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.

Start by Asking: How One Funder Elevates Non-Grantmaking Support

As a funder supporting organizations that create and provide Jewish learning opportunities, the Jim Joseph Foundation is inherently in a position of power in the funder-grantee relationship. While we acknowledge this reality, we also try to minimize this “power dynamic” when possible. Talented, committed grantee-partners are vital to realizing our aspiration and, guided by a relational approach to grantmaking, we strive to offer them more than just grant support. This can mean offering technical support, supporting data gathering or other research efforts, or filling a void either in the field or in their organization specifically.

In fact, non-monetary grant assistance has been a staple of our successful grantmaking for decades. In the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) 2018 report, Strengthening Grantees: Foundation and Nonprofit Perspectives, researchers noted that 83% of foundation CEOs say that their staff provides direct assistance beyond the grant and 67% enlist a 3rd party consultant to provide that support. Even with those promising numbers, the report shares a stark disconnect between what foundation professionals are offering and what nonprofit CEOs say they actually need. According to the report:

Almost all foundation leaders say that their foundation: 

  • feels responsible for strengthening grantees;
  • cares about grantee organizations’ overall health; and
  • is aware of grantees’ needs.

In contrast, the majority of nonprofit CEOs say: 

  • their foundation funders feel no or little responsibility for strengthening their organization;
  • most foundation funders do not care about strengthening the overall health of their organization; and
  • most foundation funders do not ask about their organization’s needs beyond funding.

The report shared dichotomous perspectives about who makes decisions about consultancies, the nature of ancillary services provided, whether follow-up takes place to the interventions that are provided, and overall responsiveness to requests beyond the dollars granted. While some of this divide can be attributed to communications challenges, more can be attributed to succumbing to the power divide.

Undoubtedly, we have made some mistakes with our grantee-partners that are noted in this report. Operating from an office that in certain cases is thousands of miles away from these partners leaves plenty of room for error and assumption. We have discovered some of these through three different iterations of CEP’s Grantee Perception Report and recognize that there are grantee perspectives that remain un-shared due to the grantee-funder relationship.

Still, relational grantmaking is an attempt to ensure that knowledge-sharing and open communication are prioritized by both funder and grantee. This approach creates more meaningful and impactful investments. These last two pandemic years have shone an additional light on the disparities between the resources of the funders and the grantee-partners. They have also provided an opportunity to reflect and engage in new ways while many programs pivoted or halted, initially. During this time, we have heeded grantee-partners’ pleas for greater support in a few key non-grantmaking areas. This has included:

  • Developing and sharing a video series, Non-Profit Budgeting Best Practices: How Stories are Told and Partnerships are Strengthened Through Numbers in Spreadsheets. The series title captures the oft-overlooked role a budget can play in fostering a positive funder-grantee relationship. We do not offer a prescriptive methodology for how everyone should present their financial reports. Rather, the practices are intended to offer help in compiling budgets that articulate an organization’s priorities, ambitions, and story. In this regard, the descriptive videos cover areas and questions that grantee-partners have asked us during the Foundation’s years of grantmaking.
  • Providing support for scenario and contingency planning, offering evaluation and research support, and sharing a platform for grantee partners to have professional learning communities. The scenario and contingency planning included ongoing, one-on-one coaching with experts in addition to group learning sessions.
  • Revising our annual survey instruments to determine what other support is needed by our partners that may not have been solicited or voluntarily shared with us previously.

These examples build on some of the Foundation’s long-standing practices, in line with our belief in relational grantmaking. This includes:

Giving space for the grantee-partner to set meeting agendas

This includes opportunities to choose how often to share. Over the last two years in particular, 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. The “rate of communication” takes on greater importance when people’s time and energy are stretched thin. By asking how often grantee-partners wanted to connect with us and also by making those interactions as productive as possible, we could calibrate accordingly.

Showing vulnerability

We do not have all the answers, nor do we have to pretend that we do. 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.

