22 posts categorized "Religion"

The Arc of Justice: The World’s Religions Launch Strategic Priorities for Peace

March 09, 2020

DoveAs the coronavirus public health crisis grows increasingly urgent, prominent global actors and institutions, including the United Nations, are wrestling with the realization that all hands on deck are required to address the cross-cutting global challenges we face. The latest disease pandemic is but one of the major global challenges demanding coordinated and effective responses from diverse institutions and civil society networks. Another, income inequality, continues to widen, with the world's richest 1 percent in 2020 holding twice as much wealth as 6.9 billion of the planet's people. And while the political and economic will to combat climate change is needed more than ever, virtually every sovereign state is behind in its commitments to the Paris Agreement.

With communities ravaged by ongoing conflict, a record 70 million people have fled their homes. As calls for change echo across the globe, the percentage of people in 2019 living in countries where civic space is considered "repressed" more than doubled. Things fundamental to securing human dignity — the opportunity to contribute meaningfully to society, the power to demand change, freedom from any and all forms of discrimination, and the ability to live within and nurture a sustainable environment — are rapidly being eroded. These challenges are striking at a time when multilateralism is threatened, space for civil society is shrinking, and calls for more walls of separation are getting louder.

On a more optimistic note, the opportunity to forge ahead despite the turmoil may well exist within the deepest and broadest infrastructures ever created and sustained by humankind: the world's religious communities, to which 80 percent of humanity claims some affiliation. In recent years, international attention has undeniably been focused on the rise in religiously motivated violence, furthering the focus on religion as (part of) the problem.

However, a relatively lesser known reality in parallel with these trends may offer solutions: a growing global network of believers working to address these challenges through a unique process of multi-religious peacebuilding. These religious leaders and constituents hail from religious and spiritual communities as diverse and complex as the world in which we live. They are collaborating on and implementing various development, humanitarian, and peace processes, guiding their societies toward cohesion, respect for difference, and a culture of peace.

By convening representative of these religious communities, as well as leadership at the national and regional level, Religions for Peace — a multi-religious peacebuilding coalition with interreligious platforms in ninety countries across six regions — has developed a unique and powerful mechanism for furthering multi-religious collaboration and peacebuilding.

At the Religions for Peace 10th World Assembly in August 2019, more than one thousand representatives from a hundred and twenty-five countries developed a framework for organizing future collaborative action to address these and other global challenges. Another global consultation in December 2019 engaged over two hundred and fifty religious leaders in focused and honest deliberations, ultimately emerging with a consensus to prioritize six strategic areas: peaceful, just and inclusive societies; gender equality; the environment; freedom of thought, conscience and religion; interreligious education; and global partnerships. Uniting religious and Indigenous leaders for the protection of tropical forests is key to nurturing a sustainable environment and is a matter requiring both moral urgency and action. Those in attendance also agreed to champion the universal right to thought, conscience, and religion within and beyond their own constituencies, including a commitment to coordinate faith-based responses to the rise in attacks on holy sites and places of worship.

Attendees also embraced a deeper focus on interreligious education — not to reinvent the wheel, but to bring together existing work and curricula from all corners of the world in an effort to facilitate knowledge, counter misperceptions, and dispel the ignorance  at the root of intolerance, hatred, and violence. Religions for Peace movement leaders also committed to develop innovative approaches, seek solutions together, and scale up multi-stakeholder partnerships with businesses, governments, and civil society.

These goals and actions correspond to the United Nation's Sustainable Development Goals agenda and will be measured and assessed using the SDG indicators agreed to by all UN member states.

The priorities identified in our strategic plan are built on the legacy of many powerful and effective interventions. Over the half-century of Religions for Peace's existence, these interreligious platforms have amassed a solid record of multi-religious engagement, including mediating conflict and negotiating the release of child hostages in Sierra Leone, providing care and support for orphans and vulnerable children affected by HIV/AIDS, mobilizing twenty-one million youth for global disarmament, and forging partnerships between religious and Indigenous communities for rainforest protection — to name but a few.

These priorities also herald a new era of resolve, and courage, among the world's senior-most religious leaders and institutions. For such a movement, built on and by traditional religious institutions, to make gender equality a strategic priority is historic. After electing the coalition's first woman secretary-general in 2019, Religions for Peace leadership is sending a clear message of commitment to action that includes a focus on increasing women's leadership and impact within the movement, and beyond.

It is this blend of renewed and bold resolve, together with skills steeped in decades of experience with multi-religious and -cultural engagement in the areas of development and human rights, which reinforces our belief that the world's people are ready to embrace alternative cultures of healing and peace. And interreligious councils not only drive the solution — they are a necessary part of the solution. On this 75th year of the United Nations system, Religions for Peace — through its global, regional, national, and grassroots interreligious council platforms — acknowledges and supports the call for more holistic responses to cross-cutting global challenges. With our five-year strategic plan in place and future actions co-designed and approved by representatives of all the world's religious institutions, we hereby call on the word's governments, civil societies, and multi-lateral institutions to come together to create more peaceful, just, and inclusive societies that leave no one behind.

