18 posts categorized "Religion"

Making Sense: Reflecting on Evaluations at the Jim Joseph Foundation

August 23, 2017

QuestionsanswerssignA core part of the Jim Joseph Foundation's relational approach to grantmaking is supporting the efforts of grantees to evaluate their programs — either through engaging an external evaluator or by collecting and analyzing data internally. The foundation has always believed this is a key part of good grantmaking, in that it builds the capacity of organizations to ask questions, to collect data, and to reflect on findings in a way that then enables them to make changes that increase the chances of success.

In this period of transition at the foundation, the grantmaking team has asked some pertinent questions regarding our own evaluation program: "What are we learning from the evaluation work we have supported over the past eleven years?” And, "Are there common lessons and emerging themes that we should recognize and reflect upon?"

To begin exploring these and other questions, the entire foundation team gathered for a full day earlier this year to share and discuss learnings and common themes discovered from a comprehensive review of nearly all the key evaluations and reports commissioned by the foundation since its inception.

To make the day as productive as possible, the foundation grantmaking team completed "homework" in the weeks leading up to the day-long session, dividing up the responsibility for reviewing a sample of forty-two evaluation reports, capacity-building and business plans, and field-building research reports — all commissioned and completed in the foundation's first eleven years — among team members and asking them to summarize the challenges, outcomes, and successes they identified in their respective documents.

This "day of evaluation reflection" (as we called it) turned out to be well worth the collective time and effort and, importantly, offered space for the team to discuss how the information and lessons that surfaced in our conversations might guide our future work. The summary below includes highlights from those discussions.

The foundation's effect on Jewish life and learning

How has the Jim Joseph Foundation influenced Judaism and Jewish peoples' approach to Jewish life and learning? This overarching question speaks directly to the foundation's mission. A common theme across many of the grants we have funded and evaluated is fostering community and positive relationships within the Jewish community. With few exceptions, evaluations show that participants in foundation-supported programs report feeling more connected to their Jewish identity and to Israel when those are the intended outcomes of the program. Since the DNA of the foundation includes a broad interpretation of and approach to Jewish learning, these programs encompass every kind of setting and activity, from camps, to schools, to service experiences, to Jewish outdoor food and environmental education. And, almost without exception, they have all proved to be effective while remaining aligned with our mission and values.

Lessons learned that have potential to inform foundation grantmaking

Several key themes emerged from the day's discussions that highlight opportunities for reflection, focus, and improvement:

  • Young adult communities can be brought together successfully through different interests and avenues that resonate and are relevant to the lives of young adults. Social justice and service increasingly are reasons for young Jews to engage in Jewish life.  And follow-on programming after an immersive experience is critical to deepening programmatic impact, creating community, and achieving positive outcomes.
  • Successful programs vary in cost and scale, and while immersive programs can be expensive and reach a relatively small number of people, they also tend to have a deep and lasting effect on participants. Other programs, such as doctoral programs in Jewish studies or education, are a longer play, with a relatively high cost per student or participant.
  • Mentorship and time for reflection are key elements in the success of many programs, particularly those focused on educator training. In addition, students value a reputable university program and also desire flexibility and diversity in their program options.
  • Capacity building with respect to evaluation, development, and growth planning can be important investments for grantees. As a relational grantmaker, the Jim Joseph Foundation is in a position to help an organization pivot and/or engage in long-term strategic planning. These plans must be right-sized, however, with realistic revenue targets and investments.
  • Relationships among organizations and people matter. There is value in collaboration and strength in building networks; both also are integral components of successful culture-change initiatives.
  • Some grants are designed to leave a system in place so as to create impact long after the grant period ends. Admittedly, this is an ideal scenario, but local and national funding partners with aligned interests can leverage their resources to both widen and deepen the impact of their grant dollars.

Challenges grantees often encounter

The day also brought to the fore some of the common challenges grantee partners experience.

