New research on U.S. College Students and the War in Israel: Jewish Engagement and Social Tension on Campus

Students survey pre and post Oct. 7th say they pay social penalties for being Jewish and supporting Israel; data also show how non-Jewish anti-Israel and antisemitic statements breakdown by political ideology

March 6, 2024 — Jewish college students are experiencing and exhibiting significant changes on college campuses since October 7th regarding their Jewish identity, participation in Jewish programming, and increased social tension on campus, according to new findings from research conducted by Eitan Hersh, PhD, and College Pulse, and funded by the Jim Joseph Foundation. The research provides key insights on the impact of October 7th and subsequent rise in antisemitism on Jewish college students on campus. The study also asked questions about their views on Israel and the extent to which their own mental health has been affected in recent months.

The research, “U.S. College Students and the War in Israel: Jewish Engagement and Social Tension on Campus,” is unique because it includes survey responses from Jewish college students who also participated in a study conducted by Dr. Hersh in 2022.

“The students from both surveys are a direct link between pre-October 7 Jewish life on campus and post-October 7 Jewish life on campus,” said Dr. Hersh, professor of Political Science at Tufts University. “The data show a campus environment that is a much different place for Jewish students. They felt a big social change. Many of their non-Jewish peers of all political perspectives act differently toward them.”

One set of findings, The Social Costs of Being Jewish and Supporting Israel on Campus: What a Before/After Survey Can Tell Us , notes that more than a third of Jewish students report they are hiding their identity in order to fit in and are being judged if they participate in Jewish activities. Those numbers have doubled from before the conflict. Additionally, Jewish students overwhelmingly perceive a social penalty for supporting the right of Israel to exist. Non-Jewish students in the survey corroborate this, with the highest agreement (50 percent) coming from those on the far left or who identify as socialist.

Another set of findings, A Survey Portrait of Jewish Life on Campus in the Midst of the Israel-Hamas War: 7 Key Findings notes that Jewish students feel a heightened sense of Jewish identity; 35 percent say they feel very close to a Jewish community, double the amount who said so in April 2022. Relatedly, there appears to be a substantial increase both in students who occasionally attend Jewish activities and programs on campus and those who attend events weekly or more. However, the increase in participation does not mean that these spaces were always comfortable for all Jewish students.

“Amid stronger Jewish identities and engagement, a major change from our survey just two years ago is that more of these young people have formed opinions and have increased their support for the state,” added Hersh. “Jewish students, and essentially only Jewish students, are attending Pro-Israel events.”

Additional findings, covered in The Complicated Relationship between Ideology and Attitudes about Jews and Israel, break down views among students by ideology, finding that “Young people on the left are more likely to exhibit extreme negative attitudes when it comes to Israel, whereas young people on the right, as well as some minority identity groups typically associated with the left, are more likely to endorse ominous and prejudicial statements about Jews.” These minority identity groups are “far more likely to say that Israeli civilians are legitimate targets of Hamas than White students are. In other words, these students answer the Israel-focused questions like liberals and Jewish-focused questions like conservatives.”

“For anyone looking to support and meaningfully engage Jewish college students, the data show both immense challenges and opportunities,” said Stacie Cherner, Director of Research and Learning at the Jim Joseph Foundation. “Both in scale and depth, the research goes beyond anecdotal stories many of us have heard. Jewish students feel more isolated and ostracized, and they feel this from peers of all political perspectives.”

These findings represent a mid-point in the research. A series of focus groups will be conducted in the spring, as well as another survey. Both of these data collection efforts will allow for continued examination of change over time, and a full report will be available in summer 2024.




Study Background:
The study was funded by the Jim Joseph Foundation. The survey itself was administered by College Pulse, a survey and analytics firm specializing in the college student population. Dr. Hersh, who has conducted a number of studies on civic engagement, young adults, and antisemitism, worked with the Foundation and College Pulse to organize this research project and analyze the results. The Methodology is explained in the report:

Back in the Spring of 2022, our team surveyed approximately 2,000 Jewish students and 1,000 non-Jewish students across the country who were attending 4-year colleges. I published a report in 2022 that details the methodology and results. That report analyzed several questions related to Israel and antisemitism that have become especially relevant in light of the recent turmoil on campuses.

Because there are no official benchmarks of what the true population of Jewish American students looks like in terms of demographics or attitudes, it’s hard to know whether a sample of this kind is truly representative. However, as explained in my 2022 report, the basic demographics of the students who were sampled look similar to other studies, such as the young adults surveyed in Pew’s 2020 study of Jewish Americans, which gives us some confidence in the sample.

Between November 16 and December 21, 2023 – 40-75 days following the October 7th attack – we fielded a second survey. This survey was completed by about 1,000 Jewish students and 1,500 non-Jewish students. The Jewish students include those who consider themselves ethnically or culturally Jewish even if not Jewish by religion.

155 of the Jewish students surveyed in 2023 were among the students who were surveyed back in 2022. Back then, they were freshmen and sophomores. Now, they’re juniors and seniors. This is called a panel design, and I’ll refer to the students surveyed both years as “the panel.” The full set of respondents in each year I’ll refer to as the “cross-sections.”

The panel of students surveyed both years provides a link between pre-October 7 Jewish life on campus and post-October 7 Jewish life on campus. If we observe attitudinal changes in the panel, we know it’s not because of sampling variation but because students felt differently in 2023 than 2022. It turns out that the changes we measure are so big that they are highly statistically significant, even with a relatively modest sample size of 155 students in the panel.

One last note on the methodology. In the 2022 survey, the sample of non-Jewish students was designed to be representative of four-year college students across the country. In the 2023 survey, we made an adjustment. We focused the non-Jewish sample on schools that have substantial Jewish populations. To really understand social tensions and the campus climate as experienced by Jewish students, we didn’t need to survey non-Jewish students in schools that have very few Jewish students.

Instead, the 2023 survey pulls non-Jewish students mainly from 21 specific campuses. Those campuses are quite diverse. They include public schools (e.g., Binghamton, University of Michigan) and private schools (e.g., Columbia, Tulane); they are in northeast (e.g., Dartmouth, Northeastern), the south (e.g., Emory, University of Central Florida); the midwest (e.g., Washington University-St. Louis, Ohio State), and the west (e.g., University of California, San Diego, University of Arizona). But they are all campuses with sizeable Jewish populations.

About the Researcher:
Eitan Hersh is a professor of political science at Tufts University. His research focuses on US elections and civic participation. Hersh is the author of Politics is for Power (Scribner, 2020), Hacking the Electorate (Cambridge UP 2015), as well as many scholarly articles. Hersh earned his PhD from Harvard in 2011 and served as assistant professor of political science at Yale University from 2011-2017. His public writings have appeared in venues such as the New York Times, USA Today, The Atlantic, POLITICO, and the Boston Globe. Hersh regularly testifies in voting rights court cases and has testified to the US Senate Committee on the Judiciary about the role of data analytics in political campaigns. In addition to work on elections and civic engagement, Hersh has written on topics ranging from antisemitism and the political consequences of terrorist attacks to politicization in health care delivery and the opioid crisis. His next book is about the civic role of business leaders.

Building Personal Connections Among American and Israeli Teens

On October 7th, Israel experienced a pogrom, a targeted massacre intended to destroy as many Jews as possible. The trauma is still raw, and many displaced Israeli families are still living out of suitcases. Moreover, the attack and its aftermath did not merely affect Jews living in Israel. Jews in the Diaspora are feeling isolated, othered, and forced to endure a new wave of antisemitism. Historically, connection between Jews in Israel and those in the Diaspora has been a mitigant to seclusion and an accelerant to peoplehood. Today, with travel limited, especially for organized teen trips, external factors are making those connections more difficult to foster and sustain. How do we build these connections now?

In the last few months, Jewish leaders and educators have rightfully been thinking about how Jewish education and Israel education must evolve post-October 7th. Israel travel experiences and curricula on Jewish history and modern Israel are being looked at anew. Along with these important aspects of education, we want to elevate the importance—now more than ever—of mifgashim, cross-cultural encountersThese personal relationships between young Diaspora Jews and young Israeli Jews will be critical in building a Jewish future in which youth find meaning and meaningful connections.

