Continuing to build: What we’ve learned and what we’re changing in our new area of grantmaking

Over a year ago, the Jim Joseph Foundation shared with eJewishPhilanthropy readers that it would be investing in a new grant area: Build Grants (“Building something together: How our new grant category supports organizations’ growth and sustainability,” May 9, 2022).

“One of our three strategic priorities is investing in Powerful Jewish Learning Experiences (PJLE),” the foundation shared then. “Build Grants support organizations to invest in their capacity to expand their programs and operations, thus engaging more people at different life stages in meaningful Jewish life. And importantly, we utilize these grants, in part, to support offerings that engage new audiences of young Jews whom we are not reaching with our existing investments.”

When we launched this new strategy, we relied heavily on all of the principles that now compose the Foundation’s First Principles, including centering young people, building  meaningful relationships, looking around corners, being curious and leveraging time. Aware that grantee-partners would be on a learning journey with us, we leaned on strong relationships developed over years of relational grantmaking. Our mutual trust actually deepened as we navigated unknowns together about how the work was going and what might come at the conclusion of these grants.

With a new strategy and hypothesis about structure and impact, the Foundation Program Team sought from the outset to always learn throughout this grantmaking experiment. We are devoting significant time, energy and resources to learn as much as we can to improve this area of grantmaking, continually reflecting on what works well and where changes could strengthen our approach.

To this end, we solicited early feedback from grantee partners, funding colleagues and field experts, incorporating high-level insights from our board and assessing our own experience with these investments along the way. We also partnered with Third Plateau on an external evaluation to capture both best practices and formal feedback from early Build Grantee partners.

Some insights led to minor changes, such as identifying which readiness factors needed to be met in full and which had more flexibility. One major observation became clear, however: Given the high bar to qualify, fewer organizations than anticipated were ready for a Build Grant right away. Many required smaller, more targeted capacity-building investments to improve their readiness to absorb growth capital.

In response, we conceptualized Capacity Build Grants: an investment in an organization’s initial capacity when it is a promising Build Grant candidate but missing one or more of the readiness criteria. These targeted investments can fund a strategic plan, evaluation, organizational assessment or other specific areas of need that further position an organization for a Scaling Build Grant next. Growth targets are not tied to these initial investments, as the focus is on preparing for growth. This shift helped us to understand the mutual value of making grants tied to dramatic growth projections only when an organization is ready to absorb significant capital to expand its work.

Importantly, we also learned that we needed to lengthen the timeline of funding. Three years — the initial design — is usually enough time to grow the staff, upgrade systems, further enhance internal operations and begin to expand the program; but it is not enough time for organizations to fully achieve ambitious goals around breadth of reach, fundraising and sustainability. As a result, we have adjusted our arc of investment to best position our grantee-partners to achieve our shared goals.

Another piece of feedback we are acting on is to provide additional technical support beyond the grant funding. While we have begun providing opportunities for networking and learning, specifics of this approach will be identified through continuing engagement with Third Plateau, who will work closely with our grantee-partners to identify areas of emergent need.

These lessons learned, challenges and successes are covered in the evaluation report we shared with Build Grantee-partners in late summer 2023. In addition, a best practices report, which was shared broadly, highlights best practices in capacity building support and is a tool to assess and evaluate our assumptions and design of this new grantmaking area based on the experiences of our grantee partners.

Of course, after we shared the evaluation, the world changed on Oct. 7. Following that day, the foundation recognized a need to provide both emergency grantmaking and additional non-grantmaking support to existing grantee-partners. Our Build Grant recipients were no exception. We relied on our genuine, open, honest relationships with those grantees to learn about their needs and to respond as best we could. We also affirmed that sound grantmaking strategies are effective during both routine and unprecedented times.

More broadly, we are pleased that Build Grants are helping the foundation reach new audiences and support new approaches to powerful Jewish learning; and we look forward to continuing to learn and to share our insights along this journey. As a strategy, Build Grants are a vehicle to support multiyear growth plans and capacity building across the Jewish education ecosystem. These efforts help more Jewish leaders and organizations expand their reach, increase their impact, strengthen their organizations and raise new dollars. As with nearly all of our grantmaking, honesty and transparency with grantee-partners is paramount. Then independent evaluation can be digested and shared and important changes can be made — enabling all of us to better pursue our goals.

Aaron Saxe is the program director of Powerful Jewish Learning Experiences (PJLE) at the Jim Joseph Foundation, and Rachel Shamash Schneider is a program officer at the Jim Joseph Foundation.

originally published in eJewish Philanthropy.

American Jewish Philanthropy Needs to Go Above and Beyond

We are in the immediate wake of the most significant Jewish event of our lifetime. Jews all over the world will mark time as everything before October 7th, 2023, vs. everything after October 7th, 2023.

Still in the sheer horror of the moment, Jewish philanthropy–individual donors and foundations alike–are supporting Israel to an unprecedented degree. This is exactly what we should be doing, and it is not the only thing we should be doing.

Our actions in this moment will have a lasting impact, for better or worse, on the American Jewish community. Right now, the Jewish philanthropic community must have a “yes, and” approach toward funding. Yes, we absolutely need to support Israel and Israelis. We need to contribute mightily to the multitude of needs Israel has—for the orphans, the evacuees, the businesses whose employees are now on the front lines, the mental health of the traumatized. All of these causes need our philanthropic support. Yes, give.

And the American Jewish community needs to stay intact; unless philanthropy steps up in the U.S. as well, there is a genuine chance much of the organizational structure we have spent generations building will be stretched to the limits. The structure is holding for now. But I am looking more long-term over months and perhaps years as this war continues. There are very real risks that could break our community.

During Covid, the ENTIRE world was affected. In this instance, Jews are uniquely affected. The need for increased philanthropy in this moment is great. We must address key areas:

  • Increased security, safety, and mental health support for Jewish organizations’ staff and participants.
  • Staffing shortages at organizations that depend on employees living in Israel; this includes the Israel offices of American organizations, and Israeli workers who help sustain Jewish experiences here (i.e. Jewish overnight camps rely heavily on Israeli counselors and staff, and recruitment for these positions ordinarily occurs in November and December).
  • Staffing shortages here in North America as professionals say “enough” of emergencies and the mass stress they bring
  • Effective responses to requests from Jewish organizational leaders, educators, curriculum content developers, parents, youth, and young adults who need to communicate and educate about what is happening and how to talk and teach about it.
  • Disruptions to educational programs that involve travel to/from Israel.
  • Fundraising needs for organizations whose philanthropic supporters are diverting resources to the much-needed aid and assistance for Israel.

These needs are both immediate and will remain for some longer period of time. Our synagogues, day schools, JCCs, social services, our people and our institutions, are the beating heart of Jewish life outside of Israel. Now more than ever, we must give and give generously to cement their existence, so that they may cement ours. If we don’t, we risk losing a generation of North American Jews due to fear, shrinking Jewish engagement offerings, and lack of Jewish professionals equipped with resources and training to do their job effectively.

So, continue or start giving to Israel.

And continue or start giving to the North American Jewish community.

