From the Executive Director

Making a Difference: A Look Back at 2013

By Chip Edelsberg on December 9th, 2013

As the year ends, there is a natural tendency to look back and to take stock of what occurred in 2013. This was a significant year in the evolution of the Jim Joseph Foundation—first and foremost because of the determined efforts of Foundation grantees. We continue to be grateful for grantee success in creating engaging, substantive learning experiences and for developing Jewish educators to teach in myriad types of learning environments.

Early this year, we released the Foundation’s 2008 – 2012 Summary Report. This report offers a snapshot of grantees’ achievements and insights about the Foundation’s own expectations for the years to come. We noted that “several of our major, multi-year grants will soon expire” and that “evaluations of these grants will help to guide our decision-making process moving forward.” Indeed, we rely on findings from independent third-party evaluations to complement what we learn about our grantees in meaningful relationships as a basis to help the Foundation make strategic philanthropic decisions.

As two such examples, major grants to Hillel for its Senior Jewish Educators/Campus Entrepreneurs Initiative (SJE/CEI) and the Foundation for Jewish Camp’s (FJC) first Specialty Camps Incubator concluded. In the case of Hillel, the SJE/CEI grant concluded just as 2013 began and we worked together to share the many lessons learned, positive outcomes, and scalability of the initiative.

For the specialty camps, we have highlighted their positive outcomes throughout the grant period. Last month, we received a comprehensive evaluation of the grant demonstrating the camps’ effectiveness in attracting new Jewish families. We are eager to share this more broadly early in 2014.

Evaluations also informed the Board’s decision to award significant grant renewals in 2013, including to the iCenter, Jewish Student Connection, and the Stanford-based Consortium for Applied Studies in Jewish Education. These three grants represent significant areas of focus for the Foundation, namely Israel education, teen education and engagement, and field building.

A major milestone this year was the release of our report Effective Strategies for Educating and Engaging Jewish Teens. By drawing on strategies from Foundation grantees and organizations outside of the Jewish world, we sought to compile a valuable resource for local communities and other funders as they seek to educate Jewish teens. The report was the starting point for a community of practice and periodic webinars organized to hear from the leaders of many of the organizations documented in the Effective Strategies report. Also as a service to the field, the Jim Joseph and Schusterman foundations recently launched a webinar series on alumni engagement that will continue into next year.

With all of these developments, 2013 marked a transition of sorts for the Foundation. Yet, our strategic priorities remained consistent: 1) increasing the number and quality of Jewish educators; 2) expanding opportunities for effective Jewish learning; and 3) building a strong field for Jewish education. Every grant proposal invited by the Foundation was developed in collaboration with the grantees under the umbrella of one of these priorities.

Similarly, we continued to share key findings with the field whenever possible. While evaluations have always been a mark of the Foundation, this past year we also focused efforts on model documentation of grants. Most notably, we worked with Jewish LearningWorks to document BASIS – the Israel Education Day School Project so that communities across the country can learn how Bay Area day schools effectively incorporated Israel education into their curriculum. A similar online model and toolkit documenting the Foundation-funded Los Angeles High School Affordability initiative will be available early in 2014. Additionally, a report documenting the model of a Jewish teen engagement initiative in the North Shore of Boston will be published early next year as well.

Any retrospective of the Foundation’s work must include reference to the Education Initiative grants to Hebrew Union College, Jewish Theological Seminary, and Yeshiva University. We held a day of learning in 2013 that brought together the presidents, project directors and leading educators of the three institutions to share lessons learned and to think creatively about future possibilities. Foundation Senior Program Officer Dawne Bear Novicoff highlighted key findings from a recent evaluation of the Initiative.

Finally, as this year draws to a close, the Foundation welcomed the publication of the Pew Research Center’s A Portrait of Jewish Americans. The study contributes valuable reference points for the Jim Joseph Foundation to consider as it continually assesses ways to improve its grantmaking. The grantmaking style we have developed over eight years gives us considerable experience in analyzing, interpreting, and using data of the sort that the Pew Study produced.

On behalf of the Board and professional team, I wish you a healthy and happy new year. We look forward to working together to create Jewish learning experiences that dynamically shape youths’ journeys and build vibrant Jewish life.

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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.