Mifgashim have existed in numerous Jewish settings—camps, schools, service programs and Israel travel—with outcomes proven over decades. This web of personal relationships across Jewish societies creates cross-cultural frameworks, which foster a shared consciousness of peoplehood and belonging. We certainly see these outcomes with ENTER’s One2One initiative, a mifgashim program that relies on technology to build connections. In peacetime, mifgashim are structured around the defining elements of Jewish peoplehood, including mutual responsibility and a shared sense of belonging. In wartime, such opportunities can foster empathy, counter misinformation, breakdown stereotypes, and foster a sense of personal responsibility in the Jewish future. Undoubtedly, for young diasporic Jews experiencing virulent antisemitism for the first time in their lives, these relationships can feel therapeutic and create safe spaces. They also can help young Jews navigate questions of identity and expectations around Jewish solidarity.

While Diaspora leaders and educators often focus on the influence of mifgashim on Diaspora youth and young adults, we have long known of the positive outcomes on Israelis. Post October 7th, Israelis need mifgashim more than ever. Investing in relationships can chip away at Israelis’ sense of isolation and insecurity during such a traumatic time. This reality invites us to think about interactions between Jews in the U.S. and those in Israel as a form of first aid.

With looming uncertainties, innovative, virtual frameworks take on even greater importance. As antisemitism permeates social media and seeps into high schools as it already has on college campuses—and as Israeli teens feel ignored by the world around them—we cannot wait for the college years for a critical, interpersonal interaction. There is increasing interest from teens to pair with a chavruta (partner) who understands what she or he is going through. This demand on the ground aligns with research showing that young people are eager to connect with each other and shape their own future with experiences in which they find meaning and purpose. Investing in mifgash frameworks, as we know from summer camp cross-cultural encounters or from programs like Birthright, creates pathways that stimulate interest in Jewish learning, Jewish ideas, and our expansive Jewish cultural milieu.

Fostering connectivity, including peer-to-peer relationships, is also an opportunity for North American Jewry to demonstrate its collective concern in ways that are non-partisan, supportive, and unvarnished.  These efforts are about people, not talking points. Three years ago, during the worst days of the pandemic, ENTER had this mindset when it established the One2One initiative to address the lapse in connection at that moment. The program began with 600 participants in 2021 and expanded to 2,500 in 2022 and 4,100 in 2023.  Today, there are more than 4,000 Israeli teens in schools across Israel who have signed up and are waiting for North American counterparts to join them in conversation. The outcomes of these conversations show greater connection, knowledge, and friendship for both partners. Young people find such opportunities both edifying and enriching.

Put in different terms, we would rather have our teens’ most memorable exposure to Israel be through a one-on-one relationship with an Israeli peer rather than a YouTube video, internet meme, or social media post. Building personal connections between Israeli and American teens is a support mechanism and educational system all in one. The demand from teens is there. Now it’s up to leaders and educators to make those connections possible.

Alon Friedman is the Founding CEO of ENTER. Steven Green is a Senior Program Officer at the Jim Joseph Foundation, which is a supporter of the One2One initiative.

Originally published in the Jerusalem Post

Using Data to Inform Grantmaking Decisions

This piece ran originally in Kaleidoscope: The Prizmah Monthly

The Jim Joseph Foundation is committed to strategic learning and informed decision-making. We have a diverse array of research and evaluation studies that currently shape our approach to investments. This work transcends the conventional role of a mere accountability tool. Instead, we see our learning agenda as a dynamic process that contributes to the strategic growth and effectiveness of our grantmaking. With this perspective, we foster a culture of curiosity and continuous improvement and field-building.


Studies in our learning agenda generally fall into one of four categories:

  1. Individual grantee evaluations that build the capacity for our grantees to be learning organizations.
  2. Cross-portfolio evaluations that examine shared outcomes and synergies across various sets of grantees to identify overarching trends and opportunities.
  3. Funder-commissioned research that partners with external experts to delve deeper into specific areas of interest that align with our mission.
  4. Grantee-commissioned research that empowers grantees to conduct research, enhances their own understanding, and contributes to a broader knowledge base.

Beyond individual studies, we also invest in the development of talent to ensure a robust, skilled, and diverse research and evaluation pipeline. This is meant to help grow the capability of communal organizations to apply learnings.

Professional Team Learning

For the foundation internally, we look to integrate insights and learnings into our own day-to-day operations, thus modeling being a learning organization. We lean into our First Principles, which include staying curious, centering youth, and being in relationships. We listen for themes and trends and actively question our assumptions. As we pride ourselves on being a relational grantmaker, we regularly preview early research findings with relevant grantee-partners before public dissemination. Program officers prioritize learning in conversations with grantees and with other funders, often asking what program providers are hearing from target audiences, or what adjustments are being made as a result of learning. We also read other research (that we are not funding) and share what we are reading, either with grantees directly or publicly. If necessary for improvement, we are unafraid to pivot to model being a learning organization.

The program team meets regularly to discuss important evaluation findings and shares reports on an internal platform. We continue to support individual evaluation work both with funding and non-grantmaking support.

Interactions with the Board

We keep our board informed of our research by maintaining an internal website of the most widely used and relied on evaluation and research the foundation has commissioned, in addition to individual memos to the board detailing new research findings when warranted. All grant recommendations presented to the board for approval are grounded in data. Based on learnings from past research, in 2023 the board approved new initiatives that focus on early childhood educators, early-and mid-career Jewish professionals, immersive travel to Israel, new modes of rabbinic training, and a convening of communal professionals to discuss the talent pipeline issues facing the field. In other words, research leads to actions.

Our Portfolio of Research and Evaluation, and Impact


For the first category of investments—individual grantee evaluations—we have many evaluations in progress at any given time. The fact that dozens of grantee organizations collect and use evaluation data internally is a positive sign that the field values the use of data and the capacity to collect it. Our signature grantees are sophisticated consumers of evaluation data and have proven time and again to be thoughtful partners. Many times, these individual evaluations provide insight into the grantee’s work and illuminate themes related to audiences, interventions, and settings that others share and are of interest to the foundation. For example, a recent RootOne evaluation provides learnings for The Jewish Education Project as well as others interested in teens and their parents, and in immersive Israel travel in general.


The foundation’s cross-portfolio evaluations are increasing and are generally major endeavors that can yield a plethora of data and insights relevant to many in the field. For example, stemming from the success of our teen initiative’s cross-community evaluation and the development of shared outcomes and measures, we have applied learnings to think about shared outcomes and measures in other grantmaking areas as well.

In one project, Rosov Consulting and five signature grantees that directly serve young people convened to discuss the pilot phase and plan a second phase of their shared data collection initiative, which will incorporate a series of focus groups with participants who have been deeply engaged across multiple programs. These five organizations are not siloed; high proportions of their alumni also participate, over time, in the other organizations’ offerings. The more programs can collaborate in their data gathering, the wiser they will be about the extent to which they are meeting their participants’ needs, especially those from under-represented populations. Collaboration of this kind should also help programs gain a better understanding of both their own value proposition and their ability to contribute to a broader cross-communal effort.


Of the multiple studies the foundation commissioned last year, the Study of Online Jewish Learning by Benenson Strategy Group embodies much of our approach to research. This study aimed to gain a more thorough understanding of the diversity of the online Jewish learning experiences for young adults who identify as Jewish, the motivators for engagement, and the benefits of online Jewish learning and virtual experiences. The methodology consisted of a series of focus groups, a survey of 300 active online learners sourced from 14 providers of Jewish online learning, and a survey administered to a national sample of 800 Jewish young adults.

We learned that online platforms and sources play a significant role in how young Jewish adults go about learning about and connecting with their Judaism. While differences exist in how, why, where, and how often, many young Jewish adults are engaging and interacting with online and virtual sources in some way. Further, there is evidence that learning and engaging with and through online platforms help establish and foster an individual’s sense of connection to Judaism, meaning, and purpose.