Headshot_Azza Karam_Kyoichi SuginoDr. Azza Karam and Rev. Kyoichi Sugino are secretary general-elect and secretary-general, respectively, of Religions for Peace, a New York City-based international coalition of representatives from the world's religions dedicated to promoting peace globally.

5 Questions for...Bernie Michael, President and CEO, Center for Jewish History

February 05, 2020

"Never forget."

For Holocaust survivors who gathered on Monday in Auschwitz-Birkenau, Poland, to mark the seventy-fifth anniversary of the liberation of the infamous Nazi concentration and death camp, the horrors of World War II will never be forgotten. But as the number of Holocaust survivors dwindles — at Monday’s ceremony, there were two hundred survivors in attendance, compared to the fifteen hundred who attended ceremonies marking the sixtieth anniversary of the camp’s liberation in 1945 — and with anti-Semitism and attacks on Jews once again capturing headlines in Europe and the United States, the two-word admonition has assumed fresh meaning and significance.

At the Center for Jewish History in New York City, the past, five thousand years of the Jewish past, is very much alive. Established twenty years ago and celebrating its twentieth anniversary in 2020, the center is a place where scholars, researchers, graduate fellows, high school students, and others gather to do research, attend seminars and symposia, and celebrate the remarkable achievements of the Jewish people.

PND recently spoke with Bernie Michael, the center’s president and CEO, about the organization’s mission and collections, history as story, and the reasons why he remains an optimist.

Headshot_bernie_michaelPhilanthropy News Digest: Tell us about the Center for Jewish History. When was it established, what is its mission, and what does it do to advance that mission?

Bernie Michael: The Center for Jewish History is located in Manhattan on 16th Street off of Fifth Avenue. We are home to five partner organizations — the American Jewish Historical Society, which was established in the 1890s to foster an appreciation of American Jewish heritage and which has a huge archive of materials relating to American Jewish history; the American Sephardi Federation, which preserves and promotes the history, traditions, and culture of Jews from Sephardic lands; the Leo Baeck Institute, a research library and archive focused on the history of German-speaking Jews; the Yeshiva University Museum, which, unlike our other partners, is more of a traditional museum in the sense that it has artworks and three-dimensional objects; and the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, which was established in the 1920s and focuses on the history and culture of Eastern European Jews and Yiddish-speaking people.

The center brings all these organizations together under one roof, and we also have our own archives and mount our own exhibitions and offer our own programming. It's a place, really, for people to learn about the history of the Jewish people and all of its many different aspects.

PND: For a lot of Americans, history is little more than a dry recitation of dates, names, and long-forgotten events. What are they missing?

BM: History starts with dates and names and facts, and making sure all that is verified and correct is important. But what's really important about history is that it tells a story, and it's the job of historians to bring those stories to life. The ideas that make history important are almost always animated by individuals, and the individuals that history remembers usually are embedded in a fascinating story. Historians take those stories and connect them to the present. That's what we do here at the center. How do all those stories in our archives reflect who we are today, and what can they tell us about where we might be headed?

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The Best-Kept Secret: A Strategic ‘Pivot’

December 10, 2019

Greater-Denver-Jewish-Community-Study-2018-300x300There are countless examples of strategic "pivots" to point to in the for-profit world, many of them from the not-too-distant past. Remember when Amazon just sold books, when Netflix mailed DVDs, or when the Gap was a record store that sold Levi's? It's rare, on the other hand, to hear about nonprofits making the same kind of massive changes in strategy. Of course, taking a risk in Silicon Valley (where companies are expected to produce financial returns for their investors) is different than risk-taking in the nonprofit world, where organizations are responsible for having an impact on a social or environmental problem.

But pivoting — a shift in strategy that helps an organization achieve its desired impact — is crucial for nonprofits that want to succeed over the long-term. "Pivot" doesn’t have to be a bad word or signal failure. Think of it, instead, as a natural part of organizational evolution.

Pivots can be large or small, but they should emerge from a clear understanding of what is working and what is not. Using data (e.g., performance metrics, evaluations, and direct observation) to decide whether or not it's time to pivot will ensure that you pivot in the right direction. This kind of intentionality, coupled with the ability to admit what isn't working, makes a strategic pivot different than just throwing spaghetti against the wall and seeing what sticks.

Organizations that don't pivot eventually end up stuck doing the same old thing, even when evidence points them in another direction. In such a scenario, funders often start to wonder about their investment in a "stuck" organization and whether it's truly creating the impact they would like to see. To help nonprofits that are struggling with the pivot issue, as well as funders who may be sitting on the other side of the table, I wanted to share a story about a pivot made by my organization, UpStart, what we learned from it, and how you can benefit from the same kind of thinking and tactics.

