A Growing Team in Jewish Philanthropy

Back in October 2019 I wrote about returning to the Jim Joseph Foundation after four and half years as CEO of Youth Leadership Institute (prior to that I was a program officer at the Foundation for two years). In that blog, I discussed some noticeable, positive progress in the field. Along with vital advancements to advance Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), I also noted:

….the eagerness of my colleagues from foundations across North America to reconnect and serve as partners working toward effective grantmaking and culture change in the Jewish organizational world.  Moreover, I notice a significant increase from five years ago in professional foundation staff and new foundations in general. Perhaps this observation also is a reflection of a more organized, networked field made up of more people who want to engage with and learn from each other. 

As we cautiously begin to sense a light at the end of the pandemic, I again reflect on our field, the people in it, and how we work together. Before discussing some welcome changes—and the benefits they could bring—I first must acknowledge how fortunate I am to simply have a job at this time, let alone a seat at a foundation. That is always an inherent position of privilege from which to work; it is amplified at this unique moment.

And through this 12 month and counting “moment,” the sense of Team—which is incorporated into the Foundation’s values under areivoot—across the field has manifested itself in new ways. This could have long-lasting, positive effects for all of us. While there are 11 Foundation team members who work with grantee-partners, my sense of team is much wider than that. The Foundation recently undertook a network mapping exercise of sorts to discover which colleagues at other foundations we correspond with, and how frequently that occurs. There are some colleagues at other foundations that I connect and strategize with more than internal team members. What does this say about our field? What opportunities does this communication present moving forward? How can this wider “team” most benefit grantees? Here are three possible answers to these questions.

  1. More individuals in the field are eager to learn and learn together.
    From more broadly sharing research and program evaluations, to best practices for virtual engagement, to lessons learned about philanthropy’s role in supporting Jewish life right now, there is a palpable sense among colleagues that we’re all learning in a new environment—often times failing forward, and often times with each other. This is a significant culture change in the field, perhaps accelerated over the last year. Colleagues, I included, are more open to meaningful and important feedback about grantmaking operations and how we support grantees. Some of this has been borne of necessity—we’re working in different ways through different types of interactions. We are more vulnerable and know that we need all of the help we can get. I see the benefit of this learning happening organically and want to be even more intentional about making space for it, including carving out at least two hours per week to talk with colleagues at organizations outside of the Foundation’s grantee-partners.
  2. Increased interactions among colleagues places greater importance on building trust and care.
    Beyond the learnings that result from broader, field-wide team engagement, colleagues are pushing each other to be better in different aspects of work. This results in important changes in how we approach interactions with each other. Recently, for example, a colleague and I were strategizing about a fieldwide initiative. As we exchanged perspectives, I shared how we could each show up in the work, including suggestions for how they could show up. I later heard from a different colleague that my communication was not received in a helpful way. In fact, I had offended my colleague, and had eroded elements of the foundation of our trust. This third colleague was inviting me to repair the damage, to say we are all part of the same team and to understand how my intentions differed from my impact—and to address it. A follow-up call with my colleague was not easy for me but was critically important. The interaction highlighted that these deep, meaningful relationships enable real challenges and vulnerabilities to be shared among professional peers. That’s a positive. This also means that we need to treat these relationships with the care and respect we would of any relationships we want to sustain and grow. I commit to further helping build this across our sector, with a particular attention to the challenges of this work across lines of positional power to the Foundation’s grantee-partners as well.
  3. Increased knowledge sharing among funder representatives can greatly help grantees.
    When the pandemic first hit, one of the earliest funder actions, the formation of the Jewish Community Response and Impact Fund (JCRIF), was designed especially to be efficient for, and responsive to, potential grantees. From knowledge about what interventions are impactful, to what organizations need help in certain areas, to what potential grantees need to submit as part of a proposal, JCRIF is a systemic way for funders to share with each other. And JCRIF’s design to create a more efficient system for grantees reflects the power of a more connected, cohesive funder community. In this approach, grantees ultimately can more quickly be funneled to the right potential funders. One funder can more quickly aid another in helping a grantee maximize impact and/or overcome a challenge. Knowledge is power—and knowledge helps grantees.

In the spirit of a wider team, with more relationships among colleagues than ever before, and the trust that we all go further together than any one individual, the Foundation will soon share a major new report on networked leadership. This report lays the foundation for a new emphasis on the connections across our field and how to build programs that strengthen entire networks, rather than just developing specific individuals. As we continue to strengthen the network of professionals of Jewish engagement and education foundations, and secular foundations, we see more benefits, and can work to leverage this stronger, growing team for the betterment of all.

Jon Marker is a Senior Program Officer at the Jim Joseph Foundation.

Jon Marker - Senior Program Officer at The Jim Joseph Foundation

Lessening the Power Divide in Philanthropy

Rarely in the U.S. has the power dynamic felt more pronounced. Over the last year, while the workforce at-large has suffered, the nonprofit sector, the third largest industry in the U.S. that provides such offerings as health care and social services, has experienced severe losses. While not often thought of in the same breath as retail and manufacturing, nonprofit organizations employ 12.5 million U.S. workers and provide over $1 trillion annually to the U.S. economy. From February to September, this sector lost 1.65 million jobs or approximately 13% of its entire workforce, before recovering about 40% of those positions.

But does everyone feel these losses equally? The one million workers from the nonprofit sector still out-of-work disproportionately include women and people of color, just as how job loss in the country at large disproportionately impacts these groups right now.

Organizations and individuals who have saved reserves are feeling this somewhat less severely, but nearly all nonprofit organizations are making challenging decisions about what is core and what is expendable. Race, gender, ethnicity, class and many other demographic variables influence the degree to which these challenges are felt. Each of those factors undoubtedly connects to one’s professional position and what side of the power dynamic they fall on.

For nearly 10 years, I have worked in a place of privilege at a philanthropic foundation. Through this time, I have weathered a severe economic recession and a global pandemic without many of the same personal fears of job loss and cutbacks of my colleagues in the broader nonprofit world.

At the Jim Joseph Foundation, we strive to achieve parity with our grantee-partners through relational grantmaking. However, we realize that we will never entirely reach an even split of power. The Foundation professionals and board will always have the upper hand in setting priorities, inviting proposals and ultimately making certain decisions. Because of these realities, many in philanthropy stop trying to lessen the uneven distribution of power; it feels too difficult or appears too disingenuous to try to change this dynamic.

Yet working toward a more equal distribution of power is important. Two months ago, several of my colleagues and I wrote about our attempts to be present for grantee-partners during these challenging and unprecedented times. Some of the learnings I cite below are discussed in that piece and will likely be relevant well into the future[3].

Just as our personal relationships take work, the professional ones require significant investment of time and attention. Fortunately, akin to our personal relationships, they are often well worth the investment.

How We Approach and Try to Alleviate the Power Divide

Relational Grantmaking
A grant may be temporary, but a relationship is long-term and denotes trust.
When a foundation makes larger grants over a longer term, there is less fear of a punitive response to challenges or mistakes along the way and more of a sense of collective interest in a positive outcome. These longer-range investments also demonstrate a level of respect and trust for the organization and the people running it. We refer to our grantees as grantee-partners out of respect and engage in brainstorming conversations rather than being prescriptive from the outset. I have also made it a part of my practice to regularly check in with the person or people on the other end of the Zoom call instead of just jumping into business. This is not a perfect process, particularly as grants are made on an invitation-only basis and fit into a specific set of guidelines laid out by the original benefactor, but it gets us closer to a 50/50 power split.