Importantly though, online platforms are complementary to other non-digital sources. There is a role online plays, and benefits that are unique, but it is not the only source young Jewish adults are relying on for information, connection, or meaning in their lives. This study, along with several new grantee evaluations, will inform our grantmaking decisions in this arena and our stewardship of grants that utilize online Jewish learning.

In all areas of our work, we look forward to bringing more evaluation and research to fruition in 2024 to benefit our grantees, our internal team, and the field at large.

Stacie Cherner is Director of Learning and Evaluation at the Jim Joseph Foundation

Unprecedented Study Will Explore How Professional Development Experiences Help Jewish Educators and Leaders Throughout Their Careers

Research Team Will Follow Study Participants Over Five Years to Understand Impact of Programs

first-of-its-kind longitudinal study aims to understand how professional development programs influence the growth and career advancement of Jewish educators and Jewish educational leaders throughout their careers. A research team at Rosov Consulting will survey participants of Jim Joseph Foundation professional development programs multiple times over the next five years to follow their continued professional learning and career trajectories.

“Effective professional development is key to attracting and retaining these individuals in the field,” said Stacie Cherner, Director of Learning and Evaluation at the Jim Joseph Foundation. “This unprecedented study will help grow the pipeline of talented, highly skilled leaders and educators who are vital to Jewish communities. We are grateful to all of the educators that take part in the study as we all learn together.”

Rosov Consulting will survey educators and educational leaders who work in Jewish serving organizations and participated in a professional development opportunity in 2023 that was supported by the Jim Joseph Foundation. Those include programs offered by: Birthright Israel, Foundation for Jewish Camp, Hillel International, M²: Institute for Experiential Jewish Education, Jewish New Teacher Project, Institute for Jewish Spirituality, Leading Edge, Prizmah: Center for Jewish Day Schools, Repair the World, Shalom Hartman Institute of North America, SVARA, The iCenter, The Jewish Education Project, UpStart, and The Wexner Foundation.

The surveys will include questions about the participants’ attitude towards professional development and career commitment; other influences in their life, such as supervisors and current events; and outcomes of participation in professional development.

“We’re excited to have been given the opportunity to track the career trajectories and professional growth of educators and leaders across the various sectors of Jewish education,” said Alex Pomson, Principal at Rosov Consulting. “Real-time panel studies are quite common in general education. As far as we know, this is the first study of its kind in the Jewish community. We have a chance not only to observe how educators grow over time, but to see how their roles evolve in response to tumultuous times.”

Learn more about the study at

New Study Will Provide Insights on Wide Diversity of Jewish Families Today

A new study is exploring the interests, needs, hopes, and challenges of a wide diversity of Jewish families, including those with more than one religious or cultural tradition, people of color, LGBTQ+ people, single parents, and families experiencing economic insecurity. More diverse families are an increasingly higher proportion of Jewish communities and may, at times, feel marginalized in Jewish communal settings.

“This research will help organizations that work with Jewish families and engage Jewish youth better understand their audience,” said Alex Pomson, Managing Director of Rosov Consulting, which is conducting the study. “As the Jewish community becomes more diverse, more knowledge will help communal leaders meet people where they are—and design Jewish experiences that are meaningful to them.”

The research team will engage directly with families who are raising children ages 0-8, who want some kind of Jewish content or experiences in their children’s lives. What do their Jewish lives look like, and what kinds of Jewish lives do they seek to construct? From where do they derive their Jewish inspirations? Which organizations do (and don’t) they feel understand who they are, and which have (or have not) brought them meaning? What are their educational and engagement interests and needs, and how and where are those needs being met, if at all?

Funded by Crown Family Philanthropies, the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, and the Jim Joseph Foundation, the study’s findings will be shared publicly throughout the research process. The first part of the study is a review of relevant research literature on factors shaping contemporary family life, available here. Researchers also conducted 40 regionally diverse focus groups with 182 individuals. One set of focus groups was with parents raising their children as Jews who are not typically active in Jewish organizations. The second set was with parents who participate in some aspects of Jewish communal life. Researchers will next conduct follow-up interviews with select focus group participants.

Key findings from the literature review:

  • Rising housing costs mean that many people are priced out of areas with greater Jewish infrastructure, impeding their ability to participate in local Jewish communities.
  • Literature on multi-faith and multi-ethnic families dispels the still-common belief that mixed-heritage families represent a “threat” to Jewish continuity.
  • Extended family networks – especially grandparents – can play an important role in children’s lives; relatedly, researchers understand households not as self-contained units, but rather as embedded in broader social networks.

Adds Pomson, “Jewish families have been impacted by the Israel-Hamas war, rising antisemitism and political polarization, the COVID-19 pandemic, school shootings, rising housing costs, and more frequent and widespread climate catastrophes in recent years. It is not an easy time to raise children; this research will shed light on the kind of support, connections, and experiences parents want to navigate these and other challenges.”

photo courtesy of Keshet




How Funders Can Advance Safety, Respect and Equity in Jewish Spaces

In January 2018, in the midst of a global movement against sexual violence, harassment and discrimination, Jewish foundations, organizations and expert practitioners came together to form what is known today as SRE (Safety Respect Equity) Network. The goal was ambitious: to create a community-led movement to address gender-based harassment and discrimination, and to support Jewish workplaces that are safe, respectful and equitable for all.

Earlier this summer, nearly 200 community leaders celebrated five years of this work at SRE Network’s convening in New York. As a community, we came together to acknowledge what we have accomplished and how far we’ve come.

Since 2018, SRE Network has grown to 165 member organizations committed to this work; has defined standards to characterize safety, respect and equity in Jewish communal life; and has invested more than $5 million across 40 initiatives that help train staff to advance healthy workplaces, champion gender equity, support survivors of abuse in Jewish workplaces and other settings, and more. The network has also provided leadership, research, training, connections and resources within and across Jewish communities.

As victim advocate Guila Benchimol, who was key in guiding the launch of SRE Network, shared, “This year’s convening was a lesson in celebrating progress while continuing to strive for success.”

Now, as we look toward the next five years, it is clear that funders have a critical role to play in prioritizing and advancing efforts to build safe, respectful and equitable Jewish workplaces, JCCs, camps, synagogues and other communal spaces. We were pleased to reconnect with a broad group of new and established partners at this year’s convening, including colleagues from The Russell Berrie Foundation, Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah, The Mayberg Foundation, Jewish Funders Network, and more. As funders, we have an opportunity to set benchmarks of excellence in a range of areas such as paid leave, diversity in leadership, equal pay and recruiting and retaining top talent.

To lay the groundwork for the success we want to achieve, here are three ways funders can help drive this critical work today and for the long term:

Lead by example. Funders can join SRE Network and commit to being active participants in creating healthier and stronger Jewish communal organizations. This not only means providing funding but also doing the work within our own organizations. Internally, we can examine how we advance safety, respect and equity in our organizations and how we support our grantees to do the same. At the convening, several of our human resources and operations staff learned alongside Jewish communal organizations. Only when we hold ourselves accountable to doing this work can we ask grantees to do the same.

Put the needs and experiences of those harmed by abuse in Jewish settings front and center. This means assuming the presence of survivors in communities and organizations we support. We can adapt funding practices by asking if and how survivors are considered and consulted in the development of grantee programs and strategies. One session during the recent SRE convening featured survivors and people affected by abuse in various Jewish settings who shared their stories and discussed the public response they received. By understanding the short- and long-term impacts of harm, and by asking thoughtful questions and integrating survivors’ perspectives, organizations can be more intentional about supporting survivors in both their programming and hiring.

Commit to continuous learning to support long-term change. Funders should pay close attention to what is, or is not, working well. One way we can do that is by holding ourselves and our grantees accountable to participating in surveys, such as Leading Edge’s Employee Experience Survey and SRE’s Standards Self-Assessment. These help us understand and improve organizational culture, including opportunities to create greater workplace safety and stronger employee engagement. In addition, we can work with organizations to learn from and deepen work that is already underway. For example, the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life (ISJL) launched a multiyear process for implementing the SRE standards, including adding its first-ever employee handbook; developing reporting and response procedures for workplace abuse such as an ombudsperson program; and strengthening its policies overall. We see this as one of many examples that point to progress and provide models that organizations can learn from and implement.