At the Jim Joseph Foundation, we aspire that Jewish youth, their families, and friends will lead lives filled with connection, meaning, and purpose. To achieve this, we must continue to ask questions of our funding and grantee partners alike: What knowledge and information is needed currently, what do you anticipate needing moving forward, and what has been most useful to your organization in the past? The above examples are just a few of many. We hear from grantee-partners about needs in evaluation, R&D, communication, and many other areas of technical and personnel-based assistance. The best way to learn more about these areas — and to identify others — is to start by asking.

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

originally published by the Center for Effective Philanthropy

How Budgets Can Strengthen a Funder-Grantee Relationship

At the Jim Joseph Foundation, we aspire that Jewish youth, their families, and friends will lead lives filled with connection, meaning, and purpose. Talented, committed grantee-partners are vital to realizing this aspiration and, guided by a relational approach to grantmaking, we strive to offer them more than just grant support. This can be technical support, data gathering or other research efforts, or something else that fills a void either in the field or in their organization specifically. Today, we are responding to a need with a video series, Non-Profit Budgeting Best Practices: How Stories are Told and Partnerships are Strengthened Through Numbers in Spreadsheets.

The series title captures the oft-overlooked role a budget can play in fostering a positive funder-grantee relationship. To be clear, we do not offer a prescriptive methodology for how everyone should present their financial reports. Nor do we require a special budget format for every grant approved. The Jim Joseph Foundation employs a type of trust-based philanthropy that employs guidelines rather than red lines and gives the benefit of the doubt to our grantee-partners. They are the ones who actualize the initiatives the Foundation cares about. From a reporting perspective, we adjust our submission needs based on the amount requested (i.e. under $100k; $100k-$250k; $250k and up). We also only request formalized reporting annually since we have regular communications with grantee-partners at least once per quarter. This provides space to discuss a majority of the updates, successes, and challenges of the grant. 

With that in mind, the practices in these videos are intended to offer help in compiling budgets that articulate an organization’s priorities, ambitions, and story—while also helping organizations anticipate questions about financials from funders. It is our hope that these videos will provide a succinct illustration of what we have learned over the past fifteen years as best practices in the space. Organizations can select what makes sense for their needs. We offer what has worked for us and provide insight into why we think budgets prepared in this manner are effective. Even as we share these, we recognize that every situation has its own factors that inform the grant budget and application process. Over the last two years, for example, the Foundation took new steps to streamline a parallel application process through the Jewish Community Response and Impact Fund (JCRIF). The Foundation understood that some grantee-partners were facing unprecedented challenges caused by the pandemic and did not have time or resources for a normal grant application process. They also needed support quickly. In this instance and others, we heard from our partners and did our best to respond accordingly while also continuing to help them be the best versions of themselves. 

Based on questions we received from grantee-partners, the series is comprised of five sections that can either be watched collectively or as independent videos:

  • Part 1: Welcome to Nonprofit Budgeting Best Practices
  • Part 2: Best Practices of an Organizational Budget
  • Part 3: Best Practices of a Program Budget
  • Part 4: Understanding Annual Budget Reporting and Variances
  • Part 5: Understanding Cumulative Cash Reserves

As a funder supporting organizations that create and provide Jewish learning opportunities, the Jim Joseph Foundation inherently is in a position of power in the funder-grantee relationship. While we acknowledge this reality, we also try to minimize this “power dynamic” when possible. So, when we produced the series, we tried to do so with great care and intention. In this regard, the descriptive videos cover areas and questions that our grantee-partners have asked us during the Foundation’s years of grantmaking. To ensure that we were responding directly and clearly to their needs, our development process included time for grantee partner review and input.

It’s important to note that we also saw an opportunity to help grantee-partners better reflect the full costs of their work into proposals. Many experts in our field have addressed the challenge of the Overhead Myth—the misnomer that intrinsically the less an organization spends on administration, the more efficient it is. We believe for an organization to function effectively with an extended time horizon, it needs to share its real costs. This requires the grantee-partner to trust that the funder will act in the best interest of the grantee-partner. The funder also needs to demonstrate flexibility about the levels and percentages of those costs.