This is a moment to dig deeper than we ever have for Jewish related philanthropy, and we need to give more than ever by a large factor. The time is now. The need is urgent.

This may mean giving less to other worthy causes (e.g., hospitals, museums) that are not in dire need or in a crisis. Instead, direct that money to needs in Israel, to your local Jewish day school, JCC, Jewish camp, and Jewish student organizations. There are countless other very worthy Jewish options from which to choose. 

In this moment of despair, I remain intentionally hopeful. Hatikvah, literally “The Hope,” defines the Jewish people and the story of Israel.  Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, z”l, juxtaposes “optimism” with “hope” as a call to action:

Optimism and hope are not the same. Optimism is the belief that the world is changing for the better; hope is the belief that, together, we can make the world better. Optimism is a passive virtue, hope an active one. It needs no courage to be an optimist, but it takes a great deal of courage to hope.

We must continue to hope. Each of us can be Jewish philanthropists to actively make our situation better. We, the Jewish people, need all hands-on deck, and we need each other for the long haul. Generations from now, I see a thriving North American Jewish community, along with a thriving Israel. Both of those will come to fruition, but only if we hope and act.

Barry Finestone is President and CEO of the Jim Joseph Foundation

originally published in eJewish Philanthropy. Banner illustration by Anastasia Usenko/Getty Images.

My Non-Jewish Perspective Working at a Jewish Foundation

We’re pleased to share reflections written before October 7th from the Foundation’s operations associate, Amanda Leal.

I told myself in July of 2022 that I would find a job that helps serve a greater purpose.

I had worked in the semiconductor manufacturing industry for a couple years, as my first “big girl job.” I acquired incredible experience and worked with people of all different backgrounds, ethnicities, and skills. I scrubbed the floors of a manufacturing floor in order to “5S” the place to create a more productive workspace. I loved it. It was fun and dynamic, but at the end of the day I felt like I did very little to better the world. Just a cog in the machine…you know all the sayings. I decided to begin a job search to work for a nonprofit organization that makes a difference to people’s live—even if I would not directly be hands-on in that work.

I was stoked to find out I had an interview for this “Jewish foundation.” Then after one interview… and another one.. and another one…I got the job! I felt incredibly happy and proud; my hard work had paid off, I prayed/manifested, and it happened. I admit, I was incredibly ignorant to Jewish culture and practice, but I knew that the Jim Joseph Foundation made a difference in the education of youth, and I loved that alone. Interestingly (or maybe not), I am a Christian and was incredibly honored that I would be able to catch on to little things here and there. However, beyond that, I did not completely understand what I was walking into. I guess that’s what happens when you grow up in Central California and as a Christian where church is your whole world. You just don’t meet Jewish people, or even know such a community exists in your own backyard.

In fact, as I told family and friends back home about my new job, I was met with interesting comments from Christians and from self-identifying progressive, young left-leaning people. One interaction: When my parents shared with friends at church that their daughter would be working for Jewish foundation, one person exclaimed that I could be a “beacon of light” at the foundation and help convert every Jewish person there to Christianity. This statement never fails to make me laugh. Another person asked, “Why do Jews need a foundation?” Now listen, I went into this ignorant but not that ignorant. The fact that someone would ask that question truly threw me for a loop. Yet, as I  answered the question, I realized I had a pretty surface level response. I recognized that I needed to acquire more knowledge to answer this question to the best of my ability.

It’s been almost a year since I joined the Foundation team and I can answer this question in so many ways. I see how Jewish learning encompasses such a wide range of experiences and opportunities that help young people throughout life. I see how Jewish values inform actions to help others and to improve communities. I see the efforts being made to better welcome BIPOC Jews, LGBTQ+ Jews, and more marginalized communities into Jewish life. The way I think about it in my worldview is this: Some children feel forced by parents to go to their religion’s place of worship. I would have felt so much safer and more loved if I had the same kinds of safe spaces I see the Foundation’s grantee-partners create. I have friends on friends who would have been saved from a lot of misery and could still benefit from those safe spaces, at their big age. It’s all so important, and the journey of “learning how to human,” as I like to say so eloquently, is tough.

I also appreciate the culture of the Foundation, in which all members of the professional team are encouraged to learn about Jewish culture. As I learn more, I also have more questions. Thankfully, the Foundation enables any team member to participate in the Jewish Learning Collaborative, which is one-on-one personalized Jewish learning. I jumped at this opportunity and was thrilled to meet my teacher, Rabbi Dusty Klass. Dusty grew up in an interfaith home with one Catholic parent and one Jewish parent. In wanting to feel seen, I chose Dusty because of the interfaith background, and hoped that she would be open-minded when it came to my inquiries.

Dusty has made clear to me that no question is off limits (something I absolutely adore about Judaism) and provides beautiful responses that lead to about a thousand more questions. Some of the questions I have asked: “Under Judaism, how do we feel about the LGBTQ+ community?” (this was a major item I looked into prior to accepting the job) “How are young adults so involved in the Jewish community?” “What do y’all believe about the afterlife?” “What does Judaism/Jewish text say about periods?” Sometimes a question will lead to another question right out of left field. It is so fun and informative and endless. Most importantly, the JLC makes my learning possible and connects me even more to the work and beneficiaries of the Foundation.

Now, that was a ramble about many things and I hope at the very least, you are not offended by how ignorant I was and still continue to be. I am still learning! Bear with me. As my first year at the Foundation wraps up, I feel incredibly thankful. I feel blessed to feel embraced by my colleagues, and also to be learning about a community that I previously knew nothing about.  I am blessed to have coworkers that are patient with me while I pronounce Hebrew words or attempt to drum up excitement for a Jewish based meditation. And most importantly and not at all corny, I feel blessed to continue learning day by day.

Amanda Leal is an Operations Associate at the Jim Joseph Foundation.






Scaling Impact in the Jewish Community: A New Masterclass Powered by Jewish Federations

What does it mean to scale impact? Many of us equate growth and scale. However, the difference between these approaches to achieving greater impact is worth understanding.

  • Growth = Adding resources at the same rate that you’re adding reach
  • Scale = Adding incremental time and resources for exponential impact (increase impact without resource investments). Also known as the J curve

Thanks to a strategic partnership between Spring Impact and the Jewish Teen Education and Engagement Funder Collaborative (Funder Collaborative), powered by Jewish Federations of North America, there’s a new opportunity for professionals in the Jewish community to amplify this critical knowledge, skill set, and ultimately, their impact.

The Funder Collaborative, an innovative philanthropic experiment launched over a decade ago, unites national and local funders and practitioners to create, nurture, sustain and scale contemporary approaches to Jewish teen education and growth. From the beginning, the Funder Collaborative committed to sharing frameworks, tools and learnings openly with the goal of helping to advance the entire field of Jewish education and engagement. In 2019, the Funder Collaborative entered into a strategic partnership with Spring Impact, a global organization that specializes in scaling social impact that has worked with over 250 organizations. Today, the Funder Collaborative has become the go-to expert deploying a methodology for scaling impact in the Jewish community.