As supporters of SRE Network, we can and should acknowledge the strides we’ve made while recognizing that our community is not done growing. Much more work remains to achieve the ambitious goal we set in 2018. We share a vision for greater safety, respect and equity within Jewish communities, where people can live and work free from abuse and be treated fairly and with dignity. The more that funders commit to this work, the more amplified our impact will be. For survivors. For our community. For our society.

Dawne Bear Novicoff is the chief operating officer at the Jim Joseph Foundation; Jon Hornstein is the program director at The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation; and Rebecca Shafron is the program officer for U.S. Jewish grantmaking at Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies.

originally published in eJewish Philanthropy, photo courtesy of Getty Images

Amid Record Levels of Inflation, Funders Can Do More to Meet Charities’ Needs

As two funder representatives in the nonprofit sector, we have seen the negative impact of high inflation in recent years on the charitable organizations we hold dear. Thankfully, funders are stepping up to help grantees manage rising costs. But more needs to be done—especially as people are getting used to inflation.

In 2021, inflation rate rose above 4 percent for the first time since 1990. In a Gallup poll last fall, nearly one in five respondents said that inflation was the country’s most important problem. Now, only 10 percent of respondents feel that way. Yet, grantee organizations in various issue areas continue to grapple with the negative effects of inflation on their budget. Immersive travel programs, for example, face increased airfare and other travel expenses. Overnight camps face rising tuition costs of 6 to 8 percent. Jewish community centers face increased program and maintenance costs.

At the same time that social service agencies are experiencing increased demands at their food banks and shelters, the cost to provide these services has increased significantly. Inflationary pressures are driving the costs of basic food items up by 14 to 16 percent from last year, according to David G. Greenfield, CEO of Met Council, which runs an emergency kosher food network that feeds more than 325,000 of the neediest New Yorkers.

Nonprofits face additional challenges, including difficulty fundraising, surge in salary/benefits costs, rising borrowing costs, and increased economic uncertainty and risk of recession. Each challenge has a consequence. Salary increases coupled with shortfalls in fundraising mean reduced program budgets and fewer people being served. A rise in travel costs means that in-person experiences for staff and participants happen less frequently or become virtual gatherings. Increased uncertainty, which has possibly the most detrimental impact, means that grantee organizations are stifled in their abilities to dream big and plan with confidence.

As we face rising inflation, while also still dealing with the lingering effects of the pandemic, organizations need more dollars, more operational flexibility, and more time to get things done. How can philanthropy help in these areas?

Increase the grant amounts and expand how we give. Several major funders have increased grantmaking to existing grantee partners. Prominent examples include the Woodcock Foundation, which increased 2022 grants both retroactively and proactively by 10 percent, and the Aviv Foundation, which increased 2022 payments by 4 percent. We have seen variations of this model from many other funders, extending grant periods by multiple years and increasing grant amounts by double-digit percentages. There has also been an increase in mission-related investments (MRIs) and program-related investments (PRIs), most notably the Ford Foundation committing $1 billion of its endowment to MRIs, with an initial focus on affordable housing initiatives.

Award larger, longer-term general operating grants. Multiyear grants can mitigate against inflation, especially when inflation-conscious multiyear grantmakers build in inflation-adjusted payments in future years to account for ongoing cost increases. Since the Jim Joseph Foundation’s inception in 2006, the ethos has been about larger grants over a longer period. Moreover, by giving longer time horizons to grantee partners, we put less pressure on them to ask for dollars year after year. Instead, they are empowered to think strategically about their work and have space to experiment and fail forward.

Find ways to make time an ally. In challenging moments, time becomes increasingly valuable. Funders can help grantees free up time to pursue their work more effectively. Make the grant application and reporting process less cumbersome, for example. If there is an item in either process that is a “nice to have” rather than a need, consider eliminating it as a requirement. If a phone call can replace a report, offer that option. In addition, if an organization lacks the bandwidth to utilize a program grant, consider adjusting it to general operating support. This allows an organization to utilize time as they see fit.

Lower expectations and create more realistic benchmarks. As we emerge from the global pandemic, we must acknowledge that the world around us has changed, and maintaining the same programmatic and organizational benchmarks that were used in 2019 is not useful to anyone involved. Funders need to appreciate and accept that in an environment with high inflation, future outcomes are likely to decline each year if organizational budgets remain at the same level as in previous years. Set achievable goals that are set collaboratively and not prescriptively, so that everyone has the same understanding of what success looks like.

Talk openly with charities about rising costs. Charities would do well to openly share with their donor base how inflation has increased their operating costs—and ask funders and grantmakers to consider increasing their annual donations to cover this widening gap. After a disaster, whether natural or man-made, time and time again, generous fundholders at the Jewish Communal Fund in New York step up and meet these needs. Inflation is as much a crisis for charities as a natural disaster because they both have lasting consequences and take increased resources to respond appropriately—and it is important for charities to communicate with their donors about their needs amid inflationary pressures.

In addition to communicating honestly with funders, we offer the following recommendations for our grantee partners as they navigate this new normal: Do not assume all funders are feeling the impact of inflation equally, engage in scenario planning, request non-financial assistance, retain talent, and diversify revenue streams, funders, and investments.

There is no single way to guide our nonprofit partners to success. An important starting point for grantmakers and funders is to engage in conversations with grantee partners to better understand how inflation impacts their work and what they need to maintain and elevate their efforts.

Rachel Schnoll is CEO of the Jewish Communal Fund. Steven Green is a senior program officer at the Jim Joseph Foundation.

originally published in Philanthropy News Digest

Creating Effective Mid-Career Cohort-Based Professional Development Experiences for Jewish Communal Professionals

As the Jim Joseph Foundation works toward developing “dynamic, pioneering leaders and educators,” the Foundation wants to learn about the most effective professional development experiences. To this end, about a year and a half ago, the Foundation launched an initiative to test new models of connection, learning, and leadership development in cohort settings for mid-career professionals within the Jewish community. The Foundation hired Heather Wolfson, along with Seth Linden and Gamal J. Palmer, to help guide this work (Rachel Brodie, z’’l, was also a key partner in the first phase of this work). Together, we have been testing cohort models to understand what makes these experiences so powerful and which design elements contribute to their success: increasing retention and supporting career growth and feelings of connectedness and belonging. Our ultimate aim is to understand how we might greatly expand and democratize–to make accessible and more affordable–the “cohort-based professional development experiences in the Jewish communal ecosystem, to support and nourish the Jewish educators and leaders who are the backbone of Jewish communal life.” 

The Foundation also wanted these cohort-based professional development offerings to be different from other experiences that exist. With that in mind, the cohort members in this initiative self-organize around who is in the group and the content they discuss. Unlike more selective professional development programs with fewer participants, this initiative envisions a scalable model over several years with thousands of participants benefiting because they help co-design and co-create the experiences that are both enriching and cost-efficient. In this model, the Foundation provides administrative support and financial resources, and a framework for deciding the purpose, participants and content. The groups can bring in a facilitator or outside speakers without the additional burden of scheduling and leading the PD themselves.

After supporting twelve cohorts for different targeted audiences, we want to share key learnings from our experience and from independent evaluation conducted by Tobin Belzer, PhD. These learnings might help others who are running or are considering running cohort programs to develop future leaders. To facilitate our learning with this early round of experimentation, the initial cohorts served professionals representing a wide range of roles and interests. A few examples include event planners who are responsible for the execution of large-scale convenings for Jewish nonprofits, BIPOC professionals who lead DEI efforts within Jewish organizations, and practitioners of cohort-based experiences.

Here’s what we learned:

People crave low pressure connections and micro-communities.
We launched this initiative coming out of the height of the pandemic. People desperately want connections to other people with whom they share professional and personal experiences. Our cohort sessions were fairly informal, which reflected the desires of the groups. We had some guest speakers, shared facilitation and leadership roles, and plenty of time simply for talking and reflecting. This low pressure tenor can be accomplished both in-person and virtually; people appreciated that sessions consistently adhered to this structure. While many often view the mental health crisis affecting young adults and teens, feelings of isolation and anxiety are prevalent among all demographics—especially those professionals supporting young adults and teens. These cohorts were, as the initiative’s first documentation report details, “supportive containers.” One participant shared, “This group made me feel more confident in my position—I now have a place to better understand industry norms, brainstorm, network and bring back real data to my organization.” Having a micro-community of peers to share challenges and successes strengthens feelings of connectedness, which is one factor in sustaining positive mental health.