Non-monetary grant assistance has been a staple in thinking around successful grantmaking for decades. In the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) 2018 report, Strengthening Grantees: Foundation and Nonprofit Perspectives, researchers noted that 83% of foundation CEOs say that their staff provides direct assistance beyond the grant and 67% enlist a 3rd party consultant to provide that support.  Even with those promising numbers, the report shares a stark disconnect between what foundation professionals are offering and what nonprofit CEOs say they actually need. According to the report:

Almost all foundation leaders say that their foundation:

  • feels responsible for strengthening grantees;
  • cares about grantee organizations’ overall health; and
  • is aware of grantees’ needs.

In contrast, the majority of nonprofit CEOs say: 

  • their foundation funders feel no or little responsibility for strengthening their organization;
  • most foundation funders do not care about strengthening the overall health of their organization; and
  • most foundation funders do not ask about their organization’s needs beyond funding.

The report shared dichotomous perspectives about who makes decisions about consultancies, the nature of ancillary services provided, whether follow-up takes place to the interventions that are provided, and overall responsiveness to requests beyond the dollars granted. While some of this divide can be attributed to communications challenges, more can be attributed to succumbing to the power divide.

Undoubtedly, we have made some mistakes with our grantee-partners that are noted in this report. Operating from an office that in certain cases is thousands of miles away from these partners leaves plenty of room for error and assumption, and we recognize that there are grantee perspectives that remain un-shared due to the nature of the grantee-funder relationship.

Still, relational grantmaking is an attempt to ensure that knowledge-sharing and open communication are prioritized by both funder and grantee. This approach creates more meaningful and impactful investments. Grantee partners expressed a desire for more support in budgeting. We do our best to respond. In the same way that we engaged grantee partners in the process, we want to continue to ask questions of our funding and grantee partners alike: What knowledge and information are needed currently, what do you anticipate needing moving forward, and what has been most useful to your organization in the past? The video series is only one of many areas that we think could be addressed. We hear from grantee partners about needs in evaluation, R&D, communication, and many other areas of technical and personnel-based assistance. The best way to learn more about these areas—and to identify others—is to start by asking.

originally published in Candid Learning for Funders

Jewish Wisdom and Strategic Decision Making Amid Changing Times

In recent years, my chevrutah (study partner) and I have enjoyed studying musar – a body of Jewish thought focused on human character development and the many middot / character traits an individual can cultivate throughout their lifetime. Menachem Mendel Lefin of Satanov dedicates an entire chapter of his book Cheshbon HaNefesh (1808) to the middah of charitzut / decisivenessHe states, “All your acts should be preceded by deliberation; when you have reached a decision, act without hesitation.” This important advice is meant to empower the learner to avoid the pitfalls of decision paralysis, inviting them to develop plans and stick with them.

But like many teachings in musar (and in life) there are equally compelling lessons that stand in opposition to Lefin’s teachings. One Talmudic source, in Taainit 20b, explains that a person should be rach k’kaneh, “soft like a reed, not be stiff like a cedar.” This text teaches that we need to bend our plans when new information challenges our assumptions.

So which is it? Be decisive or be flexible? Navigating paradoxes like this are at the core of musar practice—acknowledging contradictory truths and becoming adept at knowing when to rely on one or the other. Contemporary leadership theorists also explore this same notion using the language of “polarity thinking.” Doctors Valerie Erhlich and Brendan Newlon summarized this in their May 2019 report for the Jim Joseph Foundation stating:

Polarity thinking is about navigating a set of two qualities that are both beneficial, yet they exist in tension with one another… Managing that tension effectively can be challenging, because the most appropriate response to a specific circumstance might be an expression that favors one or another of the pair – maintaining a simple balance between the two might be impossible or undesirable.