  • The majority of challenges experienced by the foundation's grantees were related to marketing, recruitment, and retention. Retaining current participants can be just as valuable as bringing in new participants to a program/initiative. Another common challenge relates to hiring and retaining the right personnel — at all levels.
  • Fundraising for sustainability and growth frequently is a challenge — and many effective programs end up being not "sexy" enough for donors.
  • Whole school and/or organizational culture change is an effective way to create impact, but it often involves a lengthy process that requires significant staff capacity and buy-in.

Reflections on evaluation

In discussions about our evaluation support moving forward, the team discussed the importance of elevating the following concepts:

  • Asking good questions and being data informed in our decision-making. Related: evaluations help tell a story for newer foundation staff members about what is working and what is not.
  • It's important to create opportunities for funding to follow what is working — and evaluations can help inform both the "if" and "how" with respect to scaling a pilot program.
  • We should "celebrate failure" in appropriate ways and for the purposes of learning. It's also important to acknowledge that some "failures" actually turned into partial successes years after the grant and evaluation periods had ended. In other words, sometimes an evaluation simply captures a moment in time that may not be representative of the true impact of the program.
  • Field-building research reports frequently raise the profile of certain programs and certain issues — and dissemination is a very important part of the process.
  • Assessing return-on-investment from a grant or series of grants is a daunting challenge. Numbers (e.g., program participants) do not tell the entire story about the long-term effects or how someone's experience influenced their worldview and connection to their faith and community. As a result of its experience, the team reaffirmed our commitment to understand more deeply how Jewish life and learning is experienced and fostered.

Our team viewed the Day of Evaluation Reflection as a productive, enjoyable time for learning. And staff expressed positive sentiments toward the day itself in terms of the structure, presentations, and team-building environment — as well as the preparation process outlined in advance. The conversations we had were open and honest, and signaled that the current grantmaking team is willing to critically examine the foundation's past, current, and future work in a manner that emphasizes transparency, trust, and patience.

The exercise also raised a number of interesting and important questions that we will continue to explore. As is our tradition, we will continue to ask new questions and encourage dialogue as a means to advance our work and deepen our understanding of the most effective ways to practice and evaluate philanthropy.

Headshot_stacie_cherner_156x200Stacie Cherner is senior program officer at the Jim Joseph Foundation.

Professional Preparation: A "Value Add" for Educators and Their Employers

February 09, 2017

In October 2016, the Jim Joseph Foundation released a final evaluation conducted by American Institutes for Research of its Education Initiative — in three top-rated Jewish education institutions — Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR), the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS), and Yeshiva University (YU) — to increase the number of educators and educational leaders who are prepared to design and implement high-quality Jewish education programs. The foundation and AIR have shared some of the key findings and lessons learned from the initiative. AIR also is releasing a series of blogs that delve more deeply into important findings from the evaluation — the second of which, below, discusses the value of professional preparation programs and the key characteristics that distinguish those programs as excellent.

Jim_joseph_foundationWhether in a classroom, at a camp, at locations in a city, or in nearly any other environment, effective Jewish learning experiences can enrich lives and help cultivate deep, long-lasting relationships among participants. Over the last two decades especially, Jewish education and engagement experiences developed for teens and young adults have focused on opportunities to create peer communities and friendships, develop leadership skills, and strengthen cultural and religious beliefs while enabling youth to voice their opinions and serve their communities. An important aspect of many of these initiatives is a high level of accessibility and inclusiveness, so that people of various backgrounds and differing levels of prior engagement in Jewish life feel valued, respected, and welcomed.

A Need to Raise the Bar

With the growing popularity of these offerings, both by well-established organizations and in the form of innovative projects, there is an urgent need for the professionalization of individuals responsible for designing, conducting outreach for, and facilitating them. Jewish Community Centers (JCCs), congregations, youth groups, camps, Hillel, and social justice organizations in particular offer many of these experiences — and as a result are driving increased demand for talented, well-trained professionals eager to work in this space.

