Redefining Accountability to Incorporate Values

When one’s role at a philanthropic organization includes words like “grants management” and “compliance,” addressing tasks that fall under the “how” of organizational life is common. This includes everything from process to procedures to workflows—all of which are emphasized as core drivers of organizational excellence.  But this understanding lacks the acknowledgment that achieving excellence depends on more than just completing the task at hand. The challenge, rather, is focusing on the intentionality with which something should be done, rather than only focusing on how it should be done.

At the Jim Joseph Foundation, we strive to act with deep kavanah (intention) to foster compelling, effective learning experiences for young Jews. Our professional team focuses on the “how” of grantmaking and evaluation to pursue this mission. More recently, we also created space to focus on the values we hold as we do this work. The staff values below were fomented by the foundation’s culture committee, a diverse cross-section of the foundation team who asserted that how we conduct ourselves matters. Each staff value is linked to a Jewish value that stems from Pirkei Avot, a compendium of ethical texts that are rooted in morality and common decency. A copy of these values hangs on the wall of our office, and each manager now uses these as a core part of performance appraisals. In addition to agreeing to and embracing the staff values holistically, each team member agrees on one or two staff values with a manager at the beginning of each year on which to focus attention.

  • Respect & Humility: We assume positive intent (Tzelem Elohim) We are stewards of a tremendous legacy that began with the foundation’s benefactor, Jim Joseph z’’l. Since his passing in 2003 we’ve assumed the responsibility of positive intent and aim to treat others with uncompromising respect.
  • Learning: We are always developing and growing (Hitlamdoot) Every undertaking has failures and successes and we are compelled to acknowledge them all for personal and professional growth. Further, achievement is not merely about the individual. Collaboration, constructive discourse, and mentorship are necessary components of a shared learning environment. Investment in professional development both internally and for grantees helps accelerate the learning process.
  • Teamwork: We are one team and our teamwork makes us a smarter organization (Areivoot) We aspire to create a team-oriented approach to grantmaking such that grantee partners and foundation partners combine brainpower to solve challenges. We strive for a democratic and sincere approach to establishing our professional team—one that is informed by the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Each team member has a unique opportunity to lead and to follow. We continue to make space within all conversations so more voices can be elevated.
  • Integrity: We do the right thing even when no one is watching (Shleimoot) Honesty, transparency, and authenticity are three prerequisites for maintaining trust both internally among co-workers and externally among other colleagues. We embrace and try to live by these principles. Integrity extends to our internal policies (conflict of interest, code of ethics, whistleblower), external requirements (non-discrimination clauses, harassment policies, and general child and employee protection requirements), and regular dialogue with partners and stakeholders in the broader field.
  • Giving Back: We aspire to be good community stewards (Avodah) While giving is the essence of any foundation, this value relates to more than just the stewarding of effective philanthropy. Rather, “giving back” relates to volunteering as individuals and as a team to serve with the broader community. It also relates to acting with compassion. If a potential grantee-partner is not the right fit for the foundation, we strive to be cordial in the process helpful where possible.

The exercise of spending time thinking about and developing our staff values was both rewarding and beneficial to our team. We hope others set aside time to develop staff values, to practice them, and be proud of them. Given the work we do in philanthropy, it’s important we articulate the values of our work and what we stand for.

The Foundation’s Culture Committee is comprised of Nicole Levy, Executive Assistant to the President and CEO; Mallory Morales, Program Assistant; Dawne Bear Novicoff, Chief Operating Officer; Aaron Saxe, Senior Program Officer; Kari Simpson, Human Resources Director; and Sossena Walter, Director of Finance and Accounting. Jeff Tiell, former Program Officer at the Foundation, served on the culture committee too.