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Doubling Down: When a Foundation Renews or Expands a Grant

July 25, 2014

Headshot_sandy_edwardsAs a new foundation in 2006, the Jim Joseph Foundation outlined a strategy of awarding large multiyear grants. Through a careful planning process, we determined that multiyear grants would give grantees the time needed to successfully implement and evaluate bold initiatives — and that longer-term investments likely would be needed for  the foundation's grantmaking to achieve substantive goals. As of June 2014, 82 percent of the foundation's grants had at least a three-year term, and a full 67 percent were for four years or more. As a result, only in the last few years have we begun to consider the renewal or expansion of grants to key grantees.

There are many factors in this process. At its core, an opportunity for renewal or expansion of a grant initiative is a result both of positive outcomes demonstrated by a grant evaluation and/or a deep relationship that has developed between the foundation and the grantee. Both of these critical factors — one tangible and the other more abstract — evolve over the lifetime of a grant period.

During the grant development stage, foundation staff work closely with future grantees to determine the strategy alignment of a potential grant, with a particular focus on the extent to which it addresses the core priorities of an organization's work. Once a grant is awarded, the relationship between the foundation and grantee is hopefully strengthened through open and honest dialogue. Major grant awards include an independent evaluation to determine whether project goals are being achieved (in ways that advance both the foundation's and grantee's missions), key learnings are being disseminated, and to help guide the continued efforts of the grantee. Fortunately, there are many grant renewal success stories we can highlight, each one unique and with important insights to offer.

In 2007, the Jim Joseph Foundation funded the Foundation for Jewish Camp's Specialty Camp Incubator, which resulted in the opening of five new camps (92Y Passport NYC, Adamah Adventures, Eden Village Camp, Ramah Outdoor Adventures, and URJ 6 Points Academy) in the summer of 2010. In addition to significant enrollment growth at each camp, an independent evaluation (31 pages, PDF) conducted by Informing Change reported that campers, as a result of their camp experience, had improved their specialty skills, become more self-confident, knew more about being Jewish, felt more positive and enthusiastic about being Jewish, made more decisions based on the camps' Jewish values, and felt closer to Jewish kids their age. As a foundation committed to creating more and better Jewish learning opportunities, we welcome the opportunity to build on a successful grant and, based on the successful outcomes generated by the incubator effort, we decided to fund a second incubator and the launch of four more camps in partnership with the AVI CHAI Foundation. This grant will broaden FJC's sources of funding and enable it to continue to enhance and strengthen the Jewish summer camp experience with a proven model that increases the number of exciting camp options.

In other instances, a grant may not develop as expected — or, in its execution, may not align with the foundation's strategic priorities as initially anticipated. Yet a strong relationship with an effective grantee can still lead to an additional grant. For example, BBYO's Professional Development Institute, which was launched with funding from the Jim Joseph Foundation, was by many measures a successful initiative. At the same time, the foundation learned, as the initiative developed, that not all PDI graduates would work in the field of Jewish education. This was a key issue for us as discussions about renewing the PDI grant got under way. BBYO also determined, after an extensive strategic planning process, that an initiative designed to expand and deepen participants' experiential learning would be more aligned with its own organizational goals. As a result, instead of a grant to create more PDI cohorts, BBYO developed a pilot initiative to create three Director of Jewish Enrichment staff positions to be deployed in regions in which it was active. The DJE positions also were a more strategic investment for the foundation, as they were focused on expanding opportunities for more effective Jewish learning. Subsequently, a grant was awarded in 2011 to initiate the DJE pilot.

The foundation also recognizes the key role that a grant renewal can play as an organization undergoes significant changes. Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life was awarded a grant by the foundation in 2008 to pilot the Senior Jewish Educator/Campus Entrepreneur Initiative on ten college campuses. Hillel's four hundred thousand students in the foundation's target age demographic make it a grantee that is particularly well-aligned with our strategic priorities. As a result of the positive outcomes documented in an evaluation of the SJE/CEI program with respect to Jewish growth, participation in Jewish activities, and number of Jewish friends — particularly among students from weaker Jewish backgrounds — Hillel began to develop plans to scale the initiative to other campuses. The announcement of these ambitious goals by Hillel coincided with a major strategic planning process, the arrival of a dynamic new CEO, and a decision to pursue significant organizational growth. For its part, the Jim Joseph Foundation had considerable interest in seeing Hillel flourish. The question was: What could we do to make it more likely the organization would in fact achieve even better outcomes? Ultimately, we decided our best option was to award a grant in support of the organization's efforts to expand effective campus-based Jewish student engagement and experiential Jewish learning, which we did in 2014.

Finally, a conversation about grant renewal should also address a foundation's "exit strategy." For example, the Jim Joseph Foundation made an initial grant to the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in support of that organization’s Jewish Educators Program Alumni Network. Subsequently, Pardes learned that one of its key funders, the AVI CHAI Foundation, would be closing in 2020. As part of a strategic and business planning process, Pardes began to identify new funding sources, and we eventually decided to award a four-year renewal support grant for the Educators Alumni Support Project that was structured to support the organization's transition to other sources of funding.

The renewed or expanded grants profiled above demonstrate and reaffirm the importance of each grantee-foundation relationship and the learning that results from thorough grant evaluations. Like the initial grant itself, any grant renewal must take into account unique factors that make its success more likely. We at the Jim Joseph Foundation are confident that the grant renewals described above will continue to further the missions of both the grantees and the foundation in building the field of Jewish education.

Dr. Sandy Edwards is associate director of the Jim Joseph Foundation, which seeks to foster compelling, effective Jewish learning experiences for young Jews in the United States. Established in 2006, the foundation has awarded more than $300 million in grants to engage, educate, and inspire young Jewish minds to discover the joy of living vibrant Jewish lives. In her previous post, she wrote about the benefits of multiyear grantmaking.

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