At the moment, however, no degree requirement exists for individuals tasked with delivering such influential Jewish experiences. The Jim Joseph Foundation's Education Initiative, a recently completed $45 million, six-year investment in three top-rated Jewish education institutions — Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR), the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS), and Yeshiva University — in part aimed to fill this void by increasing opportunities for and improving access to professional preparation programs for educators, aspiring leaders, middle managers, and directors and executive directors in the field of Jewish education. The initiative was based on the premise that higher education institutions are uniquely equipped to promote the research-based knowledge and decision-making tools needed by professionals to design and deliver a range of excellent educational practices for a particular age group in different settings.

We previously shared other key outcomes and findings of the initiative, including the number of new educators trained and new training programs developed. Now, we want to home in on the value of professional preparation for the individuals and organizations that offer Jewish learning experiences.

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A Collaborative Investment to Build Shared Outcomes for Our Field

June 09, 2016

Generation-Now-Cover-232x300A couple of years ago, four foundations set out to find the answer to a critically important question: How do we measure the success of our Jewish teen engagement and education initiatives?

The question, while specific, also spoke to a real need. Our foundations recognized the importance of engaging the next generation of Jews in Jewish life as a way to ensure the vibrancy and longevity of our community. But there was a gap between what our community's teen initiatives accomplished and what our actual long-term goals were — and are.

To address this need, we came together to invest in a significant way in research on Jewish teens. The result is a new report, Generation Now: Understanding and Engaging Jewish Teens Today.

The research that informs the report was designed to identify a set of shared outcomes to be used across various programs when assessing Jewish teen education and engagement initiatives. Not only were we pleased with the clarity of that research, we were also pleased with the process. For example:

  • We found it very helpful to partner with a highly knowledgeable and trusted voice in the field — in this case, The Jewish Education Project's David Bryfman, who already had strong relationships with many of the parties involved in these efforts. Bryfman led the work in partnership with an experienced research team.
  • All parties involved — national and local funders, practitioners, and teens themselves —demonstrated a willingness to move away from old frameworks (both for teen programs and their evaluation) designed by adults to a new framework that takes into account the voices and interests of a new generation of teens.
  • We made sure the researchers conducted focus groups with teens and interviewed parents and practitioners. As a group, we then reviewed what was learned, proposed a set of outcomes, tested them with stakeholders, refined them based on that feedback, and then retested. We made sure that what we had developed through the process strongly reflected what we had heard from the teens themselves.
  • To help ensure that our efforts would lead to actual, positive change on the ground, toward the end of the process we brought in experts to "translate" the shared outcomes into draft survey questions for teens in communities across the country. The survey questions then went through an iterative review and refinement process with funders, practitioners, and teens.

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Turning a Visit Into an Immersive Experience

May 11, 2016

Immersive_learningThe Jim Joseph Foundation invests in curated immersive learning experiences and the training of talented educators who facilitate them. From a pedagogical view, these kinds of experiences stand in contrast to the simpler "trip to the museum," which by itself typically lacks the educational component needed to catalyze learning. In contrast, an immersive learning experience provides an opportunity for a participant's growth in terms of knowledge, character, and identity.

One example of the value of such an opportunity is found in a 1970 study of Sesame Street[1] (which premiered in 1969). The study sought to determine whether socioeconomic status (SeS) was a determining factor in whether young children (ages 3 to 5) benefited from watching the program. In the study, there was a difference in baseline performance between those with low SeS and high SeS, although both segments exhibited material improvement on assessments after regularly watching the program.

In a subsequent study that examined the same age group[2], however, researchers noted a profound divergence and determined that certain children not differentiated by SeS excelled at a far greater rate than other participants. The X-factor? Parents. When one or more parents collectively watched episodes with their children, researchers noticed that children’s measurable skill sets increased more than the skills sets of those whose parents did not. The result pointed to the "curated experience" as an important and defining one.

This idea of curation permeates each of the Jim Joseph Foundation's strategic priorities: Increase the Number and Quality of Jewish Educators and Education LeadersExpand Opportunities for Effective Jewish Learning, and Build a Strong Field for Jewish Education. Three grants — to George Washington University’s Graduate School of Education and Human Development, the American Friends of the Israel Museum, and the Contemporary Jewish Museum's Innovation Fund — represent the symbiotic actualization of these strategies.