Assumption that Expertise Rests with the Practitioner
Treat grantee-partners like they are the experts, because they are.
Whether the grantmaking professional has been in the field for one year or 20, it is a fact that at this very moment, the person with the most information, context and experience is the practitioner running the organization or specific program being funded. We have the benefit of regularly studying a broader picture than any singular organization can display, but we lack the understanding of the intricacies of every offering. As funder representatives, we show vulnerability – we do not have all the answers, nor do we have to pretend that we do.

Stop and listen.
A mentor of mine would regularly point out that never had he been smarter, funnier or better looking than when he started working for a foundation. He would also regularly be given the podium for his perspective whether he was the best person to speak or not. Rather than responding to the noise and rhetoric, I have found it beneficial to take time and listen. We give the grantee-partner the opportunity to set the agenda and decide what is most important, and we offer opportunities to share without interruption.

Non-grantmaking Opportunities
Be willing to do more than just make grants.
With many organizations struggling during the pandemic, there is obviously a growing need for supplemental funding, but there is also a cautiousness on the part of funders to spend before determining specific needs. Providing support for scenario and contingency planning, offering evaluation and research support and sharing a platform for grantee partners to have professional learning communities are a few of the ways we have given support for our partners.

These actions, and certainly others, combine to create an environment where the inherent power of the funder does not permeate every interaction between the parties and every decision the grantee-partner makes. With power more evenly distributed, a truer partnership emerges, with different expertise brought to bear, making it more likely that grant objectives come to fruition—a positive outcome for all

Steven Green Blog: Lessening the Power Divide in PhilanthropySteven Green is Senior Director, Grants Management and Compliance for the Jim Joseph Foundation. He is a Wexner Graduate Fellowship/Davidson Scholar AlumWGF/DS Alum of class 22. This piece originally appeared on The Wexner Foundation blog.

From Simple Messages to Big Decisions: How We’ve Tried to Be There for Grantee-Partners

Six months ago, as offices closed, events were cancelled, and the shocking reality of living in a pandemic set in, we like the rest of the world were unprepared.  We quickly realized that the status quo under which we had operated for much of the past 14 years was not sufficient. We recognized the urgency with which we had to shift our focus to support grantee-partners. Beyond philanthropic investments, we wanted grantee-partners to genuinely feel our support at this deeply unsettling and trying moment.

As a funder that prides itself on relational grantmaking, having the trust that comes from being in relationship during the pandemic has yielded learnings—about actions, about communication, and about decision-making. We have been reticent to share these learnings because we are still learning how to navigate this situation and recognize the inherent position of privilege from which we operate. 

But in the spirit of helping both funders and grantees understand one foundation’s thinking process and actions as this situation continues to unfold, here are some learnings gleaned from our response and reactions in this moment: 

A Little Bit Goes A Long Way
What is the point of being a relational grantmaker if the relationship is devoid of real substance and trust? When the pandemic began, one of our first actions was to send a simple “thinking of you” email to grantee-partners. Did these emails “mean” something more because of the strong relationships we already had?  Maybe, maybe not. But we did hear that this was well-received—and appreciated. We checked in more as the days went by, and those initial emails often were followed by conversations in which grantee-partners had the space to express frustration about the challenges they faced. The personal connection between a program officer and grantee-partner representative created a natural environment in which these candid, sometimes difficult conversations could occur. They shared fears about budgets, programs, and potential closures that seemed on the horizon. These were cathartic interactions that often led to substantive conversations about strategy and potential pivots; but each started with a simple, “how are you?”. 

Ask Grantee-Partners What They Want
As we have shared before, grantee interactions are not one-size-fits all. As strains of professional and personal life intertwined (and often were blurred), we found that some grantee-partners wanted to check-in with us more—to update us on developments, to think through a challenge together—while others wanted less frequent conversations. While the “rate of communication” may seem like a relatively minor process item on which to focus, it takes on greater importance when people’s time and energy are stretched thin. By asking early on how often grantee-partners wanted to connect with us and also by making those interactions as productive as possible, we could calibrate accordingly. 

We also pivoted from a more formal approach to grant monitoring to one that gives grantee-partners an emotional lift as they looked to adapt as quickly as possible. And, recognizing the whole purpose of these relationships, where possible the Foundation has tried to make strategic philanthropic investments–both in emergency relief and in new opportunities revealed by the pandemic–in as efficient a manner as possible. 

We Need to Be Flexible
This seems obvious, but “flexibility” means different things in different situations. In this instance, we have aspired to push ourselves out of our comfort zone. The timing of grant deliverables, increase in payments disbursed, release of certain restrictions (i.e. matching requirements), coordination with peer funders on new mechanisms for grantmaking and loans, and even the hours the Foundation professional team were available all changed in just a few weeks’ time. We also realized that setting benchmarks for a grant requirement that is 18 months to three years away is not only unfair to a grantee-partner, it is a fool’s errand. For several of our long-term grantee-partners, this meant the advent of one-year sustaining grants rather than the multi-year investments that we envisioned before the pandemic began.

“Flexibility” of course doesn’t only equate to more lenient grant monitoring, more rapid grantmaking, or increased investments in new areas. On the contrary, some anticipated grants simply do not make sense at this time. Communicating that to grantee-partners was often very difficult. But that flexibility reflects an acceptance that some aspects of the Foundation’s Road Map—and the grantmaking approaches and strategies it conveys—may need to be on a temporary pause during this moment of extreme uncertainty. These tough conversations have, of course, been met with disappointment but we have worked hard to accompany them with a strong message of partnership through this complicated period.   

“Be There” for Grantee-Partners in Different Ways
While the traditional physical site visits stopped, our engagement with grantee-partners actually increased. Now that we can attend any virtual event, program, ceremony, webinar, or convening, there is an opportunity to be “there” to see how grantee-partners adapted and pivoted effectively. While we do not have the bandwidth and human capital to attend everything we would want to see, we welcome this opportunity particularly with the realization that for some this new reality of virtual programming may extend well beyond the pandemic. 

At the same time, like others, we learned that these virtual interactions are not the same as a site visit, in which in-person interactions, watching an event, talking to participants, and following up with the professional team all occur in one space and time. The depth of those interactions in that framework simply cannot be replicated digitally, and we miss that.

Always Learn, Question, and Try to Understand
Living and working through this moment is an unprecedented opportunity for learning, for asking why, and for experimenting. We have taken some of our preferred practices and put them aside (as just one example, the Foundation stopped awarding multi-year grants for the time being). This is an opportunity to evaluate our grantmaking and grant monitoring processes, to streamline them, and to focus on the most important elements.

As we began to better understand the current landscape and needs, we tried to respond accordingly. We have offered more hands-on support to our grantee-partners, such as workshops and training in scenario and contingency planning. And we recognize, amidst growing inequity in the pandemic’s impact, that philanthropic investments to underserved and underrepresented populations are even more important now. We are thinking about these investments in a holistic way—what are the structures in the field that need help maintaining or creating?—within the proper context of the new world around us. 


We know ours’ is just one approach and that others may have different experiences that warrant other strategies. But by being transparent and sharing some of our thinking and subsequent actions, we hope to add to the growing knowledge base in the field about how funders, grantee-partners, and other stakeholders can act and react  in this unique moment.


Sustainability of a Warrior: How Organizational Planning Can Occur at Unexpected Moments

I am not a sportswriter. Neither was I capable at 6’3” of even making my high school basketball team, despite expectations to the contrary. Still, my affection for basketball leads me to utilize many of the relevant metaphors the sport offers.

