From the Professional Staff

Why a Strong Beginning is Pivotal to a Grantmaker’s Success

By Jeff Tiell on January 19th, 2016

As a Jew, I have always had a somewhat confused relationship with New Year’s Day. It is the secular new year, where champagne flutes abound, and the year begins anew. Where folks make proclamations and resolutions about how they plan to change in the coming year. Indeed, there is a brief societal moment of reflection – where we’ve been, what has happened, who has passed on – that then quickly leads into the flurry of January.

As a Jew, however, I find myself saying, didn’t I just do this a few months ago? Of course, the answer is yes, and yet given that we live in a secular, pluralistic society, there is a place in my head and heart to go through this exercise again. To reflect about the power and purpose inherent in the beginning; in the new.

Here at the Jim Joseph Foundation we hold “beginnings” in very high regard. The work that we are privileged to do together with grantee partners is greatly influenced by these beginnings. For many grants, a great amount of work is done before the grant is even awarded. These planning processes are pivotal in providing the necessary soil for an initiative or project to take root. Further, the processes and relationships that are undertaken and built after the grant award can make a pronounced difference in the success of the work over both the short and long-terms through the cultivation of trust between the funder and the grantee.

A great example of the significance of beginnings is the Jim Joseph Foundation’s recent grant to the Jewish Emergent Network (JEN).  Foundation funding will help pilot two cohorts of Rabbinic Fellows (14 total) to participate in a fellowship program – spending two years serving and learning under senior rabbis and executive directors from seven “emergent Jewish communities.” These communities include Los Angeles (IKAR); Chicago (Mishkan); New York (Lab Shul and Romemu); San Francisco (The Kitchen); Seattle (Kavana); and Washington D.C. (Sixth & I). The grant is designed to prepare the Fellows to assume leadership roles as innovative community-builders in all different types of settings—poised to educate, engage and serve an array of target populations, most importantly young adults and families with young children.

To lay the groundwork for this initiative, these communities strategized, strengthened their relationships with each other, and even worked together at times for close to two years before the Foundation invited a grant proposal. During this time, they had a robust dialogue about their vision for the future; often including the Foundation in their discussion: how they would work together to build this emergent Jewish field and engage in a planning process that incorporated the desires and concerns of all member communities.

As the planning processes for the JEN continue in earnest through the spring, the Jim Joseph Foundation continuously looks to establish practices that will positively influence our shared measures of success. This is integrally part of our work and identity as a relational funder. Our practice is nested in building strong and effective relationships with grantee partners. This practice is reflected in working together with the grantee on the award letter to co-create a document with which both parties feel comfortable. This process allows for mutual buy-in and a shared sense of identity in the actual mechanics of the grant.  So, too, for instance is setting up regular check-in calls every 4-6 weeks to look carefully at progress being made with grants implementation. This practice can have lasting implications for the health of the relationship, and thus, the strength of the initiative.

With our secular new year underway, we are reminded of the many types of beginnings – both in life and work – and how those beginnings serve and connect us to the shared success of our work.

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The Jim Joseph Foundation invests in promising Jewish education grant initiatives. We partner with effective organizations that seek to inspire young people to discover the joy of living vibrant Jewish lives.