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A Different Kind of Risk-Taking: Improving Evaluation Practice at the Jim Joseph Foundation

September 15, 2015

Evaluation"We're in the business of risk-taking," is something Chip Edelsberg, executive director of the Jim Joseph Foundation, likes to say. Generally speaking, Edelsberg's notion of risk-taking refers to the investments the foundation makes in its grantees and their programs. The mission of the  foundation,  which has assets of roughly $1 billion, is to foster compelling, effective Jewish learning experiences for young Jews. Between 2006 and June 2014, the foundation granted more than $300 million to increase the number and quality of Jewish educators, expand opportunities for Jewish learning, and build a strong field for Jewish learning (Jim Joseph Foundation, 2014). Rarely is there an established research base for the kinds of initiatives the foundation supports in Jewish education. In the spring of 2013, though, Edelsberg had another kind of risk in mind.

What might be gained, Edelsberg wondered, if foundation staff brought together a group of competing evaluation firms with whom they had worked in the past to consider ways to improve the foundation's practice and use of evaluation? The idea had emerged out of a study of the foundation's evaluation practices, from the foundation's inception in 2006 through 2012, that was commissioned by the foundation and conducted by Lee Shulman, president emeritus of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and Charles E. Ducommun Professor of Education Emeritus at Stanford University. Edelsberg thought it was a risk worth taking, and the board of the foundation agreed. Edelsberg also made the bold decision to allow a doctoral student in evaluation studies at the University of Minnesota to study the venture.

In the winter of 2013, a colleague of mine from the field of Jewish education who was then a staff member at the foundation heard about my research interest in the role evaluation plays in the work of foundations and their grantees and offered to connect me with Edelsberg. Edelsberg described the idea for what became the "evaluators' consortium," and I asked about the possibility of studying the process as a case study for my dissertation. By the time the consortium met for the first time in October 2013, and with the agreement of the foundation's board and participating evaluators, I launched the research. The purpose of the study was to explore what occurred when a foundation inaugurated an innovative approach to evaluation practice, examining factors that supported successful implementation of the innovation and the impediments to its success. It also sought to provide insights into the elements of organizational culture, practices, circumstances, and structures that can support effective practices of evaluation in the foundation field. The foundation gave me access to documents and invited me to observe meetings of the consortium held both in person and electronically. Over the course of the first year of the consortium's operation, I interviewed all foundation program staff members, Shulman (who served as the facilitator), a member of the board, and each of the participating evaluators.

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Cultivating Programs for Next-Generation Donors

August 17, 2015

Money-treeFifteen years ago, as Charles Bronfman and his late wife Andy were ushering Birthright Israel into its toddler years, they inherently understood that next generations would have new ideas about Jewish life and new energy to contribute to it. One strategy they supported began in 2002, when Jeff Solomon, president of the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies (ACBP), hired me to encourage next-generation donors to bring their own ideas and resources to bear on the Jewish world.

After spending a few months surveying the landscape and exploring best practices across the country, we set up a collaborative giving process for next-generation donors who wanted to give beyond tables at benefits by more directly funding critical issues in the Jewish world. With initial financial support from ACBP, the Samberg Family Foundation, the Righteous Persons Foundation, and the Nathan Cummings Foundation, I helped launch a next-generation giving circle, Natan, for Generation Xers, largely financial-types in New York, who wanted to support start-ups catalyzing new Jewish life in North America and Israel.

We then founded Grand Street, a network for Generation Yers inheriting opportunities to participate in their families' philanthropy. These men and women wanted to honor their parents' and grandparents' legacies and commitment to the Jewish community while also introducing their generation's ideas with respect to contemporary Jewish life.

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Making Philanthropic Investments Last: The Role of Financial Sustainability

October 30, 2014

Headshot_schneider_kidron_300x600Launched in 2010, the Jim Joseph Foundation's Education Initiative has supported the development and expansion of eighteen degree and certificate programs as well as leadership institutes at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR), the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS), and Yeshiva University (YU).

