From the Foundation Team

What “Ask a Funder” Says About the Foundation’s Grantmaking Strategy

– by Jeff Tiell

October 23rd, 2015

Towards the end of the summer, I had the privilege to attend Moishe House’s National Conference and Alumni Leadership Summit at Camp Chi in the Wisconsin Dells. The National Conference brings together more than 200 current Moishe House residents for three days of engaging and interactive learning and social activities. As the name suggests, the Alumni Leadership Summit is a gathering of about 20 former residents of houses looking to continue their involvement in Moishe House and connect with their peers. Truly, the alumni there represented the geographic diversity of Moishe House. Residents hailed from Chicago, Denver, Phoenix, Philadelphia, Jerusalem, Melbourne, Baltimore, Shanghai, Palo Alto, and Hoboken, among elsewhere.

An interesting and challenging element of Moishe House’s alumni engagement is that many of the more than 630 Moishe House resident alumni live in a city other than where they lived as a Moishe House resident. This factor and others created a constellation of questions that arose at this gathering: from the big picture, “What’s next with this increasing alumni base?” to the pragmatic, “How does Moishe House reach these young alumni in transitioning from Jewish programming to Judaism and Jewish spirituality?”

A highlight of the weekend for me was the opportunity to engage in an informal “Ask the Funder” session over lunch with Moishe House alumni and a few Moishe House staff. As we sat at picnic tables on a pleasant, August summer day, we had an open conversation about grantmaking at the Jim Joseph Foundation and, to some extent, my own professional journey.

Indeed, at the Jim Joseph Foundation, transparency and the value of relationships are paramount. Through site visits such as this Alumni Summit and taking time to meet with individuals, share insights, and listen to others, the Foundation strives to act on the relational grantmaking values in which it deeply believes. Alumni asked a range of questions: “How do you get into grantmaking?” “How does the Jim Joseph Foundation decide what to fund?” “What does success look like for the Jim Joseph Foundation?” This dialogue was the chance to engage with others around questions of mutual interest, to build relationships, and to sharpen my thinking around ways the Foundation could be an even better partner and leader.

These values crystalized even more at a recent professional development experience organized by Northern California Grantmakers of the New Grantmakers Institute. Designed specifically for professionals new to the field, the conference was an opportunity to engage and connect with peers from foundations across Northern California and to learn about best practices in effective philanthropy. Time and again, a theme at the center of conversations and presentations was the significance of relationships. More specifically, we learned that there is a direct connection between genuine funder-grantee partner relationships and the success of shared work on the ground. I take pride — as I know other staff and Board members do, too — in knowing that the Foundation takes to heart this relational focus. We know that without good partners on the ground, the Foundation could not effectively pursue its mission and vision.

The Moishe House “Ask a Funder” session was premised on this understanding. After all, good partnerships don’t simply happen. They are developed, cultivated, and valued. The Foundation is fortunate to have many good partners; Moishe House certainly is one. And the alumni I interacted with on behalf of the Foundation likely are leaders of the Jewish community — today and tomorrow. Part of demonstrating appreciation for their partnership is to engage them in substantive dialogue about Jewish learning and Jewish life. Their visions, their ideas, and their questions deserve nothing less.