From the Professional Team

Reflections from Sandy Edwards, Jim Joseph Foundation Associate Director

– by Sandy Edwards

June 18th, 2015

Editor’s Note: Later this month, Foundation Associate Director Sandy Edwards will leave the position she has held since 2006. She will remain involved in Jewish education and philanthropy through consulting and volunteering efforts. Below are reflections from Sandy on her time at the Jim Joseph Foundation working with grantees, other funders, and stakeholders in the field.

Ten years can at once seem like a long time and go by in an instant. As I reflect back on my ten years at the Jim Joseph Foundation, I am flooded with memories about where the Foundation and the field were in 2005—and where we now are today.

When I joined the Foundation, nothing was in place. No infrastructure for disbursing grants. No methods for evaluation. No standards for follow-up and accountability. There is a certain satisfaction I derive from having helped build the Foundation from the ground up. While the strategies and tasks varied, the goal always was focused: Create compelling Jewish learning experiences for young Jews.

Pursuing this mission is really what brought me into our field of work in the first place. And working on behalf of the Jim Joseph Foundation was the opportunity to be part of something new, exciting, and special. I look back and take pride in the contributions to four primary areas of which I was fortunate to be a part:

Developing the “invisibles”

From the time I joined the Foundation, we established internal systems—the key “invisible” structures—that helped translate its grantmaking strategy to success on the ground. Throughout the last ten years, these systems were the vehicles by which the Board of Directors awarded more than $350 million in grants and the Foundation paid to date $301 million in grant amounts. We processed 1,741 of grant payments, participated in eight successful audits, and developed a grantmaking procedure manual.

We worked diligently to apply principles of operation in order to support grantees. Every day, I worked with a team at the Foundation that refined these systems and sought to make them as effective as possible. Over time, they became useful to grantees and a vital part of their work. Why? Because even the best intentions, best grantees, and most visionary philanthropists need these basic nuts-and-bolts mechanisms to move an idea from paper to realized outcomes.

Relationships with Grantees

As the Foundation’s philanthropy grew, I came to realize the importance of relationships—both within an office environment and, in our work, with grantees. In fact, developing relationships with grantees really has become a best practice over the last two decades. Philanthropy at its best is so much more than a transaction. Rather, when a funder and grantee have a strong relationship, premised on openness and honesty, success is more likely and better learning and sharing occur. Developing these relationships takes time, a lot of conversations, and trust—but the payoff and the outcomes are well worth this time.

In my role as Associate Director, I was privileged to engage with all of the Foundation’s major grantees. I developed strong relationships with many. Unfortunately, I don’t have the space here to mention them all. But I do want to highlight a few of the individuals who I grew to know well who spurred tremendous outcomes.

Arlene Agress and Miriam Prum Hess of BJE Los Angeles led the complex, multi-faceted LA High School Affordability Initiative, which supported five Jewish high schools as they raised $21.25 million in endowment funding, benefitting hundreds of students and their families. Foundation for Jewish Camp’s CEO Jeremy Fingerman and Michele Friedman and her team recruited nine talented camp directors and worked with them to launch nine successful Jewish specialty camps through the Specialty Camps Incubator— one of the most innovative initiatives of which I was a part. FJC and the camp directors are remarkably creative and committed to this exciting initiative.

In ten years, I saw talented leaders lead and build entire fields. In teen engagement and education, BBYO’s Matt Grossman and his team forged a deep relationship with the Foundation during my time here. Our work together resulted in enriched Jewish learning for the tens of thousands of teens in BBYO’s network. In young adult engagement, David Cygielman took Moishe House from one local house to a scalable, international vehicle for young Jewish adults to build communities and make space for Jewish learning. And Anne Lanski helped to develop the iCenter and, through that organization, greatly advance what was a nascent field of Israel education.

In the examples above, a strong relationship between funder and grantee is essential to the success that has been demonstrably achieved.

Model Documentation

A founding principle of the Foundation was the great responsibility we have to share models of Jewish education that strengthen the field. I am deeply proud of our contribution to model documentation, and I worked closely with talented individuals in this important area of work. David Waksberg of Jewish LearningWorks led the Bay Area Day School Israel Education Project (BASIS)—a major development for the field of Israel education—which we then documented online for communities across the country. Already, BASIS has informed the development of iNfuse, through which the Center disseminated an adaptation of the BASIS model to other day schools nationally.

Near Boston, Adam Smith has led the North Shore Teen Initiative (NSTI) and truly changed the landscape of teen Jewish engagement in 23 cities and towns north of the city. As NSTI’s success crystalized, we worked to document this model to be adapted in other communities. This was especially useful as the Foundation launched its ambitious Community-Based Jewish Teen Education and Engagement Initiative, designed to help ten communities implement best practices in this space. Alan Oliff, the Project Director of B’Yadenu, worked with six day schools also in the Boston area to implement school-wide change so that educators build their skills and capacity to meet the needs of diverse learners. I was privileged late last year to attend an institute at which Alan and his team welcomed other communities to Boston to share this important model first-hand.


Finally, the Foundation’s program of evaluation today is a defining element of our efforts. Of course, it did not just appear out of thin air, and it has expanded and evolved over ten years. A program of evaluation on this scale benefits many—grantees, potential grantees, other funders, and many others in the field—and takes a true team to ensure its viability. The Foundation and I enjoy deep relationships with very strong evaluation consultants, among them Ellen Irie at Informing Change and Wendy Rosov at Rosov Consulting who are part of the Foundation’s new—and potentially groundbreaking—evaluators’ consortium. I am most proud of my work in the area of evaluation because I know its power and potential. I hope that the field increasingly utilizes evaluation, data, and other outcome measures to inform future efforts. A tool like JData, a database and website that collects and provides census-like information about Jewish educational organizations in North America, for example, is a game changer. I would like to see its potential fully realized as part of increased use of data-driven growth and effectiveness of Jewish education.

Moving On

A lot happens in grantmaking over ten years. Strategies are tested and analyzed; successes are achieved; a field continues to grow. I was a part of this with the Jim Joseph Foundation’s dedicated Board of Directors and talented team, led by Executive Director Chip Edelsberg, and it was exciting to see the change that we made together. I am heartened at the great progress made in these four areas. In all examples above, strong relationships and a solid team dynamic were and still are integral to success. We see this dynamic more and more throughout our field—truly a positive development. And I am especially grateful for the personal relationships I had with Foundation grantees, evaluators, and other stakeholders

It is hard to believe that it was ten years ago when the Jim Joseph Foundation began. Now, I look forward to my next phase of life—starting my consulting practice and using what I learned through these wonderful experiences to help others and continue to strengthen our field.

Thank you all who have been a part of my work at the Foundation to advance the important cause of Jewish education and in creating an effective philanthropy practice.