Teen philanthropists award grants to deserving nonprofits (Jewish Community Youth Foundation, Princeton, NJ).

It doesn’t look like much at first: a garden, just a pile of dirt. With the right natural elements and people to tend to it, that pile of dirt transforms; its space turns into a gathering place for community, its food turns into sustenance for families, its process turns into a learning experience for young and old. In this time in our tradition, which celebrates both harvesting and gathering, we are excited to share the product of our own patience, the result of many people  and natural elements coming together — a program that we are confident will continue to bring  gathering, sustenance and learning to communities around the world. 

The Jewish Teen Funders Network Foundation Board Incubator is not a gardening program, but it is taking advantage of fertile ground. Jewish teen philanthropy has been around for more than a decade. In 2004, the South Peninsula Jewish Community Teen Foundation and the East Bay Jewish Community Teen Foundation launched programs and introduced the idea of youth philanthropy, through a Jewish lens, to Northern California. Over those 11 years, the San Francisco community embraced the program and expanded it to include four boards and alumni experiences, involving 500 teens who have allocated over a million dollars to nonprofits.  Our mission is to educate more young people about the value of philanthropy, and to expose them experientially to the complexities and strategies involved in raising and allocating funds and supporting recipients.  Across the country, programs of a similar nature were popping up — in Washington D.C., Denver, Chicago, Princeton and beyond. The recognition of a trend led to the establishment of the Jewish Teen Funders Network. JTFN serves as a central resource for the quickly growing field of Jewish teen philanthropy — working to grow and to strengthen the field of Jewish teen philanthropy, and, by extension, family philanthropy. 

Across the country diverse groups of Jewish teens serve on foundation boards, develop mission statements, fundraise, explore nonprofits, review requests for proposals and allocate grants — all through a Jewish lens. We have already learned, through impact studies, that participants feel more confident and clear about their Jewish identities, feel empowered in their Jewish giving and have a greater understanding of their role as leaders in their Jewish, and other, communities.  And, they stimulate their families to be more generous, and more strategic, in their giving.

It’s interesting that Sukkot, a harvest festival, occurs when there is little to harvest. Instead, it celebrates the end of one season and the transition into the next.  Likewise, we are launching a new season in a second cohort of communities.  Applications are open now and due November 21. Through the Foundation Board Incubator, the local community brings the natural elements in the form of a host organization that will attract diverse teens and families ready to explore Jewish philanthropy, dedicated staff members who will guide the development and implementation of the program and local funding champions who are dedicated to sustaining the program year after year. We bring the tools in the form of the field’s best practices, extensive operational and programmatic consultation and financial support to seed each program.

We are thrilled to work together — Stefanie, as the founding director of the Jewish Teen Funders Network, and Laura, an early supporter and champion of the San Francisco programs, along with our partners at the Maimonides Fund — to ensure that more communities can facilitate this incredible program. As we grow to scale, we hope to reach out to other Wexner Alumni in cities all across North America for valuable local input and partners in funding. Together we will plant, we will grow, and over time, we will harvest — so that each generation will have the skills to teach the next.

Read more about the Foundation Board Incubator.  We’d love your help in spreading the word!

Laura Lauder, a Wexner Heritage alumna (SF 3), is a venture philanthropist in Silicon Valley, focused on leadership, education and the Jewish community. She can be reached at laura@lauderpartners.com.

Stefanie Zelkind, a Wexner Graduate Fellowship alumna (Class 16) is the founding director of the Jewish Teen Funders Network and can be reached at stefanie@jtfn.org.