 21st century high-tech work that we’re involved in. We’ve planted 250 million [trees], but now in the 21st century, we have high-tech centres all over the country that are mainly engaged in agricultural tech. The work that [JNF] is doing to help Israeli farmers is staggering, and we’re at the cutting edge.”
Davis, who moved from Philadelphia to Toronto in 1995 to serve as director of Hillel at the University of Toronto, has been working in the field of Jewish communal service for more than 20 years.
“Coming to Canada was one of the best decisions I’ve made. I’ve had an incredible adult life here. I’ve become a citizen. I’m proudly, proudly Canadian,” said Davis, who has also served as director of leadership development for Jewish Federations of Canada – UIA and as the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs’ (CIJA) National Jewish Campus Life director.
“Working at UIA and working with CIJA gave me an opportunity to work nationally, so I had a chance to experience the thriving diversity of communities across the country and that was invaluable experience. As a relative newcomer to Canada, I had a chance to see more of Canada than most Canadians. I have friends and colleagues in almost every major city across the country.”
Jerry Werger, national president of JNF Canada, said Davis’ familiarity with Jewish communities across the country and his rapport with other leaders was part of what made him stand out above the rest of the candidates.
“Lance was… interviewed by former presidents from across the country – Toronto, Montreal, Winnipeg, Calgary and Vancouver – and when it came down to it… Lance spent years in Alberta with UIA, and I guess the community fell in love with him,” Werger said.
“They like the fact that he understands small communities. I’m really pleased… He’s more than capable. He’s a tremendous fundraiser. He’s such a good person. There isn’t a soul who could say a bad word about him.