At the Jim Joseph Foundation, we navigate these dynamics as we continuously shape, implement, and reflect on the Foundation’s grantmaking strategy. A persistent challenge in grantmaking work—especially these past two years—is to determine how and when should we stay firm and how and when should we be flexible amid constantly changing circumstances.

This piece explores our attempts to shape and re-shape our grantmaking plans in recent years—pre-pandemic, during the pandemic, and this current period of emerging (we hope) into a post-pandemic world. In examining our journey through the lens of this polarity—being firm and being flexible—we hope to offer insights on this ongoing internal decision-making process. We welcome a dialogue about whether this story sounds familiar, or not, as you reflect on how the organization you are connected to made its own decisions during this tumultuous time.

Chapter 1: Pre-pandemic
In 2017 the Jim Joseph Foundation entered a two-year process to develop a new strategic framework for its 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?

These questions guided our dialogue with external partners, professional staff, and our board. Eventually, we arrived at a new theory of change that included core assumptions, guiding principles, long-term outcomes, and a set of three strategic priorities to invest in (1) powerful Jewish learning experiences, (2) exceptional Jewish leaders and educators, and (3) R&D for the future of Jewish learning. To accompany this Theory of Change, we also developed logic modelsgrant categories, and a detailed five year implementation plan. All of this was based on careful thinking, assumptions about where the sector was headed, and how we believed we could be a positive influence.

By January of 2020, after reviewing these plans with each of our key stakeholders, we were excited to implement our new strategies and to determine how to measure our progress. Yet, as the old Yiddish adage goes, “mann tracht, un Gott lacht”—we humans plan, and God laughs.

Chapter 2: During the Pandemic
When the world turned upside-down in March of 2020, like everyone, we recognized the need to be rach k’kaneh – soft like a reed – in the face of uncertainty:

Another important focus was taking a more proactive stance around learning and sharing about the pandemic’s effects on Jewish education.

  • We built our expertise in emerging areas of need: strategic restructuring, unemployment, stress and anxiety, increased interest in online learning/digital engagement, growing interest in home-based and do-it-yourself Judaism, and rising communal desire to address systemic racism within Jewish education.
  • We funded research to better understand how young Jewseducators, and funders were responding to the crisis; what solutions were and weren’t working; and what creative adaptations might be worth sustaining long-term.
  • We increased efforts to share these learnings through published reports, presentations, and small group conversations.

As we dedicated time and resources to these new priorities, we made difficult choices about scaling back in other areas. We postponed some of the new grantmaking programs from our pre-pandemic implementation plans, recognizing they would need to wait until we, and our grantee partners, had enough bandwidth to design and implement them. We also temporarily moved from multi-year to one-year grants to retain greater flexibility for the Foundation and our grantee partners. This was particularly difficult since we knew that it would introduce additional uncertainty for grantee partners who had previously planned for a longer-term commitment from the Foundation.

Working in this more flexible way was unfamiliar territory for the Jim Joseph Foundation team (and counter-cultural for many who work in institutional philanthropy) but we recognized the need and opportunity to practice being rach k’kaneh, soft like a reed.

Chapter 3: Emerging (we hope) into a post-pandemic world
In recent months, as the world is moving cautiously back to in-person gatherings, our team has begun to methodically revisit the long-term plans we designed prior to the pandemic. While the world has changed, we are encouraged that some of our previous assumptions about the evolution of Jewish education hold true, in some cases even more so than before.

Because our core strategies were built around fundamentals like building organizational capacity and investing in talent, the basic framework of our plans still serves us well. Similarly, the opportunity for increased investment in R&D remains unchanged and, within a context of such rapid change and possibilities, is perhaps more pronounced than ever.