UpStart's flagship initiative in Colorado was our Teen Fellowship program, which each year engaged twenty-four fellows in the fundamentals of social entrepreneurship through a Jewish lens. This program was a part of the larger Denver-Boulder Jewish Teen Initiative to increase engagement of diverse local Jewish teens. In the fellowship, teens worked in small teams to solve a particular problem in their respective communities, developing new initiatives and learning key skills that would help them navigate the world. The program was rated favorably by the teens who participated, but from an outcomes perspective it was becoming increasingly clear it was off-strategy.

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5 Questions for...Kashif Shaikh, Co-Founder and Executive Director, Pillars Fund

August 27, 2019

Kashif Shaikh is co-founder and executive director of the Chicago-based Pillars Fund, a grantmaking organization that invests in American Muslim organizations, leaders, and storytellers in order to advance equity and inclusion. Established in 2010 as a donor-advised fund at the Chicago Community Trust with investments of $25,000 each from five Muslim-American philanthropists, the fund became an independent organization in 2016 with seed funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. To date, the fund has awarded $4 million in grants to small and midsize nonprofits to help ensure that American Muslims are able to thrive and live with dignity — and continue to have opportunities to contribute to civil society and public discourse.

PND asked Shaikh about the role of Muslim philanthropy in American society, the importance of supporting "culture work," and the fund’s current priorities.

Kashif_Shaikh_pillars_fundPhilanthropy News Digest: Your website states that the fund’s grantmaking "is inspired by Muslim tradition, which includes respect, conviction, sacrifice, action, and generosity." Why don't Muslim philanthropies and charities have a higher profile in the United States?

Kashif Shaikh: Giving of one's wealth, time, or effort is deeply embedded in the Muslim tradition. And in the United States, the earliest recorded example of Muslim giving was by enslaved Muslims, who in the nineteenth century distributed saraka in the form of small cakes to children on plantations off the coast of Georgia, continuing a tradition from West Africa. The word saraka is closely related to the word sadaqah, the Arabic word for "charity." This is important to acknowledge as we try to build on what generations of Muslims have already done in this land.

Three-quarters of Muslims in the United States today are immigrants or children of immigrants, and half of all U.S. Muslims arrived after 1970. Over the last fifty years Muslim communities put a lot of resources into building mosques and other communal spaces as they put down new roots here. A significant portion of this giving happened through informal networks rather than through established foundations and funds.

More recently, Muslim giving has been gaining greater visibility for a number of reasons. Many of our philanthropic and nonprofit institutions are relatively new to the scene. Among our grant applicants, 20 percent of the Muslim, Arab, and South Asian-led organizations were founded before September 11 and 80 percent were established on or after September 12, 2001. This tells us that many charitable efforts in our communities have been launched in response to the crises we faced. And, we've seen another burst of need  — as well as innovation — since the 2016 general election, which signaled another moment of crisis and "profiling" of our communities.

Unfortunately, many philanthropic efforts led by people of color have been historically overlooked and undervalued in this country. "Our issues" have not been seen as relevant to American society overall. More recently, however, attacks on the civil and human rights of Muslims in the U.S. have signaled a broader erosion of rights across communities. It has become increasingly clear to us that Muslim communities are going to have to coordinate our efforts to defend ourselves against these threats and work more closely with other impacted communities to protect ourselves.

At Pillars, we've recognized the need to target our resources, which includes funding those who are at the forefront of some of these challenges. As Muslims have entered more civic spaces and joined more networks and coalitions — and have been recognized for our work in doing so — our profile has been rising. We are intentional about raising our visibility because it is important for everyone to understand the role Muslims have played, and continue to play, in bettering society, whether through our philanthropic, cultural, or civic contributions.

PND: The fund works to achieve its goals through three program areas — grantmaking in support of "rights, wellness, and understanding"; empowering American Muslims to tell their own stories and ensure more accurate and authentic representations of Muslims in the media and culture; and providing thought leadership to foundations, think tanks, media, and civic leaders. Why is culture-focused work — for example, the multiyear public arts and oral history project you funded at Brooklyn Historical Society — so central to your efforts?

KS: Culture plays a tremendous role in shaping our beliefs about ourselves and others. Unfortunately, many people in the U.S. still hold a low opinion of Muslims, and much of that is rooted in the damaging narratives we’ve all been exposed to through popular culture, especially film and television, over many decades. If we want to shift how people perceive Muslims, we can't afford to ignore culture. Brooklyn Historical Society’s Muslims in Brooklyn oral history project, led by historian Zaheer Ali, empowers the borough’s Muslim communities to narrate a piece of New York City history. By listening to their stories, told in their own words, anyone can learn how Muslims have helped shape one of the world's most influential metropolises.

There is so much power in crafting and sharing your own story, which is why we are inspired by the oral history project. There is also a vast untapped reservoir of Muslim storytellers that we want to help organize and nurture. Muslims are one of the most racially and ethnically diverse faith communities in the U.S., and only when we appreciate the many perspectives within our community will we begin to understand what it means to be a Muslim in America. For example, the perspective of a newly arrived Syrian refugee could not be more different from the perspective of a fourth-generation African-American Muslim. We want to help create space to honor and share all of these stories.

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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.

*****

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.

_________________

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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