Teaming Up to Be More Effective Philanthropists
Many people ask us, "What is the Jewish Funders Network (JFN)?" When people express confusion about something you are so involved in, it comes as a surprise, and a prompt. Since most of us in the Wexner network are very connected to philanthropic giving, the three of us thought we would share what JFN does and why it is strategic.
More than twenty years ago, a handful of funders convened to advance Jewish philanthropy, to share best practices and to elevate social justice and progressive ideas. Today, JFN is a multifaceted international Jewish network of 500 members, a blend of multigenerational donors, foundations and professionals, from the full religious and secular spectrum and across all political streams. There are few other organizations that bring together like-minded donors from around the globe (the US, UK, Israel, Asia, Africa and Latin America) to explore the breadth and depth of current trends in Jewish life. For each of us, JFN has come to occupy a special place, and we challenged each other to articulate why this is so.
JFN serves philanthropists whose Jewishness informs their giving and engages them in dialogue around pressing issues affecting local and global Jewish communities. Its aim is to leverage the power of the network and commit to effective funding. Almost all activities discussed or facilitated by JFN relate to the Jewish world, Israel or both. Its professional staff advises and supports individual donors and larger philanthropies. JFN believes it takes a network to really move the needle. Today, by pooling our intellectual and financial resources, we can become more effective philanthropists and have deeper impact in our extended communities.
The highlight for JFN is its annual international conference. Taking place every three years in Israel, and in other years in a US city, the conference is a superb opportunity to network with like-minded funders and be engaged with high caliber speakers on relevant topics. The conferences always include local site visits to explore community projects. Beyond the annual conference, there are numerous networking opportunities throughout the year, introducing members to grassroots projects, innovative partnership models and opportunities to learn about failures and successes from peers. All too often, we find organizations replicating what exists or failing to learn from mistakes already made, merely because they were not aware of other similar programs.
Peer influences are as important in philanthropy as in life. Individuals bring their empathy and expertise, allowing members to expand their horizons. Currently, JFN connects 3,928 funders from 100 giving circles in 21 regions across 6 countries. Foundations and donors wishing to innovate more widely use JFN as a venue to offer matching funds to populate a field with new ideas. For example, the Jewish Social Change Matching Fund, initiated in 2012, brought seven foundations together as partners to pool $1 million for Jewish social change.
JFN staff provides expert guidance and professional resources to new and seasoned funders, and links members via an extensive series of tools — "Greenbooks," webinars, case studies, etc. — to meet each member’s interests and passion. Greenbooks are guides, research reports created at JFN, for investing intelligently in the Jewish community — for example: “Jewish Day School Financial Sustainability and Affordability” or “Hitchadshut Yehudi: Jewish Renewal in Israel,” published in 2014; or the most recent , “Funding Environmental Stewardship in Israel,” published in June 2015.
Sharing resources is key at JFN; we love that we can learn from more established foundations, whether large or small. Why reinvent the wheel, if we can find collaborative and creative ways to leverage our limited resources! And that is why every voice is heard at JFN. It is a safe space where respect and acknowledgment are essential, where we agree to disagree and celebrate our diversity.
JFN is unique in helping funders to become effective philanthropic leaders in the Jewish world of the 21st century. To do more impactful tikkun olam, join us at the next Jewish Funders Network International Conference in San Diego, April 3rd through 5th, 2016, and see for yourself.
May we all continue to strive to make a peaceful and just world for all.
Linda Mirels, a Wexner Heritage Program alum (New York 4), was appointed chair of the board of UJA-Federation of New York on July 1, 2013. In addition, she sits on the Executive Committee of the Board of Governors of the American Jewish Committee and serves on the boards of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, the Jewish Funders Network and the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, as well as the advisory board of the Metropolitan Opera. She also serves as a trustee of her family foundation, which focuses largely on social entrepreneurship projects, education and microfinance in Africa and Israel. Linda has a certification from the William Alanson White Institute in Organizational Consulting. She has three children and lives in New York City. Linda can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Yoav Shoham, a Wexner Heritage Program alum (Palo Alto 03), is Principal Scientist at Google. Previously, he worked as Professor of Computer Science at Stanford University. Yoav can be reached at email@example.com.
Sonia Simon Cummings, a Wexner Heritage Program alum (LA/Endeavor) and delegate on the Heritage Alumni Council, has been an activist/professional volunteer, focusing on the environment, the arts, coexistence and Jewish life. Prior to her involvement in the independent sector, Sonia spent 20 years in the design industry as a product developer in the US, Japan and China. Sonia is also a fine arts painter and is currently working on a video/book project on legacy. Sonia is membership chair and a trustee of The Jewish Funders Network, and also serves as a trustee of The Nathan Cummings Foundation and Artis. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.