What does this mean? Think a step-by-step disciplined Methodology to Extend Impact, online toolkits, courses, 1:1 coaching with scaling experts, cohort experiences, and in-person gatherings focused on this content. With new innovations blossoming out of pandemic necessities, and pressures for increased efficiency and expanded impact, there is growing demand for the know-how that can guide this sort of exponential reach. After a few online Scaling Masterclasses, two dozen alumni, including from Hazon (now Adamah), Institute for Jewish Spirituality, Moving Traditions, and Dorot/UJA have each internalized the lessons to scale to new communities. These successes emerged specifically from the Funder Collaborative’s work, and now there is the opportunity to take this methodology to the broader Jewish community. The Funder Collaborative selected organizations to join its first in-person Masterclass in Scale this past April in Silicon Valley.

The signal and invitation were clear: if you have a program or organization that is ready to scale (based on a readiness assessment), come spend two days with like-minded professionals from across the Jewish community’s education and engagement field and create an action plan to expand your impact. Right-fit organizations participated in an online orientation, received 1:1 coaching, and gained access to an online classroom.

I was fortunate to attend the Masterclass in Scale and witness the impactful experience first-hand. Leadership teams from 12 organizations (including Jewish Kids Groups, Jewish LearningWorks, and Hillel International) came together for a masterclass convening that provided a deep dive into nearly all things scaling, guided by the following learning principles and objectives:

  1. Understand the spectrum of scaling models and select a resonant model
  2. Connect the scaling methodology to Jewish context and conversation on growth, expansion, and adaptation
  3. Learn the multi-step process of scaling in a practical step-by-step way
  4. Identify and articulate barriers and explore collaborative solutions
  5. Be inspired by tangible examples of successful scale
  6. Share an experience and connect with a  cohort designed to offer support and opportunities for cross-promotion

Together, participants learned about different approaches to scaling, the roles and responsibilities that must be accounted for, various stages to anticipate, and more. Participants chose a pathway to scale (from the nine pathways below), and built in time for pitching, action planning, and brainstorming as an organizational team and cohort. The convening married theory and practice, creating a scaling lab with coaches, teachers, and the cohort colleagues on hand.

As a funder representative and believer in this work, the benefits of this Masterclass were clear. Here are some learnings from the experience:

  1. Theory and Practice Are Essential. The Masterclass provided a valuable space for learning and building connections. An in-person setting is most conducive for action planning and relationship building – skill building and cohort building go hand-in-hand for impact.
  2. Thoughtful Convening Design. Event designers took this training to the next level by infusing connection time and gathering best practices. Pre and post meetings helped make the most out of the in-person time together.  
  3. Belonging Matters and Creates Momentum. Professionals from the 12 organizations expressed a sense of belonging and an appreciation for the diversity of people and programs represented. Participants craved more learning and social together time in person and partnerships are already being explored.
  4. Next-level Professional Development. Participants praised the PD experience as unique in the ecosystem, many of them creators of training programs themselves. They enjoyed opportunities to learn from others and the real-world stories that validated all the effort it takes to plan and scale effectively.
  5. Field and Funder Education is Needed.  There is a significant opportunity and critical need for our field to understand the difference between scale and growth and provide the resources to extend impact accordingly.
  6. Scaling does not get the credit it deserves in the innovation ecosystem. Building from scratch is important, and so too is not reinventing the wheel and successfully spreading all the good ideas already out there.
  7. Relevance Beyond Programs and Across Organizations. Scaling methodology is relevant for organizations of all shapes and sizes and at different points in the lifespan. From synagogue programs to regional afterschool programs to Hillel International, this content and experience was valuable for everyone. Though the training is designed for program scaling, it offers value to the entire organization’s way of thinking and doing.
  8. Organizations Need Technical Assistance. Organizations receive funding to scale but often don’t have the skills to get there. Their professionals  need to be equipped with more support and training, earlier in their scaling journeys.

As we continue to share learnings around scaling, with the Funder Collaborative leading these efforts, we also look to share “learnings around learning.” Throughout this year, the Foundation has shared insights around small convenings, large network conferences, and more. Masterclasses are yet another tool in our field’s toolkit to bring people together and share best practices.

We are especially excited to see the concept of scaling continuing to make inroads in our field.  Innovation and experiments with new initiatives are of course important. But so too is understanding how to scale effective programs, whether new or legacy, that have proven, positive outcomes. We recognize the importance of education and thought partnership on this topic, with funding colleagues and grantee partners alike. If you are interested in learning more about upcoming Scaling Masterclasses, please complete this form and if you’re a funding colleague interested in supporting and elevating this work in your portfolio, please reach out to me, [email protected]

Rachel Shamash Schneider is a Program Officer at the Jim Joseph Foundation.

Why Convenings Are Part of Our Strategy to Scale

In the past few months, I have been fortunate to attend two “inaugural” convenings of Jewish professionals who previously had not been together in person as a cohesive group. Each event was curated for individuals who play a particular role in different organizations within Jewish education. The power of convening professionals in person, with similar roles across organizations, was especially pronounced in a world heavily impacted by the pandemic. There was a unique energy and excitement created by those face-to-face interactions, with the opportunity to discuss common goals and innovative solutions for shared challenges.

Convenings of this nature are more than just learning opportunities for the participants; they are valuable learning experiences for the Jim Joseph Foundation too.  We get to hear, in real-time, how professionals approach their work, what they’re grappling with, and what they need to further advance the field. Convenings also are part of our strategy to scale best practices—whether in data gathering and usage, design of professional development programs, Jewish learning experiences, or other models—from one organization or community to others in the field. 

One convening, sponsored by the Collaborative for Applied Studies in Jewish Education (CASJE), invited directors of professional development (PD) programs for Jewish educators writ large to learn about applying research to practice. Thirty organizations were represented that provide high-quality PD for a wide variety of educators using different teaching formats and in various settings—day school teachers, experiential educators, Hillel professionals, camp counselors, and many more.

Similar to our professional learning community in our Professional Development Initiative five years ago (convened by Rosov Consulting), the 60 program directors at this convening saw themselves as individuals within a professional field—not in silos focusing only on their particular audience or setting. With this mindset, their learning and knowledge sharing covered more topics and focused on more audiences. And any successes each person has is much more likely to impact one of their peers. The group of participants spent two days hearing about research findings (studies both inside the Jewish education arena and outside), asking questions to gain clarity and understanding, breaking into small groups—sometimes with peers they collaborated with previously and sometimes with peers they never thought to consult—and brainstorming how to apply their new learning to improve their programs.

The second convening involved “the data people” at five large organizations who provide powerful Jewish learning experiences for young people. The goal was to explore shared measures of outcomes and of participant demographics. Of particular note is that not only had these individuals never before convened, but many of their positions within their organizations are relatively new. This reflects a field of Jewish engagement and education that more and more is recognizing the power of data—and ensuring that they have in-house expertise to help gather it and make data-informed decisions.

Rosov Consulting facilitated a productive conversation about the implementation of a pilot study of shared outcome and participant demographic measures, the resulting findings, the challenges, and the potential for future data collection. Together, the group generated opportunities that will leverage data sharing and discussed issues that might prevent data sharing in certain instances. Some conversations centered around learning from each other (for example, how to collect attendance data, what databases are most conducive to storing data) to sharing challenges related to hiring early career professionals who are data savvy.