In 2015, the Golden State Warriors began their season at 24-0, the best start of any major professional sports team in the country. They ended the season with their second of what would be five straight NBA Finals appearances, an exceptional feat by any standards. Today, their starting line-up — really their entire roster — barely resembles that 2015 roster and is even significantly divergent from their 2018-2019 team. With iconic figures either traded or injured, they are left with a team now known as the “Baby Warriors.” A far cry from four years ago, for the first 24 games played at the start of the 2019-2020 season, the Warriors’ record was a league worst 5-19. With the second half of the season now underway, the team’s current record remains abysmal, looking nothing like it has the last several years.

What can we in philanthropy and the wider nonprofit sector learn from this sports experience? More specifically, what does this tell us about long-term planning? A great deal, I think.

Three years ago, I wrote about how the beauty of team basketball exemplified by the Warriors can be a useful model for thinking about field building. There can be powerful outcomes when one mobilizes people who may be at the table for different reasons but share a common desired outcome. Today, these new Warriors can teach us about never missing an opportunity to plan for sustainability.

Despite the team’s struggles, something special differentiates the Warriors from other teams with losing records. By the beginning of next season, barring any unforeseen circumstances, three of their four perennial All Stars will again be healthy, driven, and playing together (the fourth, Kevin Durant, chose to leave last offseason via free agency). As an organization, the Warriors’ key players are under contract for multiple seasons, providing necessary stability that should help the team regain its championship form. And now, while these All Stars rest and recover, the young second-string players are gaining valuable on-the-court experience and learning on the job — in what could even be called experiential learning — in ways that they were not anticipating before the season started.

As a philanthropic foundation professional for over eight years, I see long-term donor investment and long-term organizational planning (certainly two related actions) as an aspiration that is not always implemented in meaningful ways. Fewer than half of nonprofits have more than three months of cash reserves; close to 10 percent have less than 30 days. Most nonprofits have no endowments, so the day-to-day nature of the organizational structure is a stark reminder that today’s nonprofit may look very different tomorrow.

When I look at this Warriors team, I know that by the measurement of wins and losses, the 2019-2020 season has been underwhelming. In the nonprofit world, we would think about this in terms of a missed short-term objective. Directly related to this current shortcoming, however, is my belief that this season is laying strong foundations for the 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 seasons to come, thanks to the planning, organization management, and players that management has brought in to be on the team.

Now, let’s bring this scenario back to our nonprofit world. Imagine that not only the CEOs, but the highest quality fundraisers, financial officers, and program professionals all were factored into an organization’s long-term planning. What if all of these employees felt valued and felt that their role with the organization was integral to the organization’s future plans and potential success? A byproduct of this intentional planning would be a sense of security for all the professionals in the organization. How might this influence the pursuits of those professionals?

A fundraising professional, for example, might feel less pressure during an annual campaign or an emergency campaign, and instead have the confidence to explore blue-sky scenarios in which investments are made for the long term. An employee’s sense of security — and faith in the organization’s future — is integral not just for that organization’s ability to plan for the future, but also for the organization’s ability to implement that plan. For many of the organizations with which the Jim Joseph Foundation partners and supports, losing a key member of their professional team — whether C-suite, mid-tier, or more entry level — would have a major impact on their ability to plan and program.

With the Warriors blueprint in mind — being opportunistic, giving young players time to learn, signing key veterans, and more — what can our field do to position organizations for long-term success? I see five key actions:

  1. Invest in professionals for the long term through competitive compensation.
  2. Provide professional development that is not just training staff for what they currently do, but prepares them for what they might be asked to do in the future.
  3. Offer access to conferences and professional learning communities both within and outside of the scope of the organization.
  4. Create a matrix-style organizational structure where each member of the team has opportunities to lead and shine.
  5. Secure operating reserves (and temporary and permanent endowments as possible) in order to ensure lasting fiscal security.

Planning for the short- and long-term can occur simultaneously. Immediate wins can come at the same time an eye is also kept on the future. And, sometimes the opportunity to build for the future happens at unexpected moments. Organizations should be ready to take advantage of those times in their organizational life. I invite others to provide additional ways to create stronger organizational health and security that may be even more forward-thinking than what I’ve included here.

And here’s a final plea: let’s help nonprofits in our community create meaningful legacies. And, when they do this, let’s celebrate their achievements and the “superstars” who made it happen — just as we do with our hometown teams.

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

cross-posted on Center for Effective Philanthropy

Intentional Onboarding Inspired by Jewish Wisdom

When I walked into the Jim Joseph Foundation office on my first day, I was greeted with smiles and signs with the words B’ruchim HaBa’im!! and Welcome!! on my door and computer. As I reflect on that day and the months since, I am full of gratitude for the Foundation’s commitment to a thoughtful and genuine welcome.

Over the past decade, I’ve experienced welcomes of all kinds when starting a new job and welcoming new team members onto my own teams. The truth is, I have probably spent more time on the Welcomer side vs. Welcomee side, having run a small project management business for five years and managed new employee onboarding for the past few years in my leadership role at The Hivery, a women-focused community space. I’m a people-person to my core (and a dog-person) and I am cognizant of the important and ongoing connections among people, culture and impact.

With a little bit of intention, a thoughtfully designed onboarding plan can go a long way when orienting a new person into any culture and setting them up for success. As my first 90 days at the Foundation come to a close, I am excited to share some of the highlights of my onboarding experiences with the hope that it will inform other organizations’ “welcoming efforts.” Below are six reflections on what has helped make me feel connected, heard, and valued in my new workplace:

  1. Face time. There is something special about 1:1 meeting time, especially when you’re getting acquainted to a new team. My first day started at 9 am with a 2-hour orientation meeting with my manager, Josh Miller. Over the course of the meeting, almost every team member popped into my office to say hello. Together, Josh and I reviewed my onboarding plan and first week (including pre-scheduled meetings with most team members), and the “who’s who” across the organization. Josh and I met three times my first week, then twice per week for three weeks, and are now meeting once a week. Josh’s commitment to my development and the entire team’s open-door policy has given me time and space to settle in, ask big and small questions, and the foundation to build meaningful relationships.
  2. A culture of listening and learning…before doing. When Josh and I met on my first day, he introduced me to my “Learning Portfolio”—a collection of 16 grantee-partners that I would help support in the months to come. The portfolio was thoughtfully designed based on my interests (including grants focused on teen engagement and women and girls in Jewish life) and gave me the opportunity to shadow every member of the Program Team. This meant joining grantee-partner calls and meetings, supporting various projects associated with ongoing relationship building and grant monitoring, and more. Most importantly, it has created a support system for me and opportunities to learn from and work with team members with different backgrounds, perspectives, and work styles. Looking back over the first few months, I deeply value this support system and the way it is enabling me to get a lay of the land through participating in the Foundation’s day-to-day work.
  3. The power of “we.” Something special that I’ve noticed has been the language choices used by team members at the Foundation. One such choice (of many) that I’ve been grateful for is the inclusive language used on calls and in meetings where I’m joining mostly as a listener and sometimes as a contributor. Across the Program Team, there is an intentional approach of speaking from the “we” vs. the “I,” which provides an invitation to participate.  This inclusive language along with purposeful pauses in conversation have encouraged me, as the newest member of our team, to elevate my voice.
  4. Celebrations of all shapes and sizes. Starting this job during the fall Jewish holiday season meant dedicated time in the office (and outside) for reflection and celebration. The way in which my colleagues celebrate with one another has been particularly notable with all sorts of milestones acknowledged—a team member’s two-year work anniversary (shared by email with congratulations), birthday gatherings, and a harvest lunch under a Sukkah at a team member’s home, to name a few.  I was brought into this sense of comradery from day one, when I opened my new work email inbox to a flood of welcome messages from the team and Board. It continued a few weeks later when my birthday arrived, and I was surprised by the entire team taking time away from their desks to sing me happy birthday with candles and my favorite dessert. These celebrations have set the tone for an environment that welcomes joyous gatherings, providing me with an eagerness to continue to create meaningful experiences with and between colleagues. As a result, I feel more comfortable and connected with all my team members and don’t hesitate to reach out with questions, suggest new ideas, and continue the relationship building that grows in these celebratory moments.
  5. Meaningful Jewish Wisdom. The Foundation recently shared its new theory of change, a strategic road map that is the result two years of listening, learning, and planning. The Foundation’s aspiration statement reads, “Inspired by Jewish learning experiences, all Jews, their families and their friends, lead connected, meaningful, purpose-filled lives and make positive contributions to their communities and the world.” With every passing day and conversation with colleagues and grantee partners, this statement becomes more meaningful. On my first day, I participated in my first-ever chevrutah, a learning session with Josh. We had a conversation about our staff values and what they mean to each of us– b’Tzelem Elohim (respect and humility), Hitlamdut (learning), Areivut (teamwork), Shleimut (integrity), and Avodah (giving back). In the months since, I’ve gone back to these values to frame my ongoing learning and have added new lessons and lived experiences to their meaning. I’m also now finding myself seeking answers and embracing new rituals that are already enriching my life in exciting ways. I’ve found that Jewish wisdom is prioritized and made accessible. For example, I have attended multiple Jewish learning sessions led by scholars and grantee partners where the content was intended to inform everyone’s work. The Foundation talks a serious talk about Jewish learning as a path to connection, meaning and purpose, and I see how it is walking the walk. The Foundation is demonstrating how Jewish learning can be not only the end goal of a Jewish organization’s work, but also a means to achieving its goals as well.
  6. Elevating New Voices. I am feeling empowered and lifted up by the Foundation’s commitment to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI)—internally, throughout its portfolio, and across the Jewish nonprofit landscape. This commitment means deep and ongoing listening and learning. This commitment means I have the opportunity to explore new grant opportunities and work on incredible women-focused grants including SRE Coalition, Moving Traditions, Yeshivat Maharat, and At The Well (among others). This commitment means I have the opportunity to participate in women’s groups and gatherings outside of the office. Within my first months at the Foundation, all of my requests for professional network support were welcomed. With the Foundation’s blessing, I’ve joined Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy (EPIP) and Voices For Good, and am being encouraged to continue to identify programs that will inspire me to be a champion for diversity, equity, and inclusion in the Jewish community and beyond. It’s incredibly inspiring to be a part of the systems change work happening at the Foundation to amplify voices and advance equitable communities in which every person can lead connected, meaningful, purpose-filled lives inspired by Jewish learning experiences.


While a new employee welcome may start with first impressions and kind gestures, that welcome has the ability to stay beyond the first day with intention. I’m hopeful that these stories and reflections can help organizations preparing to do their own onboarding do so more intentionally, leading with their values and aspirations.

We know that organizations can drive more sustained impact with more intention and attention to their people. It’s important to remember that people must be at the center of whatever we choose as our sacred work so that they become part of the fabric of our organizations and our impact.

Rachel Shamash Schneider joined the Jim Joseph Foundation as a Program Officer in October 2019.


Insights on Building Honest Communication Between Funders and Grantees

If you’ve seen one foundation…you’ve seen one foundation.

This common refrain in the nonprofit world is a reminder of the singularity of every funder. In turn, with this premise, grantees, potential grantees, consultants, and others spend significant time and resources getting to know each funders’ preferences, habits, and other traits. Doing this for one funder is challenging; for multiple funders even more so. And, of course, doing it while also continuing to carry out the everyday work of the organization is most challenging.

Those on the funder side gain a new perspective when we step back and try to put ourselves in the shoes of grantees. We gain compassion for the professionals at these organizations and the challenges and windy paths they navigate. And we exhibit humility when we say, clearly, that the outcomes of our actions toward them don’t always align with our intentions.

Two recent interactions of mine with grantee-partners demonstrate this—and represent a moment of learning for the Jim Joseph Foundation. Our starting point for a funder-grantee relationship is a desire for frequent, relatively informal correspondence to build a relationship premised on partnership. Our mentality is that we—the funder and grantee-partner—are in this work together. These types of interactions, we believe, will create a level of comfort for the grantee-partner that makes sharing challenges and shortcomings easier. When those occur, as they almost always do to some degree, we can problem-solve together.

Yet, these two grantee-partner interactions opened my eyes to the very real challenges with this approach. One grantee-partner said they were not in touch with me for a much longer period of time than I would have expected because they were not comfortable sharing a half-baked idea regarding the Foundation-supported initiative. The other grantee-partner said they lacked the confidence—they even felt like imposters in their work despite strong momentum and learning outcomes—to proactively maintain ongoing communication with the Foundation. As the funder representative, I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that my first inclination was to question why both grantee-partners felt this way. However, after a short time, I began to reflect on the reasons these grantee-partners hesitated to interact with the Foundation in the way we hope all grantee-partners do. I quickly recognized that this was as much of a learning opportunity for the Foundation as it was for the non-profit executives.

Here are some takeaways that we think are beneficial to share and digest with the field:

  • The funder-grantee relationship will not look and feel the exact same across the board. Certainly we still strongly believe that relational grantmaking is the ideal for which to strive. Yet that ideal is easier to achieve with some partners than others. True relational grantmaking means taking cues from the grantee-partner on the structure, tone, and frequency of the engagement they want to have. While we set some of these parameters, we also can listen more and have the listening inform the tenor of the relationship.
  • We need to be more cognizant about the backgrounds and perspectives of the various organizations with whom we work. For example, a decades-long leader of a major legacy organization that already received multiple Foundation grants approaches a conversation with us differently than a new leader of a young organization that just received its first Foundation grant. And some leaders may be new to institutional giving altogether. Acting like those differences do not exist—and understanding how those differences influence one’s inclination to share challenges—is a mistake on our part and simply an unfair expectation to set across the breadth of our portfolio.
  • Other funders with whom our grantee-partners work do not necessarily want the same approach as we do to communication and relationship-building with grantee-partners. We need to recognize that grantee-partners are corresponding in different ways with different funders—no easy task to be sure—and can find themselves in particularly tricky spots if they are speaking with multiple funders at the same time.
  • Lastly, these recent conversations don’t mean we need to abandon the style of grantmaking that has led to many fruitful Foundation-grantee relationships. Our style is aligned with our priorities and principles and it has evolved this way over more than ten years for good reason. Perhaps, though, we need to better explain early on in relationships with grantee-partners why we take this approach, what it is intended to cultivate, and more directly what we hope they gain from our more frequent and informal correspondence than other funders may take. Importantly, it requires patience early on as relationships deepen and comfort builds.

We share this now with an understanding that the Jewish philanthropic sector is in the midst of a particular moment of change. Over recent years, major funders have or will sunset and other, newer funders will look to fill voids. Our field is also in the midst of numerous leadership changes among nonprofit organizations; those new leaders are younger and come from more diverse backgrounds. Their lived experiences mean they may inherently have different approaches and ideas about effective grantee-funder communications. Simply, increasingly new people will continue to occupy the funder-grantee roles in the coming years. As we move forward, we take this fact and our recent experiences and related learnings into account. The funder-grantee relationship is unique in every situation—so too are the communications that best suit each interaction.

