From the Foundation Team

March 2010

March 14th, 2010

This particular column marks an important point in conveying to the field a picture of the Jim Joseph Foundation’s evolving portfolio of work.

Following a period of circumspect focus by Jim Joseph Foundation grantees, professionals, and evaluation contractors, we are posting 14 logic models that visually convey target outcomes of JJF’s major initiatives.

You will note that the models are not structured identically. We have not imposed this requirement on our grantee and evaluation partners. The flexibility we allow in this area has not impaired our ability to explicitly clarify—with grantees and evaluators and for JJF Professionals and Directors—what the Foundation aspires to accomplish with its carefully considered philanthropic investments.

I have explained before in this column how and why JJF employs theory building and logic modeling in its grantmaking. Both are tools. For JJF, these two tools along with strategic planning, a structured grantmaking process, ongoing monitoring of grants awarded, and independent evaluation of major grants (see the formative evaluation of BBYO’s Professional Development Initiative as a recent example) have become the foundational architecture of JJF’s grantmaking enterprise.

We continue to encounter both grantees and other funders who are either inexperienced in logic modeling or who are not necessarily inclined to see the value in its use. Furthermore, we are aware that there are those who criticize the professionalizing of philanthropy—a process in which the use of theory building and logic modeling is certainly a part. Yet the toolbox we use at JJF has served the Foundation exceptionally well. Overall, these devices have consistently helped the Foundation make progress in answering three critical questions for all of its major grants:

What are essential resources and activities that are supported by JJF grants?

What, specifically, do JJF grantees hope to accomplish?

Based on assumptions inherent in the grant initiative, the grant’s chain of logic, and its explicitly stated intended outcomes, what kind of evaluation is appropriate to use?

By way of example, here are three theories of change JJF is testing.

First, in JJF’s funding of the Pardes Educator Alumni Induction Project, we theorize that a cohort-based program of signature practices will enhance teachers’ personal resiliency and sense of professional efficacy. Our hypothesis is that these two factors positively impact teachers’ decision to remain in the profession.

In JJF’s Bay Area Israel Education Project, the theory of change we are testing is that a comprehensive school improvement effort which coordinates and aligns curriculum, instruction, student assessment, professional development, school leadership, and resource development will lead to the institutionalization of robust programs for Israel Education.

In the ambitious Hillel Campus Entrepreneur/Senior Educator Project, we postulate that young adults will choose to engage with their peers regarding issues that they perceive are relevant to their lives in interactions that are Jewishly contextualized. If these interactions prove to be relevant, we project participants will be inspired to pursue further Jewish learning.

For each of these theories of change, we have concomitant logic models that you will see in the links we have provided.

Framing JJF’s grants in this fashion enables us to clearly mark the progress grantees make in achieving their priorities while simultaneously assessing the Foundation’s success in strategically deploying its resources to achieve the Foundation’s vision.

Theory building and logic modeling are basic to shared funder-grantee understanding of “assumptions and expectations about how and why a program will solve a particular problem, generate new possibilities, and make the most of valuable assets” (W.K. Kellogg Logic Model Development Guide). JJF is not reluctant to claim a “legitimate interest in knowing whether an organization is on the path to success and, at some point whether it is actually achieving impact” (see Paul Brest’s article in the current issue of the Stanford Social Innovation Review).

Ultimately, I think that the Foundation’s collective contribution to the vitality of the Jewish community will be diminished if we fail to find commonly accepted ways to transparently describe, display, disseminate, and assess what the investment of a huge pool of philanthropic resources is expected to help our grantees accomplish.