The foundation provided the resources needed for program development, staffing, student tuition assistance, and marketing/recruitment activities. The investment was substantial – each institution received $15 million over a period of up to six years. As part of its independent evaluation of the initiative, American Institutes for Research (AIR) assessed not only how well the three grantees delivered these programs, but how they planned to financially sustain their programs into the future after the foundation's investment wound down.

Financial sustainability requires careful planning, typically using a dynamic document that is reviewed and revisited periodically. Such a document – the financial sustainability plan – describes strategies to contain costs and to cover them through fundraising and program revenues.

Informing Financial Sustainability Plans Through Break-Even Analysis

A common tool in financial planning is break-even analysis, which identifies the circumstances in which costs and revenues are balanced. To help Jim Joseph Foundation Education Initiative grantees, we developed a program-level Break-Even Analysis Calculator, allowing program administrators to project revenues and expenditures by changing variables such as tuition, numbers of students, and staffing levels. This interactive tool can be used to:

  1. Identify the resources required to implement a program, including personnel, facilities, equipment, and materials, whether paid for directly or contributed in-kind, and subsequently to calculate program costs.
  2. Explore ways to reduce costs.
  3. Identify the effects of different levels of tuition and scholarships.
  4. Calculate fundraising needs and demonstrate to potential funders why their help is needed.

Review of Financial Sustainability Plans

We created benchmarks for reviewing the financial sustainability plans submitted by each institution. The four criteria described below are based on the assumption that financial sustainability is a process, not an end. In other words, although the process aimed at achieving financial sustainability may not yet be completed, the financial sustainability plan contributes to a road map that programs can follow into the future.

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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.

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The Transparent Spend Down

September 23, 2013

The following post by Charles R. Bronfman, chairman of The Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies (ACBP), is the first in a new blog series, "Making Change by Spending Down," produced by ACBP in partnership with GrantCraft, a joint service of the Foundation Center and the European Foundation Centre. In the post, Mr. Bronfman explains how he, his late wife, Andrea, and ACBP president Jeffrey Solomon arrived at the decision to spend down the foundation by 2016; why he and Solomon decided to take extra steps to create transparency around the spend-down process; and what they hope the added measure of transparency will accomplish.

We welcome your comments on this and every post in the series and encourage you to discuss and/or share individual posts on Twitter using the #spenddown hashtag. To learn more about the project, visit the GrantCraft Web site.

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My parents were my greatest mentors. They taught me the meaning of philanthropy through their active involvement in many causes. Creating initiatives to address social, cultural and community needs now, and facilitating positive change for the future, were and remain my guiding principles.

Those principles became the foundation for The Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies, which my late wife, Andy, and I established in 1985. All along, we believed in creating programs with long-lasting effect and which could and would make a real difference in the world.

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, after doing our homework about foundations created in perpetuity, Andy; Jeff Solomon, the president of our foundation; and I decided that ACBP should fulfill its mandate. While several other foundations had chosen this course, we decided to keep our decision to ourselves. But as more foundations chose to be time-limited and publicly announced their decision, we decided to go public with ours in 2008.

In an open letter to the philanthropic community three years later, Jeff Solomon and I announced that we would spend down ACBP by 2016.

That's not news anymore. What is, though, is the transparency we vowed to establish around the spend-down process, a conscious effort to share our experiences -- expected and not, good and bad -- on the road to 2016.

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Ten Years Later: Vartan Gregorian, President, Carnegie Corporation of New York

September 10, 2011

Vartan_gregorian_centennial We had hoped, as part of our "Ten Years Later" series, to share the 9/11 reflections of Vartan Gregorian, president of the Carnegie Corporation of New York. (You can read our earlier interviews with Gregorian here and here.) Unfortunately, Dr. Gregorian was busy with 9/11 commemorative events and his responsibilities as a member of the 9/11 Memorial board.

However, the folks at Carnegie did graciously allow us to reprint an essay written by Dr. Gregorian that appeared in the September/October issue of World Affairs. We hope you enjoy it.

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It is still shocking to remember how utterly the peace of that beautiful September day was shattered. The image of the Twin Towers as they fell to earth, carrying with them so many souls, became the collective symbol of our grief. After all, the World Trade Center towers were the icon of American strength and economic power and emblematic of New York City as a world capital of finance.