Aaron Saxe is a Senior Program Officer at the Jim Joseph Foundation.

The More Things Change: Returning to Our Field After Five Years

As we enter 5780, it is a time to take stock of what we have been in the past and what we choose to bring into the future.  I find myself in an interesting and unique role, returning to a team at the Jim Joseph Foundation that I was a part of five years ago. Over the last two months I’ve re-settled into my role here. And I wonder: what of me has changed, what about the roles and fields of Jewish philanthropy/education/engagement has changed, what do I want to hold onto from first time at the Foundation, and where am I eager to grow beyond the limits I had previously set for myself?

For the past four and half years, I served as CEO of Youth Leadership Institute (YLI). I gained new perspective both about the work of a foundation professional and a profound expanded empathy for those who lead nonprofits. While one can study about leading an organization, holding true to a vision and workplan while also needing to meet payroll and manage HR issues—all in an unpredictable and tension-filled world—was critical experiential learning that has informed my leadership and view of the unique roles we each play in our sector.

I deepened my appreciation for the power of support systems and of social networks comprised of people working toward similar visions and goals. I would not have helped YLI achieve the successes we had during my time there without the network of professionals I could reach out to with questions, challenges, and other issues I faced nearly daily. Importantly, some of the most influential and helpful people in my network included partners who invested in the work that our young people led every day. Because of this experience, I am especially excited to stand side-by-side with the grantee-partners with whom I am privileged to work and to be present as a thought partner and mentor. I can now connect them to resources that informed and inspired my own growth as a leader beyond my previous relational work in grantmaking.

In the past few months since returning to the Foundation and focusing on Jewish education, engagement, and leadership development, I have observed a marked and positive development: the seamless inclusion of the voices of a next generation of leaders. As just one example, the initial plenary of the JPRO conference allowed our field to celebrate the work, vision, and passion of Kate Belza O’Bannon and Arya Marvazy, co-recipients of the Young Professional Award.  They spoke proudly about how critical their personal narratives and identities are to unlocking the potential of Judaism as a component of leading a connected, meaningful, and purposeful life.  The authenticity they presented was in reflection of our community’s ancient wisdom (presented through a study session by Rabba Yaffa Epstein) as she challenged all of us present to think about the nuances of leading by example and living our values.

I also have been deeply appreciative of the eagerness of my colleagues from foundations across North America to reconnect and serve as partners working toward effective grantmaking and culture change in the Jewish organizational world.  Moreover, I notice a significant increase from five years ago in professional foundation staff and new foundations in general. Perhaps this observation also is a reflection of a more organized, networked field made up of more people who want to engage with and learn from each other. Whether due to an increase in professionals or an increase in engaged professionals—or both—this is a welcome development. These people are entrusted by their foundations’ leadership to carry out their respective missions and visions, and they are doing it with integrity.

This growth of the field is in part a testament to the generation of leaders who I learned from five years ago as the Foundation seeded various programs and cohorts.  And I am particularly delighted that many of these emerging leaders speak less about Jewish survival for survival’s sake as a people, and more about building inclusive environments where Jewish people and their peers can find connection, meaning, and purpose.

Surely this work building inclusive environment has always occurred to varying degrees, and we need to give credit to those who pushed the issues before they were in fashion. These efforts required emotional labor and were often left to those who were least proximate to power. These people were courageous in pushing for basic acknowledgement of their lived experiences and an equal space in our communal conversations, let alone equity, from a field predominantly populated by leaders who were white, male, able bodied, Ashkenormative, cis gendered, straight, and of class privilege, to name a not all-encompassing list. Because of the work of the individuals, communities, and organizations least proximate to power, I notice a significant evolution from five years ago in how the field looks to engage and talk with Jews of Color and non-Ashkenormative members of the Sephardi and Mizrahi communities. Engaging these communities is now seen by many in our field as critical to building a thriving, larger Jewish community. In addition, our field speaks more openly about the need to change workplace culture—with the #MeToo movement top of mind—to ensure we are a field in which people are treated respectfully, are heard, and want to continue to work.

With all of this, I am excited to bring a new version of myself to 5780—one that stands on the shoulders of those who came before and who sees my work as interwoven with my colleagues in new and influential ways.

Jon Marker is a Senior Program Officer at the Jim Joseph Foundation.

Redefining Accountability To Incorporate Values

When one’s title at a philanthropic foundation includes words like “grants management” and “compliance,” addressing tasks that fall under the “how” of organizational life is common. This includes everything from process to procedures to workflows—all of which are emphasized as core drivers of organizational excellence.  But this understanding of organizational excellence lacks an acknowledgement that achieving excellence depends on more than just completing the task at hand. The challenge, however, is that the technicality and focus on how to do something often overshadows the intentionality with which something should be done.

At the Jim Joseph Foundation, we strive to act with deep kavanah (intention) to foster compelling, effective learning experiences for young Jews. Our professional team focuses on the “how” of grantmaking and evaluation to pursue this mission. More recently, we also created space to focus on the values we hold as we do this work. The staff values below were fomented by the Foundation’s Culture Committee, a diverse cross section of the Foundation team who asserted that how we conduct ourselves matters.  Each staff value is a Jewish value that stems from Pirkei Avot, a compendium of ethical texts that are rooted in morality and common decency.  A large copy of these values is on the wall in the Foundation’s offices when one first enters, and each manager now uses these as a core part of performance appraisals[1].

  • Respect & Humility: We assume positive intent (Tzelem Elohim)

We are stewards of a tremendous legacy.  When the Foundation’s benefactor, Jim Joseph z’’l, passed away in 2003, few people knew his name before the creation of this eponymous foundation. Most of his charitable pursuits were made privately and without acknowledgement.  On positive intent, we see ourselves in G-d’s image and expect to treat others with uncompromising respect.

  • Learning: We are always developing and growing (Hitlamdoot)

Every undertaking has failures and successes and we are compelled to acknowledge each if we are committed to personal and professional growth.  Further, achievement is not merely about individual accomplishment.  Collaboration, constructive discourse, and mentorship are necessary components of a learning environment. Investment in professional development both internally and for grantee-partners facilitates and accelerates the learning process.

  • Teamwork: We are one team and our teamwork makes us a smarter organization (Areivoot)

We aspire to create a team-oriented approach to grantmaking such that grantee-partners and foundation partners combine brainpower to solve challenges. Internally at the Foundation, we strive for a democratic and sincere approach to a professional team, informed by the deep importance of diversity, equity and inclusion. Each team member has a unique opportunity to lead and to follow and has a seat and a voice at the table. We continue to make space within each conversation so that more voices can be elevated.

  • Integrity: We do the right thing even when no one is watching (Shleimoot)

Honesty, transparency, and authenticity are three prerequisites for maintaining trust both internally among co-workers and externally among other colleagues. We embrace—and try to live by—these principles. Integrity also extends to internal policies (conflict of interest, code of ethics, whistleblower), external requirements (non-discrimination clauses, harassment policies, and general child and employee protection requirements), and regular dialogue with partners and stakeholders in the broader field.

  • Giving Back: We aspire to be good community stewards (Avodah)

While giving is the essence of any foundation, this value relates to more than just the stewarding of effective philanthropy. Rather, Giving Back relates to volunteering as individuals and as a team to serve with the broader community.  It also relates to acting with compassion. If a potential grantee-partner is not the right fit for the Foundation, we strive to be cordial and helpful to those in need and those representing causes that warrant support.