At the same time, as we get into the details of the implementation plans we previously designed, we see the need to update them with a new grantmaking mindset and a new understanding of what is important to and needed by our beneficiaries. That in mind, we are:

  • Updating what was previously planned. As we begin to launch new programs mapped out in 2019, we are redesigning them for increased flexibility and new features such as integrated online and in-person learning, a greater emphasis on wellness, and centering more diverse voices and partners.
  • Returning to our best practices. Starting in April 2021, we gratefully returned to multi-year grantmaking, working with our grantee partners to make sure that their plans remain both relevant and flexible in the face of new realities and continued uncertainty. In some cases, we are continuing with shorter-term investments to support our grantee partners to spend additional time rewriting their multi-year plans.
  • Maintaining new collaborations. Working with the coalitions we joined to engage in emergency grantmaking, we are exploring ways to sustain new collaborative investing practices such as joint proposal invitations and coordinated, rapid response grantmaking.
  • Doubling down on what we know is needed. The pandemic has also sharpened our understanding of the importance of R&D as a strategy to address shifting societal and marketplace trends to guard against organizational stagnation and pursue new opportunities.

As much as our Foundation team always valued and found comfort in a highly structured framework for our work, we now have a deep appreciation of the need to balance our dedication to well-laid plans with a readiness to remain nimble as new opportunities and realities emerge.

Contemporary musar teachers advise learners to write their own “spiritual curriculum” – choosing middot to focus on based on their own unique circumstances and needs. Embedded in the whole musar framework is an ongoing process of hitlamdut – learning and reflection. This is one of our Foundation staff values, an acknowledgment that we will always have room to learn and improve. The goal is not perfection, the goal is to stay on the path.

Looking back with 20-20 hindsight we can always see our own imperfections – the moments over the years when the Foundation was unnecessarily inflexible, and other places where the opposite was true. As a result of the challenges of the past 18 months, we move forward as a team, better understanding when to embrace charitzut and when to be rach k’kaneh. This is wisdom we hope to apply in the future.

Josh Miller is Chief Program Officer of the Jim Joseph Foundation. 

A Perspective on Creative Connection, Community, and Collaboration in Physically Distant Times

More than a year into a devastating pandemic and multiple crises, Jewish communities continue to demonstrate resilience, strength, and togetherness that have resulted in powerful moments and experiences of connection, meaning, and purpose. As springtime moves forward and we prepare for the Hebrew month of Iyar, we are grateful to be able to see more light through this pandemic tunnel and to turn a hopeful corner. At the same time, people committed to building community and connection no matter the distance certainly will continue to build on learnings from this challenging period. Emergency, urgency and necessity invited people to discover new (and now tried and true) ways of coming together to learn, meet, grow, debate, sing, dance, pray, serve, eat, and play. Platforms and activities that once may have felt too futuristic, out of reach, or uncomfortable are, for many, now part of our comfort zones and daily lives.

In March 2019, one year before the pandemic, the Jim Joseph Foundation commissioned The Future of Jewish Learning is Here: How Digital Media Are Reshaping Jewish Education. Little did we know that just a year later, many of the insights and findings discussed in that report would become a part of nearly everyone’s life as Jewish education—and engagement, community-building, and so much more—were forced to move online. As we all consider what’s working best virtually, what still needs improvement, and acknowledge the many unknown unknowns still, we want to highlight bright spots of connection and content on virtual platforms that caught our attention over the last year. Below we share a limited* perspective on this from members of the Jim Joseph Foundation team, and call out how the characteristics of online Jewish learning and findings from The Future of Jewish Learning is Here in some ways foreshadowed the world we’re now living in. While the findings from that report speak to many facets of digital engagement today, we connect some specifically to certain platforms and experiences below (although the findings really speak to platforms across the board). The digital engagement we highlight here enable users to engage creatively, with community connection and collaboration at the center of the experience. The future is still bright.

Creative Conferencing Platforms

Key characteristic from The Future of Jewish Learning is Here: Platforms shape the learning experience.
Key finding from The Future of Jewish Learning is Here: Learners use different platforms for different ends.