It was possible, that day, to believe that the towering strength of our nation was itself, in some fundamental way, at risk. But that did not prove to be so. The cowardly attacks that we endured, which did not distinguish between people of different races, ethnicities, faiths, or beliefs, did not divide us but instead forged stronger bonds between us. And nowhere was the indivisibility of those bonds more evident than at the memorial service at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx on September 23.

Prior to that service, most Americans had seen or taken part in religious ceremonies particular to their own faith, be it Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Greek Orthodox, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, or other. But it is probably fair to say that most Americans had never seen or heard a Muslim cleric, let alone a group of Muslim imams taking part in an ecumenical service. On September 23, however, that is exactly what happened. I was watching the service on television, and as the rabbis, priests, ministers, and other members of the clergy made deeply moving and heartfelt remarks, I found myself greatly affected by their words. Still, it was with a mounting sense of apprehension that I waited to hear what would happen when Muslim clerics came to the podium to speak. As I waited for the first of them to utter the first words of prayer in Arabic, my heart, as they say, was in my mouth. I thought that members of the victims’ families, as well as others in the audience, might send the imams off the stage amid a flurry of catcalls. They did not. Everyone present listened with the same attention and respect as had been accorded the representatives of all the other religions. The dignity and solemnity of the day was unbroken. The memory of those who had died was uniformly held in reverence because it was understood by every individual at Yankee Stadium that day, and the millions watching and listening elsewhere, that the terrorists had targeted all of us who happened to be on American soil the morning of September 11. They recognized no differences between us. They spared no one based on class or race or nationality, or even religion.

Those who spoke at the "Prayer for America" service were eloquent in expressing how, as Americans, we are one people sharing one ideal of peace and solidarity. Imam Izak-El Mu'eed Pasha, who was the first Muslim chaplain of the New York City Police Department, said, "We, Muslims, Americans, stand today with a heavy weight on our shoulders that those who would dare do such dastardly acts claim our faith. They are no believers in God at all....We condemn them and their cowardly acts, and we stand with our country against all that would come against us."

Edward Egan, then the archbishop of New York, said, "Almighty and eternal father, we are gathered here as your people and your children....We need courage to deal with our pain, we need justice to deal with the evil doers who have harmed us so fiercely. We need faith, wisdom and strength of soul for ourselves, each and every one."

Rabbi Marc Gellman, the senior rabbi of Temple Beth Torah in Melville, New York, said, "The Talmud and the African tribe, the Maasai tribe, both teach a wisdom for our wounded world. They both taught sticks alone can be broken by a child, but sticks in a bundle are unbreakable. The fears and sorrows of this moment are so heavy, they can break us if we try to bear them alone. But if we are bundled together, if we stick together, we are unbreakable."

Calvin Butts, the noted pastor of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in New York City, said -- simply and powerfully -- "Be not afraid. Together we will get through [this], because we are the United States of America."

As an Armenian Christian born in Iran, I am aware of the historical vulnerability of ethnic and religious minorities. Hence, as I watched the service, I found myself thinking that I could not imagine such a peaceful, even loving coming together of different peoples and groups if the terrorist attacks of 9/11 had taken place in the Middle East or Africa, or Eastern Europe, or Asia. In those regions, nationalist and religious fervor would have likely led to atrocities visited upon those who happened to share the faith of the perpetrators of such attacks. Imagine if the attacks had been carried out in Greece, Turkey, Cyprus, India, Pakistan, Kenya, or Sudan. We have already seen the kinds of horrendous reprisals that have sometimes followed acts of sectarian violence in those countries and others.

But thank God that is not the path we followed. On September 23, watching the service at Yankee Stadium, I felt that I was bearing witness to a maturing of America. I saw an educated citizenry sharing the common experience of almost unspeakable loss, unbearable pain. I saw intelligent men and women who understood the historical significance of the heartbreaking events they were memorializing, and who did not want those who had attacked us to succeed in dividing our nation or weakening our resolve to go forward, to go on.