People want to feel seen, heard, and valued. These micro-investments do that.
Many nonprofit professionals feel they lack professional development opportunities and room for growth at their organizations. Only a select few are in the prestigious fellowship programs that are designed to help professionals learn new skills and build their networks. When we launched the initiative, aside from the first cohorts that the Foundation identified, we solicited proposals from professionals in the field of Jewish education to ask what leadership development cohorts they wanted to design and participate in. We hosted a webinar for 50+ people, and fielded nearly 20 applications for the five cohorts that we chose to participate with us in this early phase of learning. Being asked what learning experiences they would find most impactful and helpful, and with whom—and then seeing that take shape in a cohort-based experience—was a powerful validation of their work and worth. As one participant shared during the evaluation process, “I really appreciated having the support, knowledge and guidance of my colleagues.”

People seek a range of modalities to access learning.
The settings and ways in which learning occurs should be dynamic and reflect learning for the whole person. People expect nothing less. Our first cohorts are now thinking about how they will continue learning together with guest speakers and retreats. Other modalities we have offered or facilitated include self-care, wellness activities, and book exchanges among cohort members. We found that people want both guidance and autonomy; they want to be empowered to lead and teach in certain areas. Cohort members have also selected conferences that they want to attend with each other. The modalities should be varied and enable people to find the learning opportunities that best suit them. 

The number of cohort members matters.
This is key. After different scenarios and some trial and error, we found that having too many people in a cohort poses challenges and makes it more difficult for the group to really bond and feel connected. Somewhere between six and twelve people seems optimal. However, you also need to account for cohort members who do not attend every session. If you accept 15 people, ten might show up regularly. Setting attendance parameters in advance can help to avoid this issue. Also, depending on the number of people, in-person or virtual offers different benefits and challenges—from scheduling conflicts to sharing information.

Cohort-based programs should have clear goals and outcomes.
Program participants want to know the purpose behind the programs in which they participate, including the long-term goals and desired outcomes. The Foundation, for example, launched this to “nourish” each participant, but the long-term goal is to increase the efficacy and retention of professionals in the Jewish nonprofit sector. The evaluation shows that this experience expanded the participants’ understanding of the Jewish organizational landscape and helped them recognize there is a place for themselves in the Jewish communal sector beyond their current position.

Throughout the program, cohort members asked us good, pointed questions about why we were running this initiative. The latest evaluation shows their desire to have clear answers to these questions. Their time is valuable and they wanted to know being in this program was time well spent—both regarding what they would learn and the bigger-picture aspiration of this endeavor.  

We know there is still much to learn about the recruitment, structure, content, modalities, and more of these cohort programs. We also express gratitude to the participants and all other professionals who submitted proposals. They were, and are, part of this learning journey. Moving forward, we will continue to support existing groups, explore working with network organizations as partners, and develop plans to go beyond this pilot phase, making this opportunity available to more Jewish professionals across the field.

More background information and learnings from the Cohort-Based Professional Development Experiences Initiative can be found in the initial October 2022 documentation report by Rosov Consulting and the May 2023 Phase II evaluation report by Dr. Tobin Belzer.

Heather Wolfson leads Maven Leadership Consulting, Seth Linden leads Gather Consulting, and Gamal J. Palmer leads Conscious Builders. Jenna Hanauer is a Program Officer at the Jim Joseph Foundation.


Why We Developed a More Flexible Approach Toward Grantees

Even before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, both of our organizations, Jim Joseph Foundation and Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies, had been taking gradual steps to improve our grantmaking processes. We were guided by a desire to serve as genuine partners to our grantees, emphasizing information and insights over process so that our grantees have more time to focus on implementing their missions.

Once the pandemic hit, it was clear that business as usual wasn’t going to work. Strict parameters around grant proposals, mid-grant reporting, payout structures and final grant reports were rigid, time consuming and ineffective for organizations that needed to be responding and adapting to the needs of their communities in real time.

After listening to grantees, learning from emerging practices in philanthropy and embracing opportunities for responsiveness, we eased some of the grant proposal and reporting requirements, streamlined our processes and increased the pace and scale of changes to support our grantees in continuing their work seamlessly. We also identified other areas where we could be flexible and enable grantees to devote more time to pursue their missions under challenging circumstances.

Today, many of those changes have become standard best practices for both of our organizations. The net effect has been very positive for us and our grantees. Sarah Fried, chief advancement officer at Hillel International captured the perspective of many grantees: “This more flexible approach has positively impacted use of our time and resources — and led to more productive relationships with each funder. As a data-driven organization with numerous funders and stakeholders, we regularly develop reports and proposals showing our impact or detailing funding needs for our newest initiatives. Knowing that we do not need to create entirely new materials for these funders affords us more time to focus on our core work, which includes supporting Hillel professionals and student leaders.”

We know every funder operates differently — we certainly do — but here are three ways we have both adapted our process to be more flexible partners to our grantees in the hopes that it inspires other foundations to evaluate and evolve how they work alongside their grantees.

1. Grant proposals and reports prepared for other funders often work for us too. Ultimately, grant proposals and reports are a means to an end — to receive important information so that we and our boards can make informed decisions. While we once asked for lengthy, bespoke proposals and reports —posing specific questions requiring unique answers — now the content, the information, drives the materials submitted, whether grantees produced them for us or for other funding partners. Today, we would rather follow up with a few specific questions than ask for a time-consuming, bespoke proposal or report.

2. Deadlines can extend and reports can adapt. During the pandemic, we saw grantees working diligently to adapt, create and re-invent Jewish learning and life experiences. We have worked to meet their innovation and drive with more flexibility — extending deadlines for reporting requirements, postponing check-in calls if a grantee’s time was needed elsewhere and waiving some written reports entirely if there were other, less time-consuming ways to capture grant outcomes. Now, these flexible practices are among our standard operating procedures, ensuring grantees have more time to pursue their missions under challenging circumstances.

3. Flexible grant terms build trust and spur innovation. First in fall of 2019 and then in fall of 2020, Lisa Eisen and Barry Finestone, of Schusterman and Jim Joseph respectively, wrote for eJewish Philanthropy about the many benefits of unrestricted, general operating grants, noting that this kind of support is beneficial both “for what it gives them — dollars, flexibility, capacity, and trust — as for what it saves them from – uncertainty, constraints, and repetitive administrative work.” Indeed, general operating support is a vote of confidence and a way to build trust. Alongside more general operating support, we continue to give multi-year grants with less restrictive parameters, which can help to drive and sustain the progress of one organization and influence the entire field.

We know that every funder has reasons for operating with certain practices. But we hope that sharing some of the changes we’ve made encourages others to think about changes they might consider.

As Sarah Waxman, Founder and CEO of At The Well shared: “There is trust in us to execute what we said that we were going to do, rather than constantly proving that we are doing what we said we were going to do. It’s a subtle shift, but it’s crucial and very impactful. … Knowing that I have funders who both believe in me and trust me gives me a sense of strength in order to move forward toward our shared goals.”

Old operating procedures don’t need to be scrapped entirely; in our examples above, even minor tweaks still had a significant impact on the grantee and our relationship with them. The last three years have shown all of us the incredible dedication of individuals who work to sustain and promote Jewish communal life and learning. It is their dedication and creativity that inspire us to continue searching for ways to be as supportive, efficient, and effective as possible in our work together.

Aaron Saxe is a senior program officer at the Jim Joseph Foundation and Rebecca Shafron is a program officer for U.S. Jewish Grantmaking at Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies. 

originally published in eJewish Philanthropy

Why Scaling is the Critical Next Step After Innovation

While “innovation” often is associated with a spark of an idea that has the power to change the world, real progress—forward motion, sustainable change—requires the effective implementation of those bright ideas.