Rabbi Lawrence Hoffman, PhD, of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, articulates ten commandments for leaders [of Jewish organizations][2] .  All are valuable to revisit but two in particular strike a chord.

Number 5:  Saturate your organization with that strong moral leadership buttressed by authentic Jewish learning 

Number 7: Treat everyone with respect: your own self, the workers and consultants you hire, the people you serve – those who put their faith in you.  Do everything you can to show everyone you meet how much they matter. 

The exercise of spending considerable time to think about and develop our staff values was both rewarding and beneficial to our professional team. I encourage others to develop staff values, to live by them, to display them on your office walls, and to articulate why they represent the organization and the people who work for it.

The Foundation’s Culture Committee is comprised of Nicole Levy, Executive Assistant to the President and CEO; Mallory Morales, Program Assistant; Dawne Bear Novicoff, Chief Operating Officer; Aaron Saxe, Senior Program Officer; Kari Simpson, Human Resources Director; and Sossena Walter, Director of Finance and Accounting. Jeff Tiell, former Program Officer at the Foundation, served on the Culture Committee too.

Steven Green is Senior Director of Grants Management and Compliance.

[1] In addition to agreeing to and embracing the staff values holistically, each team member agrees on one or two staff values with a manager at the beginning of each year on which to focus attention

[2] More than Managing:  The Relentless Pursuit of Effective Jewish Leadership, Jewish Lights Publishing, pp 222-223, 2016

Reflecting on Partnership and Belonging During My Time at the Jim Joseph Foundation

In reflecting about my journey at the Jim Joseph Foundation – these last 4 ½ years – an insight from Mother Teresa comes to mind. Indeed, after a lifetime of working with the poor, the sick, and the vulnerable, Mother Teresa observed that, “The biggest disease today is not leprosy or tuberculosis but rather the feeling of not belonging.” What makes this observation even more powerful is that she died in 1997 – before the digital revolution really took hold, before cell phones, social media, and widespread online communities.

It is no surprise to most of us that this disease – this notion of not belonging – has reached epidemic proportions. Type in “loneliness epidemic” into google and a flurry of articles pop up – and countries are beginning to think about how to confront the issue. Just one example, in 2018, the U.K. appointed a Loneliness Minister, Tracey Crouch, to help combat the country’s chronic loneliness problem.

We long to belong.

The Jim Joseph Foundation has been on a journey itself that intersected with my own – one that has led to a stated aspiration of working with grantee-partners to help all Jews, their families and their friends lead connected, meaningful, purpose-filled lives and to make positive contributions to their communities and the world. The Foundation is looking to help fund, support, and build meaningful connection in our lives. In my own journey of wrestling with this meaning-based connection, the Jewish theologian Martin Buber has been particularly illustrative. At the core of Buber’s theology is his theory of dialogue – the idea that entering into relationship with one another is essential – because in doing so one enters into a relationship with G-d. Buber famously speaks to what he calls the “I-It” vs the “I-You” – the “I-It” characterized as how most of us tend to operate in daily life; we tend to treat the people and the world around us as things to be used for our benefit. Sometimes this is very appropriate. After all, a toothbrush is meant for my benefit (and the benefit of those around me, I might add). But what about a person? Buber speaks to the notion of the “I-You” as addressing other people directly as partners in dialogue and relationship. Only when we say “You” to our world can we perceive its eccentricity and peculiarity and, simultaneously, its potential for intimacy.

In my time at the Foundation, I attempted to carry myself with the words “I-You” on my lips. Indeed, what does it mean to be a true partner given the power and perch that comes from being positioned at a large institutional funder? These are questions that the sector would do well, in my opinion, to keep asking – as I think they remain increasingly pertinent and meaningful, particularly in a universe where our work is about furnishing the hearth of connection. This question of partnership is at the center of what effective grantmaking is concerned with. Phil Buchanan, in his latest book, Giving Done Right (in my humble opinion a book that should be required reading for all who enter the philanthropic field), discusses what it takes to build effective relationships with grantee-partners. He provides ten rules based on his organization’s, the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP), surveys of tens of thousands of grantee-partners about hundreds of grantmakers. One of the ten in particular spoke to me: Don’t assume you have what it takes to strengthen nonprofits or build their capabilities. Ask what they need and then offer it only if you’re positioned to do it well. As grantmakers we like to think we know something. And often we do. And often we actually don’t know as much as we think we know. Just as the heart pumps blood through our body, providing it with oxygen and nutrients, our grantee-partners pump their lived experience, their work, and their knowledge to the philanthropic sector. We would be wise to listen and when we think we are listening to actually listen more.

In their book Stories of the Spirit, Jack Kornfield and Christina Feldman tell this story: A family went out to a restaurant for dinner. When the waitress arrived, the parents gave their orders, where then immediately their five-year-old daughter piped up with her own: “I’ll have a hot dog, french fries, and a Coke.” “Oh no you won’t,” interjected the parents, and turning to the waitress said, “She’ll have meat loaf, mashed potatoes, milk.” Looking at the child with a smile, the waitress said, “So hon, what do you want on that hot dog?” When she left, the family sat stunned and silent. A few moments later the little girl, eyes shining, said, “She thinks I’m real.”

Who do we believe is real in our communities? My sense, for one reason or another, is many of us have been treated like the daughter was by the parents. A question that I find myself coming back to again and again – how can I be more real and see people in all their miraculous realness? Moving from the individual to the sector perspective, this story is also illustrative of the ways in which many of us in the philanthropic sector see the nonprofit universe. Business-type thinking permeates the nonprofit world. As Phil Buchanan notes, “What we need today is a further clarifying – not a blurring – of the boundaries between the sectors. Each sector plays a distinct role. We live in a market economy, but markets have limits – and markets fail – and that’s why the nonprofit sector is so crucial.” I couldn’t agree more. No sector is superior, and the pursuit of profit and that of social impact ends may not always conflict, but they often do. As Buchanan says, “Nonprofits are often working to address the very problems markets have failed to address. So, it makes little sense to maintain that ”market approaches” are the answer to every problem.” This is often difficult for philanthropists and principals – the vast majority of them who made their fortunes in the market world – to come to terms with. And naturally so, we are hardwired to think that what worked in one situation could work in another. In philanthropy we have many examples to the contrary and more being created each and every day.

Which brings me to my last story. The psychologist and author Tara Brach writes in her work, Radical Acceptance: Mohini was a regal white tiger who lived for many years at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. For the majority of those years, her home was the old lion house, a typical twelve-by-twelve foot cage with iron bars and a cement floor. Mohini’s days consisted of pacing restlessly back and forth in her cramped quarters. Eventually, the Zoo staff worked together to create a natural habitat for her, covering several acres with hills, trees, a pond and a variety of vegetation. With excitement and anticipation, they released Mohini into her new and expansive environment. But it was too late. The tiger immediately sought refuge in a corner of the compound, where she lived for the remainder of her life. Mohini paced and paced in that corner until an area twelve by twelve feet was worn bare of grass.

So many of us find ourselves trapped in the same old patterns. The same old thinking. So many of us find our institutions trapped in the same old patterns. The same old thinking. For all of us in the Jewish communal sector, what would it look like to realize that we are actually living in an expansive wilderness and acting as if we live in a cage of our own making?

It was a privilege to be a part of and contributor to this Foundation’s work for the last 4 ½ years, to have been a colleague and a partner to many organizations and individuals in the world of Jewish education, and to continue to be inspired by the work of our grantee partners in the field – you all are the champions that made coming to work each and every day at the Jim Joseph Foundation the best job a guy could have.

