From the Professional Team

Technical Assistance: Critical Support that Can Trigger Success

– by Chip Edelsberg

August 14th, 2013

The Jim Joseph Foundation has developed a relational approach to its philanthropy that often includes funding of technical assistance for its grantees. Technical assistance, by definition, involves specialized expertise. It is designed to help organizations achieve key goals deemed to be integral to their future success, which expert assistance increases the likelihood they will attain.

Jim Joseph Foundation grantees seek support for a variety of functions. Among these are:

  • Communications and Marketing;
  • Cooperation with other ‘501c3’s;
  • Fundraising;
  • Management Information Systems;
  • Planning – business, organizational, and strategic.

The Foundation has developed multi-year relationships with many of its grantees. We have found that funding specific initiatives and programs often lead to requests for support for related organizational efforts. As an initiative or program progresses – and perhaps new opportunities or challenges are encountered – the grantee may feel additional help would bolster the effectiveness of the program and make its sustainability more likely.

The forms of technical assistance underwritten by the Foundation vary. In the case of the Foundation’s major grants to Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion, Jewish Theological Seminary, and Yeshiva University, management consultant expertise provided by the Parthenon Group yielded critical insights that informed how Presidents Rabbi Ellenson and Richard Joel and Chancellor Eisen organized their respective project management teams. Mid-course consulting that Noel Levitz (a premier college enrollment firm) offered has enabled all three institutions to reimagine ways to extend their reach into potential student enrollment niche markets.

Some ‘501c3’s regard business planning suspiciously. Yet the Foundation consistently experiences it to be of tangible value to grantees. Jewish educational organizations often lack capacity, trained personnel, and sufficient incentive to engage in disciplined business planning. But we have learned that funding accomplished not-for-profit business planning consulting leads to results worth grantees’ investment of time, attention, and energy. In particular, a smart business plan can be key in a grantee’s transition from one stage of its development to the next.

This interest in bringing technical assistance talent to support the work of Jim Joseph Foundation grantees is grounded in the Foundation’s commitment to select grantees that commit to pursue outcomes and results. The Foundation has a bias towards what is commonly called “performance management” – a system of management procedures and checks and balances that organizations implement in order to realize specific program, financial, and organizational goals. Explicit measures of organizational effectiveness include:

  • Allocation (and, if necessary, redeployment) of resources;
  • Focused attention on priorities of the organization;
  • Understanding when alternatives to existing strategies should be implemented;
  • Allowing for increased operational flexibility.

It can be a daunting challenge for an organization – be it small, intermediate, or large – to function in a consistently performance-oriented way. Candidly, unpredictable ebbs and flows of philanthropic support in a capital market that is not completely rational place great demands on Jewish educational ‘501c3’s.

The Jim Joseph Foundation believes that for Jewish educational organizations to be highly proficient in all aspects of their work, affording them targeted technical assistance often is a prudent Foundation investment. This aspect of relational grantmaking, indicative of a desire to establish deep Foundation-grantee partnerships, ultimately helps both parties. It can lead to positive outcomes that otherwise may not have been achieved and can even help a grantee move into a position of long-term sustainability.