Consistent data gathering, analysis, and application of research is in relatively nascent stages across much of our field. These convenings, and future ones like it, will help the field advance in this area, become more sophisticated in data collection and analysis, and scale the use of resulting data more quickly across the field.

While many already knew or knew of each other, the post-pandemic meetings were rich with content, ideas, networking, and celebration. In both, new relationships were formed and past relationships were strengthened, enabling a sense of community and commonality to be regained. These factors make it more likely that proven models of professional development and data gathering are shared and adapted throughout our field. We recognize too that while one convening is productive, its especially impactful to bring these people back together for more convenings, while also introducing new individuals into these experiences. This approach will help to bring fresh perspectives to the table so that more people in Jewish education and engagement can share learnings and work through challenges together.

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



Turning off the Bypass Road of Israel Education

In the West Bank, one can travel directly from Jerusalem to Efrat to Ariel without having to go through Nablus, Rafa, or Ramallah.  There is a bypass road that avoids areas deemed to be troublesome, problematic, or unsafe. There is beauty (and efficiency) in a pathway that goes directly from point to point; a thoroughfare that provides feelings of safety and security while circumventing locations that are considered less desirable.

As a traveler, however, the bypass road is problematic. The traveler is only exposed to and interacts with a narrow group of people and their perspectives on life. Call it tribalism, isolationism, exceptionalism – the truth is one can traverse Israel and the Territories without ever seeing many of its inhabitants. The traveler on this road is cut off from difference.

At the end of January, I participated in Makom’s pilot training seminar, Dreams of Others, designed for educators seeking a deeper understanding of the Israeli Palestinian Conflict.  Over the course of five days, we went off the bypass road. Using the pedagogy of hesed (respect) and din (judgment) and a framework of dreams and nightmares to understand personal bespoke narratives, we visited the in-between spaces.  We visited the home of a Palestinian woman named Hinadi living in Silwan and the home of Ahron in Ir David, ostensibly in the same neighborhood while worlds apart.  We visited Mayor Oded Revivi in Efrat before meeting Ashraf Al Ajrami, the former Minister of Detainees and Ex-Detainees Affairs in the Palestinian Government, in Atarot.  We met with Palestinian and Jewish devotees of civil society and those with completely divergent viewpoints.  As expected, we heard about the safety and security concerns of Jewish Israelis and of the civil rights and democracy challenges of the Israeli Arabs and Palestinians. But we also learned that no segment of people can be cast as binary.

First, the beauty. The trip was partially defined by hospitality. This ranged from rugelach to baklawa; from traditional coffees and teas to sodas and spirits. There was not a home, office, or classroom that we entered without being welcomed as any guest would be, with open arms. This visit was co-created by R. Joe Schwartz, R. Danny Weininger, and Osnat Fox (The Education Lab of the Jewish Agency), and lead educators Mohammad Darawshe and Rebecca Bardach. I mention this both to credit these talented educators and to highlight the importance of having a Palestinian / Israeli Arab perspective and presence on this journey and a significant focus on processing.  It is one thing to have speakers show up with varying views; it is another entirely to build a program together which engenders trust and candor.

Experiential education like this is not without its challenges. A 24-year old Palestinian nonprofit CEO who traveled to meet the group was not dropped off by her Palestinian taxi driver outside of the restaurant in Gush et Tzion- rather she was left more than 1/2 a kilometer away because the driver feared he would be shot when opening the door in this settlement community.  Additionally, on our final day of travel, we were forced to take literal side streets as the main roads in the West Bank were closed after the Israeli raid in the Jenin refugee camp.  A terrorist attack outside a Jerusalem synagogue; a shooting in the Silwan neighborhood; and rockets overhead in and around Gaza followed over the subsequent 48 hours.  While not constant, fear is a reality for many.

In many ways, the last two decades of Israel education (both metaphorically and in some instances literally) have taken place on bypass roads.  These scenic passageways exposed learners to Israel’s achievements in science and technology; advancements in arts & culture; academic and athletic successes; and humanitarian accolades, often under the banner Israel Beyond the Conflict. On this bypass road, many educators and programs avoided topics like the second Intifada, the Lebanon War, Gaza incursions, and terror attacks. Certainly, meaningful discourse about the conflict has existed in some Jewish education settings, and many entities have engaged with Jewish and Arab Israelis, Palestinians, and Arab communities across the Middle East as a touch point for Israel travel experiences.  But, across the field writ large, this has been more of the exception than the rule. There is a difference between making space for a conversation and intentionally, regularly incorporating it into curriculum and practice.  More and more organizations in the field of Israel education are finally doing the latter, and we think our community and our next generation will be better off for it.

This new vertical builds on the vital work of educators and practitioners in developing the field of Israel education over the last two decades. Organizations like The iCenter, the Israel Institute, Makom, The Shalom Hartman Institute, The Center for Israel Education, and Israel Studies departments across North America emerged during that time. Parallel to this, talented individuals helped found immersive Israel travel providers for youth and young adults, including Birthright, Honeymoon Israel, iTrek, Onward Israel (which is now a part of Birthright), RootOne, Tamid, and many others.  Organizations existed before this but were far less interconnected.

Jerusalem overlook with Palestinian children’s cemetery in the foreground adjacent to an excavation site in Ir David / City of David

Jerusalem overlook with Palestinian children’s cemetery in the foreground adjacent to an excavation site in Ir David/City of David

The Jim Joseph Foundation is now following the lead of other philanthropists who have led the charge by investing in Israel education that includes the conflict. Conflict education is the more multilayered approach that engages with different perspectives and people. This approach trusts that offering a balance of perspectives will not turn a learner away; rather, it will have the opposite effect. Sivan Zakai, a researcher and professor who directs the Children Learning about Israel Project, argues that conflict can and should be taught from as early as Kindergarten and progressively build on that education as students increase their depth of knowledge and begin to understand more about nuance. Some organizations and initiatives, like For the Sake of Argument and Resetting the Table, focus on how to have and learn from courageous conversations. Others, like The iCenter’s Conflict Education, teach educators directly about the history and present of the conflict. Still others, like Makom, incorporate travel components to Israel and Palestinian territories as a way to deepen Israel education in a way that reflects the learners’ needs and the realities of our world today.

While the newer interventions themselves are formidable, we continue to invest in market studies, applied research, and evaluation to better understand both the opportunities and needs in the field today. Particularly over the last two years, practitioners, educators, and funders have encouraged many organizations in the field to embed conflict content into core offerings to create a deeper and more holistic understanding of Israel for learners.  The iCenter recently found that more than 130 initiatives now incorporate learning about conflict education related to Israel and the Middle East into their curricula.  This was not the case five years ago.