We’ve seen dozens of platforms shape hundreds of diverse experiences. Two examples highlight how platforms brought users in and engaged them in creative, dynamic ways, based on the key goals and objectives of the gatherings. In some ways, we’ve seen how online platforms make learning and networking even more accessible for people who might not otherwise fully engage in person.

  1. BBYO’s International Convention (IC) on Hopin: BBYO’s IC is known for attracting thousands of teens from around the world every year. The conference is known for its “nonstop” content so choosing a platform that offered energy, connection and branded physical spaces was key. In February, the experience happened online with Hopin, reaching 2,000+ teens on the platform. Learn more about Hopin.
    BBYO’s International Convention (IC) on Hopin
  2. Jewish Funders Network (JFN) Conference on Lunchpool: A record-breaking 665 people from 13 countries around the world attended “Strong Bonds,” JFN’s first-ever all-virtual international conference in March, including 129 participants from Israel and 192 first-timers. Networking was a key goal for this conference so before daily sessions and during coffee breaks, participants moved around multiple floors to network around tables by interest area, in pairs and small groups. Learn more about Lunchpool and JFN’s conference concept and design here.

    Jewish Funders Network (JFN) Conference on Lunchpool

Newish Jewish Podcasts

Key characteristic from the report: Learning is both synchronous and asynchronous.
Key finding from the report: Learners learn in sync with the rhythms of the Jewish calendar.

During the pandemic, we’ve people choosing sometimes to engage in “live” content; other times they consume and engage what they want when they want. While the rhythms of the Jewish calendar still provided an anchor for much content, we saw significant new content and Jewish experiences offered around a range of topics, issues, learnings, and so much more, that was not connected to holidays. Two new podcasts (and one more launching soon) caught our attention for this exact reason.

  1. Schmaltzy Podcast: A podcast about storytelling, food and everything in between. Learn more and tune into Seasons 1 and 2 here.
    Schmaltzy Podcast
  2. Yeshivat Maharat’s MaharatCast: Building a mikvah, choosing joy, the big questions of end of life, and so much more. Hear from Maharat alumnae on the issues that matter most. The first half of the season is available online here, also on iTunes, Spotify, and SoundCloud.

    Yeshivat Maharat’s MaharatCast

  3. Just Leading Podcast: We’re anticipating the May 2021 launch of this 8-episode leadership series. This collaboration features Ilana Kaufman, Executive Director of Jews of Color Initiative, Elana Wein, Executive Director of SRE Network, and Gali Cooks, President & CEO of Leading Edge.

    Just Leading Podcast

Ready, Set, Play! Gaming Across Generations

Key characteristic from the report: Knowledge, expertise, and power are distributed.
Key finding from the report: Learners access Jewish knowledge beyond Jewish institutions.

Of all the insights discussed in the 2019 report, this characteristic and finding may have been most amplified—and perhaps the evolution of related content most accelerated—as a result of the pandemic. Gaming is just one example of how virtual engagement opens the playing field—everyone can be the teacher and everyone the student. The following examples show how anyone can create content and attract an audience through fun and creative learning experiences.

  1. Moishe House’s Expedition Nai: This global competition was a four-week battle where participants played with and against friends to win incredible prizes. Players could join teams of 1-5 people any time throughout the expedition and new challenges were released daily. No previous camp experience was required, no entry fee, and no age limit. Learn more here.
    Moishe House’s Expedition Nai
  2. Camp Ramah on Minecraft: When his 14th year at summer at camp was cancelled due to the pandemic, Jake Offenheim created a virtual copy of his actual camp on Minecraft. He downloaded a suite of tools for Minecraft on his computer, fashioned a re-creation of one cabin, then copied and pasted it across camp, changing the shape as necessary. Campers enjoyed an entirely virtual experience thanks to his creativity and technical skills. Read more about Jake Offenheim’s camp re-creation here.
    Camp Ramah on Minecraft
  3. Jewish Geography Zoom Racing / Who Knows One?: In this game launched in April 2020, contestants are given a name of a Jewish person they have never met, and they race to see who can get that person on the Zoom call the fastest, using only six degrees of (Zoom) separation. The game’s motto? “It’s not who you know, it’s who you know knows.” The seventh episode racked up a respectable 3,000-plus views ran on Facebook Live. Learn more here and follow on Facebook here.
    Jewish Geography Zoom Racing / Who Knows One?

