From the Foundation Team

How Culture Change and Data Gathering Go Hand in Hand

– by Stacie Cherner

December 15th, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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