From the Professional Team

Redefining Accountability To Incorporate Values

– by Steven Green

September 17th, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steven Green is Senior Director of Grants Management and Compliance.

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

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