On-Demand/Anytime Content and TV                                                     

Key characteristic from the report: Online learning is IRL (in real life), too.
Key finding from the report: Learners integrate online learning and offline practice.

“Recognizing that digital learning environments are not divorced from the physical world reframes the phenomenon from one that happens ‘out there’ in cyberspace to one that is deeply embedded in our everyday lives, both online and offline. The two spheres of learning and action are less distinct than they appear, and both benefit from engagement with the other.” This insight from The Future of Jewish Learning is Here undoubtedly came to fruition out of necessity during the pandemic. People continued to live their lives, pursuing their interests and learning new things—mostly all online. Here are some great experiences and events that engaged people’s interests and identities in meaningful and fun ways.

  1. Great Big Jewish Food Fest: This well-known Festival took place over 10 days featuring a variety of free events–workshops & conversations, happy hours, and Shabbat dinners, and so much more over Zoom, Instagram, and Facebook.  On-Demand access to Festival sessions, Anytime Content and Recipes shared by chefs and presenters were plentiful. Like many online experiences, the Festival was open to all: no experience or talent required. Learn more here.
    Great Big Jewish Food Fest
  2. Moishe House’s Expedition Maker: A reality show for Jewish artists, creatives, and innovators, this show featured ten “chosen makers” from around the world in weekly challenges where the audience votes to decide who moves to the finale. Learn more and tune in here.
    Moishe House’s Expedition Maker
  3. Bringing Israel Home TV Show: A partnership between the Jewish Food Society and Michael Solomonov, a 5-time James Beard Foundation award-winning chef. In this culinary web series, Solomonov shares Israel’s extraordinarily diverse and vibrant culinary landscape with viewers, via an interactive digital series. Each week, viewers discover the ingredients, spices and flavors that make up Israeli cuisine, alongside the stories of the communities who have brought these dishes to life for generations. Cook along with chef Solomonov and learn more here.
    Bringing Israel Home TV Show
  4. LUNAR videos: LUNAR aims to highlight the racial and cultural diversity of the Jewish community by celebrating and making visible the experiences of young adults (18-30) who exist at the intersection of Jewish and Asian American in a short-form video series. Check out eight videos, five 5-10 minute themed collective activities and discussion, and three 30-minute long in-depth interviews and learn more about the project here.
    LUNAR videos

Online/Mobile-Friendly Connection and Conversations

Key characteristic from the report: Learning is social.
Key finding from the report: Learners connect with others around Jewish learning.

Over the last year nearly everyone found new ways to connect online for all kinds of reasons, through different experiences, and in various group sizes. These connections not only helped people to maintain Jewish community during the pandemic, but also enabled people to build new community over shared interests and experiences, not beholden to geography.  Here are some great opportunities that offer ongoing connection:

  1. Keshet’s LGBTQ & Ally Teen Shabbaton Retreats: One of a kind Shabbat retreats for LGBTQ and ally Jewish teens, ages 13 – 18, to learn, grow, and celebrate who they are in a warm and vibrant community. Led by teens, for teens, the Shabbaton is a chance to engage in Jewish learning, activism, and self-care. Learn more about other upcoming programs and events on Keshet’s Youth page here and on Facebook here.

    Keshet’s LGBTQ & Ally Teen Shabbaton Retreats

  2. At the Well’s My Moon Message: This text campaign gives subscribers access to monthly spiritual teachings, Jewish wisdom and soulful inspiration sent right to your phone. Texts include reminders of each new moon with teachings from the upcoming Hebrew month, Jewish holidays, 49-day journey of teachings for The Counting of The Omer, and more. Learn more and sign up here.

