A Bridge Leading Somewhere

Since the Jim Joseph Foundation’s inception nine years ago, bridge funding has been a part of the Foundation’s grantmaking strategy. While usually defined by shorter grant periods, a bridge funding grant can have a significant catalyzing impact on the grantee.

The Foundation’s bridge funding grants have most commonly followed a leadership transition in the organization and often have also resulted from the development of strategic and business plans, capacity building plans, and pivots in overall mission and vision. Bridge funding also has been awarded as an initial foray into capacity building when program funding had been awarded previously as a multi-year commitment.

While these are common characteristics of the Foundation’s bridge-funding grants, grant recipients of bridge funding include a broad array of Jewish organizations:  Hillel International: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, Jewish Student Connection, Moishe Foundation, Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies – North America, Reboot, and Repair the World.  Following the bridge funding (ranging from $100,000 over several months to $3,000,000 over three years), many of these organizations received multi-year grants and were arguably better positioned to capitalize on the more substantial grants as a result of that sequence.  In many foundations, including the Jim Joseph Foundation, the first grant awarded generally has a notably shorter term than the second.

At the same time, approximately 23 percent of the Foundation’s major grant recipients received bridge funding after receiving multi-year grants—a seemingly regressive kind of funding arrangement. But this would be an incorrect assumption. Regardless of sequence, receiving a bridge funding grant is an important development for a grantee. In thinking about bridge funding, the following insights gleaned from my time as a foundation professional may be relevant for funders:

1) Consider bridge funding even if an organization has always received long-term support.

Whether following a change in leadership, a pivot in an organization’s strategic priorities, or the formation of a new strategic plan/strategic business plan, bridge funding may be the appropriate step for a foundation or individual funder to make. Simply because it is funding awarded for a lesser amount of time, it is not a value judgment on an organization—nor should it be presented as one.

2) Do not call a grant bridge funding if there is no prospect of future support for the organization.

A grantee invests tremendous amounts of time and resources cultivating a relationship with a funder. Transparency, too, is critical for both the funder and the grantee to sustain this relationship. If there is no chance for future support, share this information with the grantee as early as possible. Postponing this will not make the grantee feel any better. 

3) An effective bridge funding grant should not be less on a per-year basis than a multi-year grant would be.

If a foundation is asked to award $100,000 per year over a five year period, it is unlikely that awarding $50,000 for one year will be adequate to accomplish year-one goals set forth in the original grant.  Often, if there is strategic planning or business planning involved, the bridge funding could be higher on a per-year basis than the proposed multi-year grant.

4) Bridge funding does not have to be for one year.

Despite the fact that a majority of grants correspond to calendar or fiscal years, the term of a grant need not fit neatly within those parameters.  A bridge funding grant could be for one month or two and a half years, depending on the objectives set during that period of time.  Similarly, a one-year grant may not be bridge funding.

Bridge funding grants—with their varying characteristics and purposes—are, like other grants, an opportunity for funder and grantee to deepen a relationship and work towards a common goal. Any grant speaks to the confidence that a funder has in a grantee to think creatively and to implement strategically. The length and largess of a grant do not define an organization’s importance and are not barometers for achievement. Rather, the outcomes an organization achieves are the true measurements of success. And often, bridge funding can be an important means to that end.