Growing Our Philanthropy Team

As we cautiously begin to sense a light at the end of the pandemic, I am reflecting on the philanthropy field, the people in it, and how we work together. Before discussing some welcome changes—and the benefits they could bring—I must first acknowledge how fortunate I am to simply have a job at this time, let alone a seat at a foundation. That is always an inherent position of privilege from which to work; it is amplified at this unique moment.

Through the 12-months-and-counting “moment” of the COVID-19 pandemic, the sense of team—which is incorporated into the Jim Joseph Foundation’s values—across the field has manifested itself in new ways. This could have long-lasting, positive effects for all of us. While there are 11 Foundation team members who work with grantee-partners to pursue the Foundation’s mission of fostering compelling, effective Jewish learning experiences for young Jews, my sense of team is much wider than that. The Foundation recently undertook a network mapping exercise of sorts to discover which colleagues at other foundations we correspond with, and how frequently that occurs. There are some colleagues at other foundations that I connect and strategize with more than internal team members. What does this say about our field? What opportunities do this type of communication present moving forward? How can this wider “team” most benefit grantees? Here are three possible answers to these questions.

More individuals in the field are eager to learn and learn together.

From more broadly sharing research and program evaluations and best practices for virtual engagement, to sharing lessons learned about philanthropy’s role in supporting Jewish life right now, there is a palpable sense among colleagues that we’re all learning in a new environment—oftentimes failing forward, and oftentimes with each other. This is a significant culture change in the field, perhaps accelerated over the last year. Colleagues, me included, are more open to meaningful and constructive feedback about grantmaking operations and how we support grantees. Some of this has been borne of necessity—we’re working in different ways through different types of interactions. We are more vulnerable and know that we need all the help we can get. I see the benefit of this learning happening organically and want to be even more intentional about making space for it, including carving out at least two hours per week to talk with colleagues at organizations outside of the Foundation’s grantee-partners.

Increased interactions among colleagues places greater importance on building trust and care.

Beyond the learnings that result from broader, field-wide team engagement, colleagues are pushing each other to be better in different aspects of work. This results in important changes in how we approach interactions with each other. Recently, I was strategizing with a colleague from another foundation about a fieldwide initiative. As we exchanged perspectives, I shared how we could each show up in the work, including suggestions for how they could show up. I later heard from a different colleague that my communication was not received in a helpful way. In fact, I had offended my colleague, and had eroded elements of the foundation of our trust. This third colleague was inviting me to repair the damage, to say we are all part of the same team and to understand how my intentions differed from my impact—and to address it. A follow-up call with my colleague was not easy for me but was critically important. The interaction highlighted that these deep, meaningful relationships enable real challenges and vulnerabilities to be shared among professional peers. That’s a positive. This also means that we need to treat these relationships with the care and respect we would of any relationship we want to sustain and grow. I commit to further helping build this across our sector, with a particular attention to the challenges of this work across lines of positional power to the Foundation’s grantee-partners as well.

Increased knowledge sharing among funder representatives can greatly help grantees.

For example, when the pandemic first hit, one of our earliest responses was to mobilize with our peer foundations to form The Jewish Community Response and Impact Fund, designed especially to be efficient for, and responsive to, potential grantees. From knowledge about what interventions are impactful, to what organizations need help in certain areas, to what potential grantees need to submit as part of a proposal, JCRIF is a systematic way for funders to share with each other. And JCRIF’s design to create a more efficient system for grantees reflects the power of a more connected, cohesive funder community. In this approach, grantees ultimately can more quickly be funneled to the right potential funders. One funder can more quickly aid another in helping a grantee maximize impact and/or overcome a challenge. Knowledge is power—and knowledge helps grantees.

In the spirit of a wider team, with more relationships among colleagues than ever before, and the trust that we all go further together than any one individual, the Foundation will soon share a major new report on networked leadership. This report lays the foundation for a new emphasis on the connections across our field and how to build programs that strengthen entire networks, rather than just developing specific individuals. As we continue to strengthen the network of professionals working in foundations, we see more benefits, and can work to leverage this stronger, growing team for the betterment of all.