I also saw America as a mature political power, with resolute and steady leaders such as Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and President George W. Bush, with the entire bipartisan New York delegation and all members of Congress standing behind them. On that day, the entire political leadership of America acted as one. There were no Democrats or Republicans, no Independents or Libertarians. They were all Americans. And as Americans, they transcended their ideological differences in order to honor the victims of our national tragedy.

President Bush, among many others, continued to reflect about the meaning of 9/11, forcefully declaring that "Americans understand we fight not a religion; ours is not a campaign against the Muslim faith. Ours is a campaign against evil." He made those remarks to airline employees at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago on September 27, 2001, but this was a concept he repeated many times over, in many venues, in many different ways. In the days following 9/11, President Bush also visited several mosques to reinforce the idea that Muslim Americans were an integral part of American society and that indeed, their faith and support were a critical component of the struggle against terrorism. The president made this clear on September 17, 2001, at the Washington Islam Center mosque, one of the oldest mosques in the United States, when he read this verse from the Koran: "In the long run, evil in the extreme will be the end of those who do evil. For that they rejected the signs of Allah and held them up to ridicule."

It was during this time that I stumbled across a sermon by C. S. Lewis. This was purely coincidence, but a comforting and uplifting one. The sermon is called "Learning in Wartime" and was delivered in the autumn of 1939 when Britain stood alone against the Nazis. Among the most evocative passages in the sermon are these extraordinary words: "I think it is important to try to see the present calamity in a true perspective. The war creates no absolutely new situation: it simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it. Human life has always been lived on the edge of a precipice. Human culture has always had to exist under the shadow of something infinitely more important than itself. If men had postponed the search for knowledge and beauty until they were secure, the search would have never begun....[People] propound mathematical theorems in beleaguered cities, conduct metaphysical arguments in condemned cells, make jokes on scaffolds, discuss poetry while advancing on the walls of Quebec, and comb their hair at Thermopylae. This is not panache; it is our nature."

I sent copies of this sermon to my friends and to my colleagues, hoping that it helped them, as it helped me, to regain my feeling of optimism about our nation and our future. That is because indeed, it is in the nature of men and women to look ahead, past the darkest of times, to the brighter days that always follow. All of human history is a play of light and darkness. And through all of human history, we travel together through the longest night into the dawn.

-- Vartan Gregorian

NYC's 'Neighborhood of Conscience'

August 20, 2010

(Michael Seltzer is a regular contributor to PhilanTopic. In his last post, he wrote about African philanthropy.)

Cordoba_house Lower Manhattan is many things to many people: hub of global finance, a mosaic of ethnic enclaves, funky residential neighborhood with breath-taking views of New York harbor, and, of course, backdrop for the most devastating of the September 11 terrorist attacks. But thanks to a series of unrelated real estate transactions over the years, it has also emerged as the world's first "neighborhood of conscience." That term was coined in the 1990s after the Rockefeller Foundation invited a seemingly disparate group of nonprofit visionaries to its conference center in Bellagio, Italy -- a group that included the leadership of the Lower East Side Tenement Museum in New York City, Russia's Gulag Museum, and the District 6 Museum in South Africa, among others.

At that meeting, these nonprofits found common cause: a shared commitment to relating the past to the present, building "lasting cultures of human rights," and engaging "ordinary people in dialogue on social issues...through the establishment of sites [of conscience]."

In recognition of its importance, the sites of conscience movement has attracted the support of a number of foundations and philanthropies over the years, including the Compton Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Lambent Foundation, the Nathan Cummings Foundation, the National Endowment for Democracy, the Oak Foundation, the Open Society Institute, and the Sigrid Rausing Trust.

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TED on Sunday: Elizabeth Gilbert on Creativity

August 23, 2009

In this funny and inspirational talk, writer Elizabeth Gilbert (The Last American Man, Eat, Pray Love) considers the creative act and wonders why it is logical or okay "that anyone should be afraid to do the work they were put on this earth to do?" Ranging widely from ancient Greece and Rome through the Renaissance to hipster songwriter/performer Tom Waits stuck in traffic on a Los Angeles freeway, Gilbert argues convincingly that the secret to creativity is showing up to do your job and accepting the idea that the extraordinary nature of your best work didn't come from you; it was given to you. (Filmed: February 2009; Running time: 19:29)

Liked this talk? Try one of these:

And for those who can't get enough of TED, check out Jim Simpson's post about a cool hidden feature of most TED Talks.