To bring an idea or program model that has worked in one place somewhere new, sometimes adapting the idea to meet local needs, effective scaling is essential. Why doesn’t this happen more often? Understandably, there’s an excitement that comes with something new. New ideas and innovations are an important part of the social impact equation. But equally as important is the power of amplifying something borrowed.

What if more nonprofit professionals widen the aperture and expand the idea of innovation to include concepts like customizing and adapting proven models too, helping existing great ideas influence more people in more places? With this mindset, we can see how scaling can follow innovation for greater impact.

Ten years after its founding, the Jewish Teen Education & Engagement Funder Collaborative (FC) powered by Jewish Federations of North America—which raises and distributes more than $3 billion annually and through planned giving and endowment programs to support social welfare, social services, and educational needs—is further embracing scaling as an integral strategy. Early on, scaling was baked into the DNA of the funder collaborative, an experiment uniting national and local funders and practitioners to create, nurture, sustain, and scale contemporary approaches to Jewish teen education and growth. Successful ideas and learnings were highlighted and designed to spread across the network of 10 FC communities across the country. The Jim Joseph Foundation, one of the largest philanthropic supporters of Jewish education and engagement nationally, and the funder collaborative have seen impactful programs launched in one community and adapted by another, or brought to a broader audience through the efforts of the collaborative itself. Scaled efforts could be delivered more efficiently, carried less financial risk, and mitigated risks around achieving outcomes.

There are numerous pathways to scale that could work in any demographic, in nearly any engagement or education setting. Any originator (those who first started a program) can help adaptors (those looking to bring an existing program to their community) implement extraordinary programs that are right for them, ultimately advancing their shared goals.

The ‘copycat advantage’

In partnership with Spring Impact, a global organization that specializes in scaling social impact, the funder collaborative developed a methodology for scaling in the Jewish community. This methodology is relevant for other fields, too, and involves five concrete steps the originator of any engagement program can follow:  

1) Prove: assessing whether a solution is ready to replicate elsewhere;

2) Design and 3) Systemize: laying the groundwork in a new community and tweaking the existing model if needed;

4) Piloting and 5) Scaling: bringing the model to life in a new setting through operations manuals, trainings, or modules.

Years of Spring Impact’s consulting efforts and the funder collaborative’s experience have shown that this approach works.

In the teen engagement landscape alone, models focused on peer-to-peer engagement, service learning, microgrant programs, and other efforts started in one community and are successfully expanded to others when the program originators share lessons learned and design and implementation information with adaptors. Adaptors can access program models at no cost, with less risk involved than if they were the program creators and first-time implementers. Often, the research, proof of concept, and impact evaluation have already been completed by the time an adaptor decides to bring the program to their community. In some cases, adaptors can opt in to a network of people already running a similar program or initiative for support and brainstorming sessions. As a result, they get to focus on delivering a great product and tailoring it for their audience—often their strength—as opposed to having to focus on developing the product.

The emotional side of scale

Both the funder collaborative and the foundation have learned that scaling requires an embrace of a new mindset: radical generosity.

In the funder collaborative, one community’s success means greater potential success across the network because of a commitment by all communities involved to work together. High-fidelity replication—maintaining the most vital aspects of a model in a scaled version of it—is difficult but worthwhile. Originators must think through how they will share information and provide training and support to others. Adaptors must understand their audience, be willing to learn, and implement the essential elements of the original program model. For originators, effective scaling is about more than sharing models: It’s about adopting a new mindset, skills, and capacity to unpack models with deep learning, toolkits, and trainings. Originators go from being a “doer” to a “teacher,” “ambassador,” or “champion.”

Opportunity to increase impact

Successful scaling requires detailed planning—plus investment. Sometimes the right person to bring an innovation to scale isn’t the originator, and the funder collaborative can step in to help adjust the program for a national audience, amplifying its reach.

As we learned from our partner and mentors at Spring Impact, organizations in different sectors and spaces can take on a leadership role in scaling as well, including investing in scaling of specific organizations. The organization’s Journey to Impact report highlights lessons learned from supporting more than 250 organizations in achieving impact at scale, illustrating the power of embracing the marriage of innovation and scaling.

There are benefits to amplifying new ideas, and there are advantages of scaling existing ideas as an alternative pathway to dramatically increase nonprofits’ collective impact. We believe we hold the potential and tools to help some of the most groundbreaking innovations spread. The Jewish Teen Education & Engagement Funder Collaborative is a resource for any program seeking to extend its impact.

Sara Allen is executive director of the Jewish Teen Education & Engagement Funder Collaborative powered by Jewish Federations of North AmericaRachel Shamash Schneider is a program officer at the Jim Joseph Foundation.

originally published in Philanthropy News Digest by Candid

Making the Most of a Funder Update: Strategies to Keep Funders Engaged in Your Work

With information at your fingertips, and distractions only a click away, it is more important than ever to understand the “best” ways to get and hold people’s attention. At the Jim Joseph Foundation, we receive compelling and diverse grantee-partner updates that grab our attention, pull us into their work and impact, openly share challenges and learnings and leave us excited about their future plans. After recently receiving a grantee-partner update – and reflecting on how helpful it was – we realized that there are many other types of updates, utilizing entirely different approaches, that are equally as effective.

Whether via email or Zoom, in large peer funder groups or smaller ones, delivered weekly or quarterly, there is no single “right” way for these updates to occur. There are nuanced differences in each approach that best serve the grantee-partner’s unique circumstances and goals. In fact, as we compiled the examples below, we realized there were even more effective forms of updates than we had initially thought, which is a testament to the professionalism of the partners with whom we work. We think there is value in both grantees and funders considering these various forms — which can all work well depending on the specific organization, its stage of growth, content shared, list of funders and goals of the update itself. We view grantee-partner updates (and our sharing the thought process behind them here) as part of our approach to relational grantmaking, which is both premised on and leads to open and honest communications.

As noted, there are many organizations in our portfolio who share effective updates with their funders; we asked six grantee-partners who each utilize a different form and style to share insights as to why their specific choices work best for them:

The Written Word

Sometimes email still works best, with benefits from the foundation’s perspective that these are easy to forward and share with colleagues, board members and others. We also have as much time as we need to digest the information, and these updates “live forever” on our computers, if so desired. Below are three grantee-partners sharing insights about their distinct form of email updates.

In addition to a narrative, Sefaria’s quarterly email updates utilize statistics and imagery to tell a story.

I started writing quarterly investor updates in 2017, in response to my growing sense that as Sefaria continued to mature I was losing the bandwidth to adequately keep in touch with Sefaria’s most important supporters, investors, and friends. There was so much going on then and I wanted to make sure that all of our most important stakeholders, and not only those funders who received regular grant reports or project updates, were kept in the loop. The title of these updates – Sefaria’s Quarterly Investor Newsletter – reflect our belief that Sefaria’s supporters are not just donors involved in unidirectional gift-making, but true investors––engaged partners who are eager to understand our progress, our problems, and the opportunities that lie ahead. These letters are an integral way for me to communicate and maintain relationships with this important segment of the Sefaria ecosystem.

 As a product that is best experienced live, every update contains a visual element – an image highlighting a new product or feature, or when the occasion calls for it, a video demo showcasing some experience on the site. Other constants include library stats, a review of recent traffic, and a fundraising update. The fundraising update always includes an overview of available opportunities and will occasionally prompt a response from an investor that opens the door to a new partnership. The library stats and traffic updates are powerful, too; for the most part, these highlight exciting growth and I’m proud to share them, but occasionally there are slower quarters or dips in traffic that keep us honest, alert, and motivated to intervene when the story our numbers are telling is not the same story we want to be sharing to our donors.

 Maybe most importantly, these updates allow me to give our investors and supporters a small taste of the nachas my team and I enjoy as the stewards of this beloved project. – Daniel Septimus, CEO, Sefaria

Repair the World’s weekly email shares updates and impact with its Board and major funders simultaneously. 