    At the Well’s My Moon Message

  3. Clubhouse: “Clubhouse, a new audio-only social networking app, is quickly becoming the digital version of the Jewish conference circuit hallway. With in-person meetups on hold due to the novel coronavirus and Zoom broadcasts that take on a formal nature, Jewish conference circuit regulars had been searching for a digital duplicate of the informal conversations that are often the main draw of the offline gatherings” (Ryan Torok, from this article). At this time, users must be invited onto the app by an existing user. Sign up here to see if you have friends on Clubhouse who can extend an invite. Follow Clubs that interest you (like Value Culture, who recently hosted a Passover Seder on Clubhouse, Night Of 1,000 Jewish Stars, reaching 43,000 listeners) and People you know and admire to stay up-to-date on meaningful conversations, music, chatter, and more.

    Clubhouse, a new audio-only social networking app

Small Group Learning

Key characteristic from the report: Knowledge, expertise, and power are distributed.
Key finding from the report: Learners access Jewish knowledge beyond Jewish institutions.

The examples below come from a variety of Jewish institutions, representing a spectrum of legacy organizations and newer ones. Moreover, the learning experiences below show how distributed learning can be in the digital realm–nearly anyone can be a teacher when matched with the right student. Not only is knowledge a mere click away, but the person transmitting that knowledge can embody a diverse and varied background and skillset.  These digital offerings demonstrate more expansive and contextual thinking on the meaning of traditional terms like “teacher” and “student” today.

  1. Hadar’s Project Zug: An online havruta (one-on-one) learning program that provides participants with weekly learning for various lengths of time from five to eleven weeks long. Holiday-centered courses occur seasonally. Zug can help match you with a havruta or you can come ready with a learning partner. Each Zug/pair will schedule their online video conversation at a time convenient to their schedules. Check out this intro video on how it works and learn more here.
    Hadar’s Project Zug
  2. Hillel’s WinterFest: Hillel’s first-ever virtual winter festival was designed to bring light into students’ lives during the darkness of winter through small group learning, cool prizes and swag, and of course, Jewish wisdom. Nearly 1,500 students from 263 campuses in 9 countries around the world connected deeply with each other and Jewish wisdom. Read more about the winter festival here.
    Hillel’s WinterFest
  3. Sefaria’s new Chavruta Feature: Sefaria’s newest feature, Chavruta, allows users to connect with another Sefaria user to study a text face-to-face on the Sefaria platform. Check out the tutorial and learn more here.

    Sefaria’s new Chavruta Feature

  4. JIMENA’s Buddy System: This creative project by JIMENA (Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa) pairs older adults and people of all ages with buddies to encourage ongoing and regular connection for weekly check-ins via Facetime, Zoom, or just the good old phone. As so many of us are alone with limited opportunities for social interaction, this matching program encourages new connections and relationship building. Learn more here and sign up to be a JIMENA Buddy via this quick survey.

    JIMENA’s Buddy System

  5. JDC Entwine’s Insider Connections: Global Virtual Service: Entwine, known for its impactful global travel and volunteer experiences, designed virtual programs that will evolve into a fully blended platform in the future. One program enables young adults to volunteer for an hour per week over three months with isolated JDC-supported elderly, teens, and children overseas. Participants receive pre-service training, regular check-ins and support as a cohort, and have flexibility in how and when they connect with their overseas “client” for company, conversation and/or practicing English. Learn more about volunteering here.

    JDC Entwine’s Insider Connections: Global Virtual Service

*Hundreds of individuals, teams, organizations, and collaboratives have worked tirelessly to keep their communities connected over the last year, despite enormous odds and innumerable challenges. This small list is a representation of some of what we’ve seen and by no means includes all of the incredible examples of creative projects, gatherings, and experiences that have made a daily impact on all of our lives. Please comment below with other examples to highlight and celebrate their impact!

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.