The purpose of the Dreams of Others Seminar and other conflict education experiences is not to change the minds of the participants. There is no political agenda. Rather, it is a deep learning and training opportunity to help educators create experiences for learners premised on connection, meaning, and purpose. Young Jewish learners are asking and, in some cases, yearning for an authentic approach to Israel that includes dialogue about the conflict from many vantage points.  In juxtaposing their universalist human values with their particular Jewish ones, many are finding the topic of Israel more of a wedge than an opportunity to engage. These immersive experiences can help them navigate and lean into nuance and varying perspectives. Similar to our belief in trust-based philanthropy as a methodology to achieve effective relational grantmaking we believe that we should trust the young Jewish women and men we serve to engage in courageous conversations as they build their complex identities.

We are grateful to the bold educators who are charting this path and engaging learners in holistic Israel education experiences—taking all of us off the bypass roads for a more impactful, more authentic learning experience.

Steven Green is Senior Director, Grants Management and Compliance at the Jim Joseph Foundation.

originally published in the Jerusalem Post.

Today’s Investments for Future Impact: How a Network Organization Leads a Field

Reflections from the Prizmah Conference

A joy of being part of the funder-grantee relationship is experiencing the grantee-partner’s work first-hand. In particular, I am grateful that the Jim Joseph Foundation prioritizes staff time to experience field-wide gatherings hosted by grantee-partners, many of which are occurring for the first time following the height of the pandemic.

Recently, I was privileged to attend the Prizmah conference in Denver, where I learned alongside educators, education leaders, lay leaders, content experts, funders and other inspiring colleagues. While I was a little nervous congregating with so many people again, I was immediately put at ease by the warmth and creative energy that was palpable throughout the conference (as well as thoughtfully planned break time to breathe in the fresh Colorado air).

Experiencing the conference reinforced for me the importance of investments in network organizations. These organizations, such as Foundation for Jewish Camp, JCCA, along with Prizmah and others, are uniquely positioned to bring together many diverse voices in the field to celebrate and learn from each other’s successes, while also addressing challenges and imagining and planning for a vibrant Jewish future.

Now in its seventh year as an organization, Prizmah’s conference exemplified its readiness to sustain and grow the day school field by supporting the people and schools who positively influence young learners and help develop them into leaders. Here are some insights into how Prizmah leveraged the conference to pursue this vision:

  • A Platform for Futurist Thinking – By bringing education futurists to speak at the conference, Prizmah helped reinforce the need for day schools to anticipate not just what families and educators want now, but to think about these needs with a long-term view, ten, twenty years out. What should Jewish/secular curriculum look like then? What will parent engagement need to account for then? What will student and educator needs be at that time? What will an endowment look like that ensures financial stability and offers long-term affordability models? Many conference participants had already begun to think in this way and about these questions, but futurist speakers like Lisa Kay Solomon, Ariel Raz, and Louie Montoya helped to inspire, prioritize, and concretize how to develop plans with a level of specificity that address these areas.
  • An Investment in the Entire Ecosystem – Prizmah has a very holistic approach to the day school field’s opportunities and challenges. In this regard, Prizmah as a network organization is a conduit for the Foundation to invest in educators that influence myriad learners, families, and communities each year. At the conference, while some of the conversations focused on the local level, it was clear that people were craving macro level systemic content and resources. Conference participants, for example, wanted to hear how Prizmah network members and partners are addressing educator pipeline, recruitment, and retention challenges. While these are three distinct challenges, they are also clearly related. Prizmah, as the field leader, can help craft potential solutions to solve one of the challenges in ways that account for the relationship between all three. This complex set of issues is an area of interest to the Jim Joseph Foundation as it relates to not only day school education but the broader Jewish education sector as well.
  • Relevant and Timely Programming and Resources – The theme of the Prizmah conference, Creative Spirit, says it all. This mindset was evident in every detail of the conference program design as well as all that Prizmah offers to its network members and beyond. In addition to the speakers, learning sessions, and networking, the conference provided a real time space for organizations to share their resources and address nearly anything a day school education leader would need to support their educators and, in turn, their students and families. From youth mental health, to diversity, equity, and inclusion, to digital technology tools, network organizations are able to offer support through these gatherings at the individual, community, and macro levels. And while virtual conferences can be valuable, especially when being physically together is not an option, there is no substitute for in-person gatherings and resource sharing.

Prizmah is a partner that both thinks granularly and also with a larger “systems lens.” This perspective is critical in developing viable interventions at a scale that leads to field-wide solutions. Forward-thinking thought leadership, partnerships, collaborations, and investments will help build a shared vision for the future of Jewish day schools. I am proud to work alongside our Prizmah colleagues and other strategic partners to support these efforts so that more educators are well positioned to positively influence the lives of young people today and in the future.



How Culture Change and Data Gathering Go Hand in Hand

Earlier this year, the Foundation shared its strategy around DEI. As 2022 concludes, Stacie Cherner, Director of Evaluation and Learning at the Jim Joseph Foundation, reflects on the process of culture change and data gathering in this context, progress made, and the work to do moving forward.

In 2017 the Jim Joseph Foundation entered a two-year process to develop a new strategic framework for grantmaking. We began with fundamental questions: What had we learned in the years since the Foundation began? How has Jewish education in the United States (which is the core focus of our funding) evolved? What could we uniquely contribute to this field during the next phase of our work?

As we’ve articulated, the Foundation believes that Jewish learning and the Jewish community will be richer when leaders, educators, and participants better reflect the full diversity of today’s Jewish population. Working toward this vision has been a priority of the Foundation’s for many years. However, developing a new strategic framework provided an opportunity to be even more explicit about this work by adding “engaging diverse voices and partners” as one of our core guiding principles.  Today, we elevate this principle in our grantmaking strategies, in our hands-on work with grantee partners, and in every department of the Foundation.

Throughout the Foundation’s two-year process, we relied on trusted partners to help us learn about needs to address in this area and some best practices to do so. In particular, the Jews of Color Initiative’s Counting Inconsistencies and Beyond the Count reports concretized our learning that, while exact numbers may be unknown, a large percentage of Jews of Color experience racism in Jewish settings and are marginalized. In addition, they are woefully underrepresented in positions of leadership in organizations in our community.

This learning added urgency to our commitment to elevate diverse voices and perspectives both internally and in our external communications. This includes how we build teams, seek consultants, make grants, build internal processes, and share learnings and information. In this regard, the Foundation itself has undergone a culture change in how we think about and approach work in this space.

We made strides this year in articulating what success looks like—such as more grantees elevating DEI in their work—as a result of making these commitments. The Foundation also asked questions and gathered data and insights related to our portfolios of grants, looking at investments across sets or groups of grantees. We restarted a data collection method—an annual survey of grantees—that we paused during strategic planning. In sync with our value of data-informed decision making, we piloted a new version of our annual grantee survey to ask about participation rates (how many people were reached and how often), and we added new questions to help us understand to what extent these participants represent the diversity of the Jewish community.

We know these data collection methods are new for most and the language and questions themselves are appropriately evolving. But most important to us at this moment is whether our grantees are even trying to collect this important information. If more and more say “yes, we know the answer to this question” instead of “we don’t know the answer because we don’t collect that information,” then we can ascertain that progress is being made. At the same time, we understand that culture change does not happen without a commitment by the organization’s leaders. We include additional questions on our survey about the diversity of boards and senior leadership teams.