I’ve found that the key to having meaningful interactions with board members and funders is to engage them in strategic conversations, to really partner with them on the hardest questions and dilemmas I’m facing as a leader. This approach provides me with valuable thought partnership and also engages our stakeholders in a deeper way, beyond just hearing from me about the impact of Repair. So, to ensure that our valuable time together can be used for more strategic questions, I get the more basic updating done in advance. I send out a weekly email to our key stakeholders—board members, committee members, key funders, and our senior leadership team—all together, providing high-level updates on programming, development, and operations. I find weekly is the right cadence; if we did it less frequently there would be too much information to absorb at once. We also use the weekly updates to celebrate milestones and call out stakeholders or staff members when they go above and beyond in their work. These updates, in their simple and easy-to-digest email form, have become an important part of our culture of transparency. – Cindy Greenberg, President and CEO, Repair the World

Honeymoon Israel’s quarterly updates are nicely designed PDF slides with programmatic information, recent learnings, and imagery.

At Honeymoon Israel we have always seen our funders as truly equal partners in building HMI, caring for our participants and alumni, and building a better Jewish world. That approach requires HMI to be transparent in our relationship with our core funders. To accomplish this goal and support our relationship it is essential to us that we communicate clearly and often where HMI is headed, the challenges we are facing, and the opportunities ahead. Thus, about every 12 weeks, we email our funders a slide deck in PDF format that covers numerous areas of our work, including upcoming and recent trip information and impact (based on survey data), post-trip community engagement offerings around holidays and other events, internal staff news, and more. Each section in our update is accompanied with pictures that help to bring to life who we are as an organization and the people we engage. Particularly during the height of the pandemic when HMI trips were on hold, these updates helped convey the range of ways we stayed connected and helped young adults engage in meaningful Jewish life. – Michael Wise and Avi Rubel, co-CEOs, Honeymoon Israel

The Spoken Word

Other grantee-partners provide updates via conference calls or Zoom. From the foundation’s perspective, these are good opportunities for dynamic presentations, conversations, thought partnership and Q&A in real time. Often, we also have an opportunity to interact with peer funders, some of whom we may not know so well. These updates can be both more frontal or conversational, and include group brainstorming or feedback on the grantee-partner’s opportunities or challenges. Detailed agenda setting that includes topics that will be addressed, along with the amount of time to be spent on each one, plays a significant role in making these conversations efficient and effective. Here are three grantee-partners sharing insights about their distinct form of updates via conference call or Zoom:

The Jews of Color Initiative holds calls with multiple funders every 10-12 weeks as opportunities for both updates and education.

Our funder briefings at the Jews of Color Initiative are a very critical part of our efforts to create more welcoming, inclusive Jewish communities They’ve evolved in ways that reflect the depth of our work and the interest our funders have in it, as we engage some of our communities’ most influential leaders in very challenging conversations emerging from the field. When the JoCI first started, we thought we would update funders through standard mid-term and annual grant reports. However, every week I’d receive at least a few interesting and important questions from funders trying to understand and learn more about experiences of Jews of Color in Jewish communities and how those experiences were reflected in the field. These deep and provocative questions required intensive written responses. To economize our response efforts and to engage our funders in dialogue, we transitioned from individual email responses into regular conversations with funders together. This enabled them to learn from the JoCI and from each other. Today, our funder briefings occur every 10-12 weeks and include updates on JoCI progress and conversations on the field’s most complex and interesting issues related to Jews of Color. Funders ask questions, opine, take risks, and sometimes explore out loud what it might look like to approach our collective work differently—in a less racism informed way. We could never have these experiences over email. For the JoCI and our funders, we need, and together we cultivate, an environment that is rigorous, intimate, brilliant, trusting, kind, sometimes risky and always in service to the work, our colleagues, and the field. – Ilana Kaufman, Executive Director, Jews of Color Initiative

Foundation for Jewish Camp prepares a Zoom presentation followed by Q&A.

From the very outset of the pandemic in March 2020, FJC convened monthly calls hosted by its Board Chair, Julie Platt, and myself to update the heads of key foundations of FJC’s work on behalf of the field.  In these initial funder updates, FJC shared progress reports of its multi-pronged strategy to help camps overcome the $150 million funding gap caused by overnight camp closures in summer 2020.  Each month, as FJC updated the tracking results showing a reduction of the funding gap, more funders were inspired to share their own financial commitments.  Created initially to address the immediate COVID crisis, these calls have continued to receive very positive funder feedback as an effective tool for transmitting news and inspiring the funder community to act. Now held quarterly, these calls attract approximately 30 professionals and are intentionally limited to 30 minutes – enough time to communicate salient points, respond to any questions, and occasionally, invite an outside expert or a funder to share insights, perspectives, and news of innovative funding approaches which could be replicated locally, regionally, or nationally. Whether it’s an outsider or myself delivering the remarks, we often pair them simultaneously with slides to help convey both our impact and needs. One measure of success of this approach:  when a usual participant cannot attend, they ask to receive a recording of the call. – Jeremy Fingerman, CEO, Foundation for Jewish Camp

Upstart holds quarterly Zoom calls with multiple funders, beginning with a presentation and concluding with conversation and feedback.

When UpStart and several partner organizations were considering a merger, we organized and convened a funder advisory group made up of  program officers from current and prospective foundation funders. We wanted a space to build trusting relationships to foster bi-directional learning—enabling us to learn from those with broader contextual insights and to share our insights so that our work would be better understood. Almost five years later, that group, the UpStart Philanthropic Advisory Council, still meets on a regular basis about every quarter. The design of the meetings has stayed true to the original intent, with the participants’ experience in mind. Following an update from our team on a specific, timely topic related to UpStart’s work and the Jewish social entrepreneurship field, we transition to a conversation where we lean on the thought partnership of our funders on the topic at hand. We regularly ask for feedback to ensure the topics of discussion are as relevant and helpful for the participating funders as they are for us. These funders are our partners, not our customers, and the substance and transparency of the conversations reflect that. Learning with them makes our relationship much more effective since we’re in a somewhat constant conversation, not just around grant reports or requests. The field has benefited too because the calls have fostered partnerships across our funders for new initiatives, many of which don’t involve us directly but further the overall impact of the sector. – Aaron Katler, CEO, Upstart

These examples are just a sampling of the compelling updates that we receive. Other effective tools to consider given an organization’s objectives include the use of hyperlinks, video, and in-person meetings if the opportunity arises. We also recognize that group funder updates are only one way that grantee-partners stay in touch and build relationships with their funders. Individual calls and reporting from grantee-partners provide more opportunities to address funder-specific needs and updates. Conversely, in reviewing the various forms of updates, we found that more conventional newsletters (i.e. Constant Contact) do not offer the level of personal touch that we find valuable when engaging with grantee-partners. Newsletters can be quite effective in updating broader constituents about organizational updates and programmatic opportunities but, in our experience, they do not invite a follow-up conversation with the sender that we sometimes look to have. We hope this article sparks ideas for other organizations as they think about the best ways to convey impact, build relationships, and think through challenges and opportunities.

Aaron Saxe is a senior program officer at the Jim Joseph Foundation. 

originally published in eJewish Philanthropy

Achieving Collective Impact through Scaling

The word “innovation” often conjures images of a lightbulb above a head — an instant spark of an idea that has the power to change the world. Yet real progress — forward motion, sustainable change — also requires the effective implementation of bright ideas.

In our experience, scaling means bringing an idea or program model that has worked in one place somewhere new, sometimes adapting the idea to meet local needs. Why doesn’t this happen more often? Understandably, there’s an excitement that comes with something new, and a tendency to focus on igniting our own lightbulb. We know through our experience as funder representatives and leaders that new ideas and innovations are an important part of the social impact equation. But the part of the equation that we want to elevate here is the power of amplifying something borrowed.

With that in mind, along with supporting new light bulbs, what if we widen the aperture and expand our notion of innovation to include concepts like customizing and adapting proven models too, helping existing light bulbs shine even brighter and in more places? With this mindset, we can see how scaling and innovation go hand-in-hand for greater impact.