Jeff Tiell was a Program Officer at the Jim Joseph Foundation until August, 2019. He can be reached now at [email protected].


Welcoming the Stranger Professionally to Advance Jewish Education and Engagement

At a recent meeting discussing logic models, outcomes, and corresponding indicators I was startled by something I saw out of the corner of my eye.

A colleague was eating his lunch.

Or should I say this colleague had essentially finished his lunch. It was Thai food and there were the dregs of curry still on the plate. This colleague was using his chopsticks to pince these microscopic bits of tofu before then putting the chopsticks to his mouth.

And here I was, sitting there, looking at this astonished.

Astonished because never in one hundred years would I have thought to do this. If that had been my plate, those little bits of tofu would have been compost. And that’s the point. You see, this colleague is a very detailed-oriented thinker. He zooms in. He’s the kind of fellow who could spot a missing letter in a 50-page thesis. I on the other hand, well, I probably wouldn’t spot that letter. It’s just not what I look for. I see broad brushstrokes and eat accordingly. Now that’s not to say that my colleague and I are total opposites in the ways in which we do or are able to do and see things. There is obvious nuance. But the basic point is not lost: people see the world in different ways and bringing people of differing or outsider views together often is a good thing that leads to important opportunities for all individuals involved. It’s a good thing in life in general and it’s also a good thing inherently in the social sector because it enables organizations to do better work.


Well, for starters because educational programs and programs that provide differing views are significant professional development opportunities for employees. These differences create important opportunities to network and to learn with colleagues, and they broaden our understanding of what it means to be part of a community (professional or other). We are more likely to then bring new ideas and strategies back to the organization in which we work, gained, in part, from a certain outside resource or source that provided information we were unlikely to otherwise have.

And I’m not just talking about diversity of individuals’ lived experiences. I’m talking about diversity of organizational lived experience and diversity of organizational thought. It’s one thing to encourage and support employees to understand and wrestle with voices that may be different than one’s own externally. It’s wholly a different thing to have the organizational strength to incorporate these voices internally.

Recently, I read a book called Range by David Epstein. The book jacket reads as follows,

“What’s the most effective path to success in any domain? It’s not what you think.”

The book then proceeds to describe its thesis that we have been taught to think that there is a single path to excellence, as noted, “Start early, specialize soon, narrow your focus, aim for efficiency.” This is actually not the case. Epstein “shows that in most domains, the way to excel is something altogether different. Sample widely, gain a breadth of experiences, take detours, and experiment relentlessly.” Indeed, Epstein finds that, “in most fields – especially those that are complex and unpredictable – generalists, not specialists, are primed to excel. Generalists often find their path late, and they juggle many interests rather than focusing on one. They’re also more creative, more agile, and able to make connections their more specialized peers can’t see.” Increasingly, this is what our emerging world is demanding of us – to have the capacity to be generalists.

We in the Jewish communal space need to make more room for those differing views, for those outside voices both external and internal to our organizations, to the stranger who may have a thought that doesn’t conform.

We need to do this, both as individuals and as a field, because doing so makes us stronger and more equipped to deliver on our personal and professional mission and visions. It allows us to analogize from varying disciplines and bring in thinking and solutions to issues that may not be kosher on the face of it, but lead to evolutions or revolutions of thought and practice.

The Jim Joseph Foundation is beginning to think about this work and invests in more R&D efforts than previously. But this goes beyond the direct strategy of any one organization. My encouragement for us in the Jewish communal space: go to conferences that may be of interest to you that don’t seemingly “relate” to your field; bring in folks from other areas and disciplines to engage staff and boards; create professional development opportunities for staff that allow for experimentation and risk taking. My experience at the Rockwood Leadership Institute’s Art of Leadership seminar in February 2018 is just one example of the impact these interventions can have. There, I was able to engage with grantmakers from a wide variety of professional and personal backgrounds in the type of work—asking the big questions about purpose, vision, partnership, and resilience —that matters to us all collectively. This training helped me not only work more proficiently in the Jewish philanthropic work of the Foundation, but also tap into the roots of what motivates and inspires me about this work – all this from a group of 30 some “strangers.”

Welcoming the stranger is a core principle of Judaism. Indeed, the Torah instructs us 36 times to care for the stranger – far more than it commands us to observe the Sabbath or any other law. Giving credence to what this means for ourselves and our organizations will lead to a more engaged, relevant, smarter, and more thoughtful Jewish philanthropic field.



Reflecting on Growth and Learning While at the Jim Joseph Foundation

I stepped into the Jim Joseph Foundation office for the first time as a Jewish philanthropy professional around 7:45 am on Thursday, October 15, 2015. On Friday, June 7, 2019, I exited the office for the last time as a Program Officer for the Foundation. Many of us come and go from various jobs and professions, so we know what it’s like to start work, do the work, and end the work. I was honored and privileged to work here, and part of what I loved so much was the opportunity to reflect and to learn. In fact, if there’s one thing I enjoyed and appreciated most about my funder colleagues, my grantee-partners, my peers in secular philanthropy, and our trusted consultants, is how much they taught me over the past three-and-one-half years.

One of the first assignments that I received upon donning the role of Program Officer was to meet with and speak with dozens of program officers from other foundations to hear their stories: What led them to where they are now? What challenges do they see in the field of Jewish education? What opportunities on the horizon excite them? For those who know me, you can imagine this being an assignment I relished. Set up coffee dates with those wiser and more learned than me? Sign me up! I was skimming through some of these notes recently, and I must have had 30-40 conversations in those first few months to get me up to speed in the vernacular of Jewish communal life (this was, after all, my first Jewish professional job, and my first job in philanthropy. My previous 10 years had been spent running a K-12 tutoring company, and before that I was a high school math and science teacher).

My first Jewish Funders Network conference was an exciting blur of camp-meets-summit, continuing to meet new colleagues, re-connect with folks I had met virtually, and connect with a few legends in the field who my assigned first-time mentor, Jon Woocher, z’’l, made sure I met: Cindy Chazan, Joni Blinderman, and Yossi Abramowitz. As I was already starting to carve out distinct portfolios in my grantee and project work, these three helped introduce me to the worlds of Jewish leadership, early childhood education, and educational technology.

As I progressed, my feet sank deeper into learning more and more about leadership programs: What’s out there, and what works? Who are the key players? Where does the Jim Joseph Foundation currently invest, and what might a more focused leadership investment strategy look like? I remember the first presentation and discussion I led with my Foundation colleagues, based on researching our current and previous grants in the space, creating a rudimentary leadership rubric to determine which grants are “leadership grants,” and proposing a few high level ideas to inform strategic investments going forward. While some of those early ideas stuck (we led a successful Leadership Retreat in summer 2018, and are considering leadership capacity grants), others are still in formation (what would it look like to provide a coach or mentor to every Jewish professional? What would it look like to fund CEO sabbaticals?).

From this initial research, I was encouraged to explore secular leadership programs and strategies, while also continuing to dig deeper into the concept of “Jewish leadership.” Similar to my listening tour to better understand Jewish foundation professionals, I embarked on a series of conversations, focus groups, conferences, and think tanks that explored leadership from myriad angles. I met Phil Li, President & CEO of the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation, whose approach to networked leadership led to the creation of the Sterling Network to bring together cross-sector leaders in New York City. I met Claire Peeps, Executive Director of the Durfee Foundation, who provides leaders in Los Angeles with a Durfee Sabbatical, and other leaders with a longer Stanton Fellowship to support them to think deeply about a complex challenge. I met Holly Delany Cole, Director of the Flexible Leadership Awards, a Haas, Jr. Initiative that provides supplemental funding to core grantee organizations to more deeply invest in customized leadership capacity solutions. These three colleagues, and many others in the Leadership Funders Group, as well as Fund the People, helped nourish my soul and quench my thirst for knowledge, introducing me to new ways of thinking and new people to meet, all of whom focused their attention squarely in the leadership space.