Finally, this year, we also collected diversity indicators for our leadership at the Foundation. Concurrent to that, we doubled down on our efforts to build a diverse team as we fill open positions on our board and staff. We have integrated these goals into recent searches by working with consultants to identify diverse pools of candidates beyond our direct networks and through specialized anti-bias training for interviewers. On the program side, we are also investing in a new assessment of our investments to elevate diversity through the programming, advocacy, and research of organizations such as JIMENA, Keshet, the Safety Respect Equity Network, and the Jews of Color Initiative.

Culture change is deep, and often challenging work. Asking these types of questions is one catalyst, we believe, to creating large-scale change. If we don’t ask, we don’t communicate that we want to learn and see these changes occur. By asking these questions, the Foundation is inviting our partners to learn with us. We believe a proactive intention to create a culture of belonging within the programs we support and to bring in a multitude of voices in leadership makes for the best decision making and has the greatest potential to expand opportunities for connection, meaning, and purpose for young Jews, their families, and friends. We have explored our own assumptions and looked to uncover bias. Going forward, we are ready to continue listening, learning, and changing.



Everyone’s Professional Journey Can Add Value to a Team

When I accepted my position at the Jim Joseph Foundation earlier this summer, I was beyond excited, proud, and, to be honest, a little bit nervous. I am new-ish to San Francisco and moved between three States last year. This is my first in-person hybrid office role in over two years and the first role in which I focus exclusively on grantmaking.

I am still navigating many parts of what is new and feel very fortunate that I am surrounded by people who want to teach me, support me, and assure me that it is ok to be vulnerable. At the same time, those very same people also want to learn from me. This gives me a sense of pride and confidence as I continue to find my footing. Whether sharing how I approached experiential program design for the Seattle Jewish community or how I navigated building positive workplace cultures across multiple sectors and countries, I can bring helpful insights to the practice of trust-based Jewish philanthropy. This collaborative workplace framework—in which professional team members are simultaneously students and teachers—aligns beautifully with hitlamdoot, the Jim Joseph Foundation staff value of ongoing learning.

As I reflect on what helped lead me to this role at the Foundation, certain experiences, traits, and practices stand out as particularly formative and have served me well. Everyone has their own list of formative moments that evolves and grows over their professional journey. The Foundation believes that the best grantmakers have rich experience working in other settings and can bring direct field experience to their roles. In this regard, any organization looking to add new professional team members can keep in mind the array of candidate experiences and backgrounds that might add value to their professional team. Cultivated at different stages of my academic and professional career, here are some of the ways I approach my work and look to elevate the new professional team around me:

  1. Leading with Empathy – I was not surprised that my recent CliftonStrengths assessment identified empathy as my number one strength. I have always been a people person who feels most complete when I know I am connecting with others and advancing positive change. Though not always common practice in the corporate sector, I approached my work in entertainment and luxury marketing with this mindset and tried to help foster systemic change by modeling empathic behavior. Whether working in the for-profit or non-profit sector, I have learned that empathy is an essential trait, especially during challenging moments. As I begin to interact with grantee-partners, I try to first gain an understanding and relate to the challenges they encounter in the field, which helps me support them in the best way possible to succeed.
  2. Practicing Cultural Competence – This concept is one of my favorite take-aways from my Master of Science in Social Work degree program. At its core, cultural competence is about having awareness and open-mindedness across differences, which is necessary when working with and supporting diverse groups of people. In practice, cultural competence is all about being curious and respectful, especially as I develop new relationships and partnerships with colleagues both in and outside of the Jewish community.
  3. Finding Leadership Opportunities at All Levels and for All Team Members – Throughout my career, no matter where I sat within an organization, I always found opportunities to be a leader. From mentoring early-career colleagues to find their leadership voice, to taking on assignments outside of my job description, these leadership opportunities helped  me develop authentic connections with colleagues throughout an organization. This, in turn, helped me feel heard when I later brought recommendations to executive leadership about the direction of the organization moving forward.
  4. Approaching Time with Intention – Time is one of our most precious commodities. When I was a community engagement professional juggling so many competing priorities, I learned quickly that I had to be very thoughtful with how I structured my schedule. For this reason, I am a big fan of labeling blocks of time on my calendar so I (and my colleagues) can visualize how I am going to be productive between independent projects, meetings, and self-care (yes, it is ok to block time for a walk too!). Also, when it comes to designing program experiences or even 1:1 meetings–whether with colleagues, grantee-partners, or peer funders–I find it helpful to outline the purpose and include time at the end to review what is happening next. If you are not already familiar with Priya Parker’s work, she is the go-to expert on The Art of Gathering.

My experiences over many years shaped the professional I am today and how I show up in the world. Some of my Foundation team members share these experiences and traits. In other instances, I am bringing something entirely new to the team. As organizations hire new team members, candidates’ backgrounds, experiences, and practices can both add something new and reinforce how a professional team approaches its work. Different perspectives from different team members help to make a better team. Recognizing the value of different kinds of experiences will help our field bring new voices from a variety of career paths into the mix, ultimately expanding the field’s pipeline and strengthening our collective impact. I am grateful for this opportunity where I can continue learning, leading, and creating change alongside an incredible community of colleagues.

Jenna Hanauer is a Program Officer at the Jim Joseph Foundation.


Everyone Has a Role: My Experiences Shaping Culture within the Jewish Philanthropic Space

Where we work is often where we spend a significant portion of our time. Thus, the culture we experience at work (even when virtual, at home) deeply influences our lives. Before merely experiencing workplace culture, it has to be created—sometimes with great intentionality over years of planning, and sometimes rapidly and organically, borne of necessity.

After the recent racially motivated shooting in Buffalo, for example, Mallory Morales, Office Coordinator at the Jim Joseph Foundation, and I initiated what we termed Community Conversations—opportunities for our Foundation colleagues to come together in a safe, supportive space to engage in learning, discussion, and difficult conversations with room to embrace mistakes. These Community Conversations weren’t planned over years or even months. But as a queer, indigenous, Jewish, woman of color, I was heavily impacted by the shooting in Buffalo, the ongoing inhumane treatment of black, brown, and indigenous people in this country, and the continued gun violence we experience. I wanted to share my feelings openly so colleagues understood the heavy weight these incidents can carry for employees of color and make space for others who might feel similarly outraged, called to act, and/or saddened by these events. I also wanted to know that my colleagues were allies with me. The conversation allowed our organization to collectively process and reflect while feeling supported by co-workers.

Increasingly, as our field emphasizes having a strong, positive, inclusive workplace culture that fosters these types of conversations, field leaders also think about how best to create that culture. From my time both as a foundation professional currently and previously as Director at Sha’ar Zahav—one of the first LGBTQ+ synagogues, founded in 1977, to serve as a dedicated space for queer Jews in San Francisco—I have been a part of culture building in two different environments. In both places, I’ve experienced how all members of the team play a vital role in shaping organizational culture.