Ten years after its founding, the Jewish Teen Education & Engagement Funder Collaborative (the Funder Collaborative), powered by The Jewish Federations of North America, is further embracing scaling as an integral strategy. Early on, scaling was baked into the DNA of the Funder Collaborative, an innovative philanthropic experiment uniting national and local funders and practitioners to create, nurture, sustain and scale contemporary approaches to Jewish teen education and growth. Successful ideas and learnings were highlighted and designed to spread across the network of ten FC communities across the country. The Jim Joseph Foundation and the Funder Collaborative have seen impactful programs launched in one community and adapted by another — or brought to a broader audience through the efforts of the Funder Collaborative itself.  Scaled efforts were more efficient to deliver, carried less financial risks and mitigated risks around achieving outcomes. With this track record of success spreading key programs and methodologies, the Funder Collaborative is eager to unpack and demystify pathways to scale for others, working in any demographic.

To do this, we are setting out to elevate the powerful and effective work of any originator (those who first started a program) to help adaptors (those looking to bring an existing program to their community) implement extraordinary programs that are right for them, ultimately advancing teen education and engagement across the Jewish community. The Foundation knows that this approach has the potential to profoundly amplify successful program models and impact the engagement landscape nationally, just as the Funder Collaborative already has changed the teen education and engagement landscape.

The Copycat Advantage

In partnership with Spring Impact, a global organization which specializes in scaling social impact, the Funder Collaborative developed a methodology for scaling in the Jewish community. This methodology involves five concrete steps the originator of any engagement program can follow:  

1) Prove: assessing whether a solution is ready to replicate elsewhere

2) Design and 3) Systemize: laying the groundwork in a new community and tweaking the existing model if needed

4) Piloting and 5) Scaling: bringing the model to life in a new setting through operations manuals, trainings, or modules.

Years of Spring Impact’s consulting efforts, and the Funder Collaborative’s experience, has shown this approach works.

In the teen engagement landscape alone, models focused on peer-to-peer engagement, service learning, microgrant programs and more started in one community and successfully expanded to others when the program model originators shared lessons learned and design and implementation information with model adaptors. Adaptors can access program models at no-cost, with less risk involved than if they were the program creators and first-time implementers. Often, the research, proof of concept and impact evaluation have already been completed by the time an adaptor decides to bring the program to their community. In some cases, adaptors can opt-in to a network of people already running a similar program or initiative, for support and brainstorming. As a result, they get to focus on delivering a great product and tailoring it for their audience — often their strength — as opposed to having to focus on developing the product.

A Closer Look

The Peer Leadership Fellows (PLF) Program, which utilizes a relational strategy to identify and connect with unengaged teens, was first created and launched by the Boston Jewish Teen Initiative. To deepen our understanding of why the program achieved its outcomes, the Funder Collaborative and the Jim Joseph Foundation partnered with Informing Change to map its model and uncover core strengths and opportunities to optimize. Using this model map of program delivery and shared learnings, several communities adapted and customized the teen relational program to meet their needs, with two communities opting to train professionals in the relational methodology. Each community shared certain commitments, while tailoring community-specific aspects for teen and professional participants. This evolution and spread of the methodology coalesced with the Funder Collaborative convening a relational Community of Practice (CoP), which brings adaptors together to share successes and challenges, and to become champions and advocates of relational engagement. This community learning approach generated more interest in the methodology and also uncovered a need for additional scaffolding to strengthen delivery — as a result, the Funder Collaborative is developing a common curriculum and shared training playbook. Click here to learn more about joining the relational CoP or relational training.

The Emotional Side of Scale

Both the Funder Collaborative and the Foundation have learned that scaling requires an embrace of a new mindset: radical generosity.

In the Funder Collaborative, one community’s success means greater potential success across the network because of a commitment by all communities involved to work together. High-fidelity replication — maintaining the most vital aspects of a model in a scaled version of it — is difficult but worthwhile. Originators must think through how they will share information and provide training and support to others. Adaptors must understand their audience, be willing to learn and implement the essential elements of the original program model. For originators, effective scaling is about more than sharing models: it’s about adopting a new mindset, skills and capacity to unpack models with deep learning, toolkits and trainings. Originators transcend from ‘doer’ to “teacher,” or “ambassador” or “champion.”  The above case study showcases the Boston Teen Initiative’s role of originator and how their efforts, and those of others, unlocked a new pathway for engagement.

Successful scaling needs detailed planning — plus investment —to make it happen. Sometimes the right person to bring an innovation to scale isn’t the originator, and the Funder Collaborative can step in as it did for the PLF — helping to adjust the program for a national audience and amplifying its reach.

A Closer Look

As an example, the  Virtual College Road Trip, was first inspired by a local community in the throes of the pandemic. With travel limitations in place, teens and their families were eager to ‘jump on the bus’ to explore colleges across the country and  imagine themselves engaging Jewishly on campus. This online platform made this experience possible for thousands of students, regardless of geography, and created intimate experiences with first-person student-created insider videos and behind-the-scenes access to admissions professionals. The diversity of the offerings held wide appeal and the program quickly went viral. Demand — and the growth possibilities — required more capacity than the originating community had to amplify its reach, and so the Funder Collaborative centralized and further developed the road trip; it is now one of its signature programs.

How Originators, Adaptors and Funders Can Get Involved

There is more than one pathway to amplify impact through scaling and many opportunities to join us on this journey. Leveraging our early learnings and expertise scaling teen programs, the FC is positioned to help the exponential growth of Jewish programs targeting any demographic, from early childhood to older adults.

For Creators and Program Originators

  • Sign up for a series of three Masterclasses and individual coaching to learn these skillsets for originators reaching any demographic: ECE, youth, college students or young adults – register your interest here.
  • Explore the ‘readiness assessment’ to help determine whether your program is poised for adaptation, and conduct a ‘rigor testing’ to help you select the right partners to adapt your program.
  • Creatively package your ‘scale ready’ program and make it attractive to potential adaptors.

For Adaptors

  • Make It Yours. Find inventive and effective programs that any community or organization can adapt or inspire change.  Sometimes the step-by-step tool kit we provide is all that is needed, or the Funder Collaborative can make connections to program originators for additional training or support.
  • Community Landscape Scan Support. We offer tools to conduct your own local landscape scan and interviews and focus groups with community members to help determine gaps in local programs and, thus, innovations that might be right to bring to your community.
  • Proven Impact Measurement Tools. We freely offer surveys and measurement tools, co-created with Rosov Consulting, to ensure teen programs are having the desired effects. We offer consulting on both how to field and analyze the tools, as well as a detailed guidebook to help you each step of the way, found here.

For Funders

  • Partner with the Funder Collaborative. Look beyond your four walls. Any grantee-partner or community is invited to partner with the Funder Collaborative. Our team is available to present on key learnings and the engagement landscape, as well as consulting.  We are eager to help others design effective engagement strategies and explore customizing existing programs – of any size or budget.
  • Embrace the concept of adaptation as innovation. Scaling is more than simply transplanting existing programs; it’s narrowing in on the essential elements of programs to achieve desired outcomes. By encouraging boards and partners to weigh impact over innovation, we can dramatically accelerate the spread of good models, offering more people even more ways to meaningfully connect to Jewish life.

We know the benefits of  looking for new light bulbs, and we understand scaling isn’t a simple task. Yet with more organizations across the country understanding the benefits of scaling as an alternative pathway — and with the Funder Collaborative poised to help — we can dramatically increase our collective impact. Now housed at Jewish Federations of North America, the Funder Collaborative is a resource for any education and engagement program seeking to extend its impact, with a national platform to champion scale and provide the resources, skills, and relationships to make this  possible.

We have the opportunity to see our community’s most groundbreaking innovations spread to more communities. In no way does this approach negate the work of trailblazers investing time and resources in new innovations. Rather, these approaches go hand-in-hand. By shining a light on successful models and helping them take root somewhere new, the Funder Collaborative is using its expertise to help the Jewish community embrace both sides of the scaling equation, leading to even greater impact.

Sara Allen is executive director of the Jewish Teen Education & Engagement Funder Collaborative powered by Jewish Federations of North America. Rachel Shamash Schneider is a program officer at the Jim Joseph Foundation.

originally published in eJewish Philanthropy