-- Mitch Nauffts

Fallout From Madoff Scandal Spreads

December 15, 2008

BernardmadoffOver the weekend, we learned that at least two foundations, the Robert I. Lappin Foundation and the Chais Family Foundation, had lost millions in Bernie Madoff's alleged Ponzi scheme and were closing their doors, effective immediately.

The latest victim of the scam is the New York City-based JEHT Foundation (an acronym for Justice, Equality, Human dignity and Tolerance), which earlier today announced that it was halting all grantmaking effective immediately and would shut its doors at the end of January. The foundation has posted a statement on its Web site that reads in part:

The JEHT Foundation Board deeply regrets that the important work that the Foundation has undertaken over the years is ending so abruptly. The issues the Foundation addressed received very limited philanthropic support and the loss of the foundation's funding and leadership will cause significant pain and disruption of the work for many dedicated people and organizations. The Foundation's programs have met with significant success in recent years -- promoting change in these critical areas in partnership with government and the nonprofit sector. Hopefully others will look closely at this work and consider supporting it going forward....

Inquiries should be directed to the foundation, care of its president, Robert Crane, rcrane@jehtfoundation.org.

-- Mitch Nauffts

Quote of the Day (December 13, 2008)

December 13, 2008

Quotemarks_2"In the twenty-first century our global society will flourish or perish according to our ability to find common ground across the world on a set of shared objectives and on the practical means to achieve them. The pressures of scarce energy resources, growing environmental stresses, a rising global population, legal and mass migration, shifting economic power, and vast inequalities of income are too great to be left to naked market forces and untrammeled geopolitical competition among nations. A clash of civilizations could well result from the rising tensions, and it could truly be our last and utterly devastating clash. To find our way peacefully through these difficulties, we will have to learn, on a global scale, the same core lessons that successful societies have gradually and grudgingly learned within their own national borders...."

-- Jeffrey Sachs, Common Wealth: Economics for a Crowded Planet

The Stock Market and Charitable Giving

October 20, 2008

A week or so ago, Pattie Johnson, the director of the Foundation Center's Atlanta field office, forwarded me a series of interesting charts put together by Alexander Haas Martin & Partners, one of the premier fundraising consulting firms in the metro Atlanta area. Using data collected by the folks at the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, the charts attempt to answer the question: "How will the problems in the stock market impact total charitable (as opposed to foundation) giving?"

The first chart (below) maps total giving in the U.S. from 1967-2007 against the Dow Jones Industrial Average, a widely followed proxy for stock market performance, over the same period.

(click on chart for larger image)

Giving_vs_dow_page_1_600px_4 

And this chart shows giving mapped against the S&P 500, another widely followed proxy for the market:

(click on chart for larger image)

Giving_vs_sp_page_1_600px_2

As David King, managing partner at AMMP notes, the charts show that when the markets are going up, total charitable giving grows right along with it -- which makes sense. However, they also show that when the stock market declines, giving does NOT follow it; indeed, it continues to grow or holds steady.

Granted, no two economic downturns are alike, and the current one could turn out to be far more serious and prolonged than those of the recent past (2000-02, 1990-91, 1980-82). Unfortunately, we won't know how bad it will be -- or was -- until we're already well on the road to recovery. In the meantime, this should give some comfort to people who are expecting the sky to fall. Yes, we've seen wealth destruction on an epic scale over the last twelve months, but we also saw wealth creation on an even grander scale over the last five-plus years. Let's hope a good portion of that wealth continues to flow to worthy nonprofits and charities.

To download additional charts comparing both the Dow and S&P 500 to giving to arts/culture, education, religion, human services, health, and the environment, click here for the Dow and here for the S&P.

-- Mitch Nauffts

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