After just a few days at Sha’ar Zahav, I experienced a culture of welcoming and belonging. I was warmly greeted and invited in by the community. For me, this was new and refreshing. Growing up in Los Angeles in the ‘90s and early 2000’s, it was certainly different from the experiences my family and I had at synagogues. Throughout my time at Sha’ar Zahav, I noticed that being welcomed with open arms (figurative and literally) was not solely because I was an employee. This welcoming nature was woven into the culture of the community. Out of a history of being othered, as queer folks, Sha’ar Zahav intentionally created a culture for individuals to be fully embraced, whether they were a first-timer or long-time member, Jew or other faith.

In this culture, I felt I could finally relax and focus on what mattered—my work. I didn’t encounter questions I faced at other Jewish spaces, and more generally the white spaces, I grew up around: “who did you come here with?,” “what are you?,” “where are you from?,” “how are you Jewish?,” and other questions we’ve now come to understand as microaggressions, that often result in loss of self-esteem, feelings of exhaustion, damage to the ability to thrive in an environment, mistrust of peers, staff and the institution, and decreases in participation.

Everyone helped create this culture, from senior staff to junior staff, lay leaders, and congregational members. I learned how intentional an organization must be to cultivate culture. The Sha’ar Zahav community spoke openly about culture development and in its Siddur stated, “we begin each service by singing and linking arms with the people next to us, reminding us that whether we are long-time members of Sha’ar Zahav or this is our first time in a Jewish setting, we are all welcome.” Prior to Covid-19, Hinei Ma Tov was traditionally chanted while linking arms with the stranger next to you, epitomizing the inclusive culture. As Engagement Director, I focused on increasing membership and fundraising. During my three years at Sha’ar Zahav, the organization grew in membership by 47%. We accomplished this growth through listening and genuinely caring about our community. Because I am an inherently curious person, I developed a keen desire to listen to new (or potentially new) member stories and truly learn about their lives. Coming from a career in Business Development for Institutional Asset Management, prior to moving into the non-profit space, it was a shift in how I developed relationships—from an emphasis on caring primarily about metrics, performance, and the bottom line, to prioritizing human connection.

As part of Sha’ar Zahav’s all-female staff of five, I admired the passion, dedication, and discipline exemplified by incredible women living out their personal and spiritual values. I saw the challenges working for a local nonprofit funded primarily by the community it serves (some LGBTQ+ communities are at a financial disadvantage). This challenge is not unique to Sha’ar Zahav. Because many organizations that serve historically marginalized communities also seek funding directly from their constituents, local nonprofits that often serve as dedicated spaces are forced to make difficult budget decisions. These decisions impact staff and the organization’s ability to provide services to communities that need it most for a sense of belonging, connection, meaning, and purpose.

Experiencing both Sha’ar Zahav’s challenges and culture deeply informed my decision to join the Jim Joseph Foundation as a Grant Operations Associate in July 2020.  I wanted to make a positive impact in the lives of future generations; to serve more people at a larger scale, and to influence change. I also wanted to be in a professional setting that both valued culture and understood it to be something shaped collaboratively and ongoing. In this regard, my personal values aligned with the Foundation’s values.

The Foundation’s culture of belonging—where employees are encouraged to be who they truly are—helps make this possible. I appreciate our proactive approach to culture building. In the first few weeks after joining the team, we engaged in CircleUp’s training sessions to learn Effective Strategies To Interrupt Implicit Bias, Microaggressions, Privilege, and Inequities. Culture change of this nature is iterative and collaborative, and for many organizations can be challenging—some DEI initiatives in the workplace can result in backlash of racial equity efforts and a tendency for some colleagues to respond defensively by denying, distancing, or distorting. Understanding why this backlash most often occurs can help to minimize its likelihood and allow colleagues to “cope with their discomfort by choosing a fourth responsive strategy that is more productive: embracing the urge to dismantle unjust systems. Critically, this response is most likely when people both acknowledge systemic racism and see a role for themselves in restoring justice.”

Currently, the Foundation is in the midst of a deep review and update of internal policies and procedures with an equity focus, conducting one-on-one interviews with all professional team members, multiple trainings facilitated by external facilitators for team members, and goal setting exercises by each functional team. We have ongoing monthly internal learning and discussion groups addressing DEI (what we call Diverse Voices and Perspectives), all of which inform language the Foundation uses and shapes our approaches to grantmaking and evaluation. Across the organization, we are committed to elevating and including diverse voices and perspectives both internally and in our external communications.

Throughout the two years with the Foundation, I have grown professionally and am excited for what’s ahead! In addition to grants management and operations, I’ve taken on the opportunity to co-lead the Foundation’s DEI efforts and goal setting for two functional teams. Former Senior Program Officer Jon Marker and I presented at the 2022 PEAK Grantmaking conference on a session titled, Engaging Diverse Voices and Perspectives Within Mission-Specific Organizations; we described the systems and internal practices implemented across the Foundation to promote shared responsibility in pursuit of a more equitable philanthropic environment.

The Foundation’s Diverse Voices and Perspectives DEI efforts are imbued into our work, into our culture. As at Sha’ar Zahav, I play an active role in shaping and sharing this work with the field. Why are culture and dedicated spaces so important? Designing a culture of belonging (or creating dedicated spaces) is an investment that has the potential to nurture the capacity of historically marginalized individuals, in a reciprocal and equitable way, thereby helping to build thriving organizations that are innovative and better equipped to solve problems, find creative solutions, and best meet the needs of their constituents. Who better to find solutions than the individuals experiencing the problems firsthand? To understand these needs, individuals (and both young and older generations) also need to be included in decision making conversations. I have been fortunate to work for two organizations that shared a genuine desire to transform the “traditional” ways in which we understand how foundations and synagogues operate. And, it is precisely for this reason, I decided to work for both organizations.

Funders are in the especially powerful position to play an active role in shaping their organization’s culture and that of grantee-partners. I value the opportunity to be part of culture building. In our Jewish tradition, we are consistently reminded of our obligation to care for those around us and raise our voices in the face of oppression. We each have a role to play, we have the ability to create opportunities that reciprocally nurture and empower others—we have the ability to design and shape culture. Together, we can make the (Jewish) future safe and equitable for the generations to come.

Heidy Zohar Ramirez is a Grants Operations Associate at the Foundation. 

We Can Always Learn More: Our Approach to Evaluation and Research

Evaluation and research are integral to the Jim Joseph Foundation’s strategic philanthropy. Since the foundation’s inception in 2006, our approach to evaluation and research has evolved. Today, learnings both from major studies and smaller ones yield benefits for the foundation, grantee-partners and the field of Jewish education and engagement. By continuing to share this aspect of our strategic philanthropy publicly, we hope other peer funders, practitioner organizations and the broader field can glean lessons learned that inform their own efforts toward evaluation and research.

Since the earliest foundation grants, strong support of program evaluation reflected the foundation’s values of data-informed decision-making, accountability and transparency. The Jim Joseph Foundation historically has invested about 2% to 3% of its annual spending in learning. Most foundation grants have a percentage of their budget, at times up to 10%, dedicated to evaluation usually by an independent contractor. Supporting program evaluation in this manner is integral to the foundation’s strategy to build the capacity of its grantee-partner organizations. Evaluators assist grantee-partners to define measurable outcomes, articulate logic models, design data collection instruments and ultimately make sense of findings so that future activities have more likelihood of reaching successful outcomes. These efforts are proven to help programs and entire organizations achieve sustainability and ultimately, greater impact and outcomes. The degree to which organizations eventually can conduct evaluation internally is a positive and desirable outcome for the foundation. As we do with all aspects of our approach to philanthropy, we share more about the foundation’s evaluation process here.

