From the President and CEO

A Crash Course on Releasing an RFP

By Barry Finestone on June 27th, 2017

Just before Passover this year, the Jim Joseph Foundation released two open Request for Proposals (RFP)—one addressed Educator Professional Development (PD); the other addressed Leadership Development. This marked the first time the Foundation embarked on this process, and is another new development among a year of changes for the Foundation. Designing, releasing, and reviewing Letters of Interest (LOI)—we recently contacted the 146 organizations that submitted LOIs to let them know if they were selected as finalists—has been inspiring, challenging, and ripe with learnings both for the Foundation and, we believe, the field.

While we clearly are still in the midst of this process, here’s a quick take on some interesting observations.

What we see in the field:

  • Newsflash! Lots of different kinds of people want money. Interest in the RFP’s was not merely high, but also diverse. LOIs received were from a wide range of Jewish organizations, representing different missions, demographics, affiliations and (un)affiliations, levels of ritual practice, and other variables.

  • “Hi, we’ve never met, let’s talk.” The RFP process has been a great opportunity to engage organizations with which we have never before partnered. In fact, two-thirds of the LOIs received were from organizations who had not received prior grants. Some of the organizations are now finalists for the grants.

  • Tag-teaming unleashes really creative ideas. Some of the LOIs—although not as many as we had hoped—were collaborations between two organizations. They were creative and ambitious in the programs they proposed to design and run. Some of these were selected as finalists.

  • DEI and ECE are hot topics Many submissions in some way addressed issues around Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) (eight were focused on social justice), which have taken on more prominence of late and are an effective way to engage youth and young adults. And 50 LOIs addressed early childhood education (ECE), an area that some in the field have long-said warrants and needs greater investment.

  • We have a lot of organizations! Amid the often fatalistic discourse about American Judaism, the LOIs we received—and even questions from organizations who ended up not submitting LOIs—reflect a diversity and vibrancy that forms a narrative of a creative, evolving, and hyper-organized American Jewish community where nearly anyone can find a Jewish organization that speaks both for and to them. These organizations are eager to receive support and to continue building their visions of Jewish life.

Some internal learnings for the Foundation:

  • “All Hands on Deck!” promotes teamwork and collaboration. The Foundation pulled together an interdisciplinary internal team, held weekly meetings, and benefited from immersive and cross-portfolio experience—partly out of necessity to meet the demand of a challenging and time-crunched endeavor. Reviewing LOIs, and now continuing this process with finalists, truly has been a team-strengthening, collaboratory experience.

  • Battle Royale between the RFP and relational grantmaking. While an RFP is inherently non-relational, relational grantmaking is a core part of our DNA here. Balancing these two seemingly competing forces was, and is, challenging. To address this, we set careful parameters in our correspondence with interested parties. Even if the Foundation’s professional teams’ instinct was to engage in deep conversation and formulate a proposal with the funding seeker, we knew that would not be the case here, even with existing grantees.

  • An old dog….:The Foundation can always think about different ways to approach grantmaking practices. We forced ourselves out of a certain comfort zone of normal operations. As a result of this process, we uncovered new possibilities that can inform how grants are monitored even under our standard grantmaking.

Feedback from colleagues outside of the Foundation—both about the RFP itself and the process we outlined for selection—has been deeply important. We’ve relied on a consulting group (TCC Group) as well, for expert guidance on designing the process. Through it all, the Foundation has found this to be a highly informative, substantive, rewarding, and certainly dynamic endeavor. And while we recognize that many other funders over the years have released RFPs, perhaps these observations above, from a “first-time RFP releaser,” offer a new perspective.

Finally, we know how much time and thought individuals put into crafting LOIs—and we sincerely and deeply appreciate it. We also know how fortunate we are to be in the position of funder to implement this RFP. And to our fellow funders, I note that there were many more fundable ideas among the LOIs received than we will be able to support. Opportunity abounds for those funders who want to make a difference in the areas of leadership and educator professional development. I look forward to updating you as this process continues.

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One response to “A Crash Course on Releasing an RFP”

  1. Thank you for the email and the candid insight into your process at the Jim Joseph Foundation. We were not one of the 146 organizations selected as a finalist and never expected to hear from the Foundation again. It feels great to still be "in the loop". Thank you for keeping us all updated!

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The Jim Joseph Foundation invests in promising Jewish education grant initiatives. We partner with effective organizations that seek to inspire young people to discover the joy of living vibrant Jewish lives.