There are too many books, articles, blogs, and publications to recount that also informed my thinking and helped me on my journey as a foundation professional learning about leadership. But a few that sparked lasting ideas around effective leadership investing are GEO’s Investing in Leadership Strategies, HBR’s On Leadership, and Bridgespan’s Leadership Pipeline Alliance Report, which led to the formation of Leading Edge. I am indebted to my friends and colleagues at the Schusterman Family Foundation and Wexner Foundation, for their continued teaching and meta-leadership in this arena. I will always be thankful to my friends and colleagues at the Jim Joseph Foundation for their patience with my numerous questions and their desire to also think big with me. And especially to the Jim Joseph Foundation’s two senior leaders with whom I worked—Chip Edelsberg and Barry Finestone. They each mentored and coached me in their own distinct way; I am eternally grateful for the opportunities they gave me.

This July, my family and I are moving to Long Beach, where I grew up, to be closer to our kids’ grandparents. It is a very bittersweet transition, not only to leave my colleagues here, but to leave my community in San Francisco, where I have lived for nearly 25 years. We will surely grow new roots in Southern California, with the gracious and generous help of our parents, friends and relatives. I feel good about the work we’ve done together. I remain optimistic about our future. The Jewish people are strong. We are resilient. We are creative, and innovative, and educated. We are not wont for leaders or leadership—they are sitting and standing among us. I know that the skills and relationships I have formed here are without a doubt some of the strongest I have made in my lifetime, and I will carry them with me into this next phase of my career. They are built on curiosity, on humility, on vulnerability. And perhaps that is what leadership must teach all of us—to be curious, to be humble, to be vulnerable—with ourselves, and with each other.

Godspeed, my friends.

Seth Linden was a Program Officer at the Jim Joseph Foundation for 3.5 years. He is now a philanthropy consultant focusing on board culture and governance, leadership and talent development, and designing and facilitating learning retreats. He can be reached at [email protected] and you can read more at www.gatherconsulting.org.

Will it Last? Introducing A Tool to Assess Program Sustainability

“What would remain if Foundation funding disappeared?” This was a common question that former Jim Joseph Foundation Executive Director Chip Edelsberg posed to challenge the professional team during the early launch phases of Foundation-supported teen education initiatives. But really, the question itself reflects a guiding principle of the Foundation since its inception; that is, to support organizations and initiatives in ways that are sustainable so that Jewish learning endeavors live on—and continue to benefit young people—even after a grant period concludes.

This principle, essentially a goal for each grant, has informed grantmaking decisions and the lengths and structures of Foundation grants.  We have learned lessons over the years about strategies and approaches to make this goal more likely to be achieved, including awarding matching grants to encourage new funding sources, supporting grantee-partners’ strategic planning processes, open and frequent conversations with grantee-partners, setting expectations with grantee-partners, and providing grantee-partners with enough time to position themselves for success if and when Foundation funding ceased. We have also gained a deep understanding about the power of a capacity building grant to help a grantee-partner grow in a sustainable way. Through trials and errors—and some fail forwards—we have learned about both the benefits of growing and the potential risks when a grantee-partner or the marketplace simply is not ready.

These are all important learnings and strategies for the Foundation, and perhaps for peer funders as well. What they are not, however, are actual tools for the grantee-partner to use to help them on their path towards sustainability. Over the last couple of years, the Jewish Teen Education and Engagement Funder Collaborative (FC)—a complex, multi-faceted grouping of different funders and organizations from around the country—elevated the goal of sustainability for each of its ten communities in very concrete ways. The FC’s ten community teen initiatives all worked diligently from the beginning to lay the groundwork for sustainability. Community stakeholders were engaged throughout so that our local funding partners, often Federations, designed initiatives that reflected the community’s actual needs and wants—not just what the local partner thought the community needed or wanted. Communities had conversations with program providers at the beginning stages of the grant period about expectations around sustainability. This complex community planning process helped develop teen initiatives that had broad buy-in from the start, thus also enhancing the likelihood of their sustainability.

In this vein, the communities came together to develop clear Measures of Success—one of which is to “Build Models for Jewish Teen Education that are Sustainable.” However, defining what success looks like without also offering a way to measure against it would somewhat render it moot. While complex surveys were developed for other measures of success—an appropriate approach in those cases—measuring a community’s readiness for sustainability required something different. That’s when Rosov Consulting, which serves as the cross-community evaluator, developed the Sustainability Diagnostic Tool (SDT) for communities to better understand the ways in which they were developing a sustainable ecosystem. This diagnostic process, which, importantly, communities can use themselves, offers community leadership and stakeholders the opportunity to assess and reflect on their progress towards sustainability.

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As seen above, the SDT offers clear indicators and a qualitative sliding scale for communities to gauge progress themselves. Taken together, communities will gain a deep understanding about their readiness to “make it on their own.” Particularly important is that this is a usable diagnostic tool that communities themselves can deploy; each community received instructions to conduct interviews with key community stakeholders. They posed questions to elicit answers that would inform where the teen initiative fell in different categories of the rubric: “To what extent would you say that the leadership of the community’s teen ecosystem has a clearly stated mission for its work?” To what extent would you say that the community’s teen ecosystem has strong and stable leadership?” “To what extent would you say the community’s teen ecosystem has secured a financial future?” With the indicators in mind, to what extent is there evidence in the teen ecosystem of demand for service?”

Like other funders, we have seen expensive efforts we supported grow and build momentum, achieve great programmatic outcomes, but then fail to build the kind of broader communal investment that an initiative needs to endure over the longer-term. The SDT is designed so that grantee-partners can help themselves develop that kind of staying power. We are sharing this now as some communities in the FC move towards the final stages of their grant period. They already planned initiatives, received their first grant, received a renewal, and are fine-tuning the most effective parts of their initiatives. The communities nearing the end of their grant periods are finding great value in the SDT. Equally as exciting is that other communities, in earlier stages of their grant period, are already using the SDT so that the rubric and accompanying interview questions inform their stakeholder conversations and related initiative planning now:

The Sustainability Diagnostic Tool has really helped keep us honest with respect to how we’ve measured inroads and impact in our community’s initiative. Having this rubric has been a great way to remind ourselves what we mean by ‘success’, and has enabled us to validate some paths we’ve taken, or think about course corrections when necessary. – Brian Jaffee, Executive Director of the Jewish Foundation of Cincinnati, the local funder of the Cincinnati Jewish Teen Collective.

The FC itself is a “big” story with many layers, organizations, and learnings. We’re telling one specific, yet critical, part of it now. We hope that by highlighting our Foundation’s learnings regarding sustainability and what we believe to be a critical new tool, other funders and organizations will be able to adapt the new SDT for any initiative that they want to see achieve sustainability. Having sustainability as a principle, as a goal, was important. But the SDT helps us and grantee-partners more definitively and accurately answer that key question: “What would remain if Foundation funding disappeared?”

Before using the SDT, please reach out to Sara Allen, Executive Director of the Jewish Teen Education and Engagement Funder Collaborative, at [email protected] for full instructions and insights.

Aaron Saxe is a Senior Program Officer at the Jim Joseph Foundation.