In addition to evaluation of individual programs, the foundation invests in applied research and, increasingly, cross-portfolio evaluation (evaluation that involves several grantees working toward similar outcomes or with similar populations or in similar settings). With research and cross-portfolio evaluation, the goal is less to build the capacity of grantees and more to support the field and to answer questions the foundation asks about our investments and strategies — such as what age cohorts are most influenced by certain interventions, what learning experiences and platforms are most meaningful, and many more. After more than 15 years of grantmaking, the foundation is working towards common measurements across grants that have related goals, objectives and desired outcomes; and towards conducting evaluations of cohorts of grants that have shared purposes and similar grant outcomes. The successful creation of shared outcomes and measures across the community-based teen initiatives of the Jewish Teen Education and Engagement Funder Collaborative created ripple effects across the field, and we have sought to build on lessons learned from that effort. Importantly, we know that this type of work cannot be done without the invaluable input, participation, and collaboration of the grantee-partners themselves.

Our research portfolio ranges from large to small and everything in between. Large, applied research studies include the recently completed CASJE study of the career trajectories of Jewish educators. This was a multi-strand, multiyear study that has the potential to impact the field for years to come. Other research studies are relatively small and quick, such as the Benenson Strategy Group market research survey of American Jews about their experiences of the High Holidays in 2020. Oftentimes the foundation invests in applied research in partnership with peer foundations to build on our collective knowledge gained from previous research efforts in both the Jewish and secular worlds.

Finally, the foundation has begun to gather more comparable information from grantee-partners directly. An annual survey of grantees provides aggregate information about participation rates (how many people were reached and how often), and to what extent these participants reflect the diversity of the Jewish community. For many in the field, these data collection methods are new and the language and questions themselves are appropriately evolving. But most important to us at this moment is whether our grantees are simply trying to collect important information about the diversity of their participants. If more and more say “yes, we know the answer to this question” instead of “we don’t know the answer because we don’t collect that information,” then we know that at least minimal progress toward a more inclusive Jewish community is occurring. At the same time, we understand that culture change, especially in areas such as DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion), does not happen without a commitment by the organization’s leaders. To that end, we include additional questions on our survey about the diversity of boards and senior leadership teams.

In any research endeavor, determining which questions to seek answers to and what methods can best garner those answers heavily informs how rigorous and quick the research efforts can be. Interpreting and processing findings, making connections between different research projects, and figuring out what findings need to be elevated for the field — and perhaps acted upon — are also vital components of applied learning. We accept that we don’t always have the luxury of a full set of answers to every question before we move forward. But we are intent, as we have always been, on turning evaluation and research into action. We also hold ourselves accountable to always be learning — to be in a constant state of asking, finding answers in appropriately rigorous ways and reflecting and acting. We welcome your feedback and insights on our approach to evaluation and research shared here, and information on your own efforts in this area of work too.

Stacie Cherner is director of research and learning at the Jim Joseph Foundation.

Building Something Together: How Our New Grant Category Supports Organizations’ Growth and Sustainability

For 15 years, the Jim Joseph Foundation has worked closely with grantee-partners and independent evaluators to support compelling, effective Jewish learning experiences. Our current strategic approach reflects the foundation’s learning about grantmaking practices and the wide variety of Jewish experiences that are effective. By publicly “unpacking” our strategy, we hope to share insights about strategic philanthropy and our approaches toward desired outcomes. By no means do we have all the answers; we continue to learn and especially appreciate learning with peers in the field (please see below for a request for your feedback!).

Today, one of our three strategic priorities is investing in Powerful Jewish Learning Experiences (PJLE). In this priority, the foundation grows and strengthens Jewish learning by investing in program models with deep and enduring effects on participants. Within the PJLE strategy, a new grant category termed “Build Grants” supports organizations ready for what we consider to be dramatic growth. Build Grants are predominantly a breadth play, although depth is a prerequisite, which is most often achieved through ongoing and/or immersive experiences that deliver proven Jewish learning outcomes. Build Grants support organizations to invest in their capacity to expand their programs and operations, thus engaging more people at different life stages in meaningful Jewish life. And importantly, we utilize these grants, in part, to support offerings that engage new audiences of young Jews whom we are not reaching with our existing investments.

Our hypothesis is that organizations of a certain size, meeting certain criteria, can receive a one-time infusion of growth capital enabling them to achieve an increased and sustainable level of budget, reach and outcomes by the grant’s end and the foundation’s possible exit. If successful, these shorter and more targeted investments focused on sustainable growth will position the foundation to accelerate the growth of more organizations than we have previously. While we have not yet concluded a Build Grant, we are supporting grantee-partners throughout their grant periods to execute the work and plan for our exit. Given the experimental nature of this grantmaking category, we want to learn as much as possible about this process to adjust our approach as needed. We will soon contract with an external evaluator to help us better understand where these grants are working and where they aren’t.

Importantly, we think that our relational grantmaking approach creates an environment where grantee-partners are willing to take this journey with us. One of the many unknowns is what comes at a Build Grant’s conclusion. While we envision Build Grants as one-time infusions of growth capital, some of these grants may conclude without the foundation exiting. Some grantee-partners may be renewed for another round of growth capital or may receive a new grant that aligns elsewhere in our portfolio. Thus far, we have found that navigating these unknowns in close partnership with our grantee-partners actually strengthens already strong working relationships and deepens mutual trust.

While certain aspects of this grantmaking approach have been part of the foundation’s DNA since inception, doing this intentionally and on this scale is new. In just the first two years of testing this hypothesis, learnings have led to changes. For example, the eight criteria for these grants are not quite as rigid as initially outlined. Still, in general, when considering Build Grants, we look for organizations with national reach that have mission alignment, strong and stable leadership, financial health and stability, a growth plan, annual baseline numbers of 1,000 participants, diversity in the Foundation’s portfolio, demonstrated Jewish learning outcomes and a culture of learning. We also have learned that many promising Build Grant candidates lack one or more of these readiness factors. In select cases, and after robust due diligence, we have made smaller grants to help organizations fully prepare to absorb a Build Grant. This has included grants like supporting an external strategic planning or evaluation consultancy.

The foundation’s evolving understanding of Jewish learning warranted our two-year planning process to refine our foundation’s overall grantmaking strategy. That strategy captures our desire (and responsibility, we believe) to develop a strong, sustainable ecosystem of Jewish organizations that can offer meaningful Jewish learning experiences in an ongoing way. As we developed that strategy and learned more about the field, we recognized how impactful Build Grants could be. They are an opportunity for growth and sustainability that, over time, can build a more robust and diverse ecosystem of powerful Jewish learning experiences.

Again, we appreciate that structuring these investments as we have is an experiment. With that in mind, we welcome feedback, learnings, and general insights from others in the field who share a similar goal or approach.

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

originally published in eJewish Philanthropy.