Reflections on The Samuel Bronfman Foundation’s Second Stage Fund

by Ariel Groveman Weiner and Miriam Levine

The Samuel Bronfman Foundation launched a Second Stage Fund to help enable post start-ups actualize their transition into the next stage of development. We recently announced the grant recipients of the fund, and want to share our initial reflections on this process. As a Foundation that believes in long-term, deep impact philanthropy, we hoped to specifically address the need of supporting mid-level organizations at critical points in their growth trajectories.

We received 131 applications from organizations that are all thinking about their long term sustainability. While the applicants shared this common goal, it was clear that each organization’s path toward sustainability is highly specific and nuanced. We saw a field in which organizations are at varying stages in asking questions about their second stage growth, falling at different points across a spectrum. Applicants to the Second Stage Fund represented a wide range of ages, focuses, and budgets, each facing distinct opportunities and challenges in their current stages of development.

  • Content area: The largest focus area represented was the education sector. We also received applications that focused on the environment, youth engagement, spirituality, arts and culture, Israel, social justice, and more.
  • Geographic scale: While several applicants are based in Israel and Latin America, the majority were based in North America. The applicant pool from North America was split evenly between local and national organizations.
  • Budget size: Budgets ranged from only $10,000 to as much as $4.9 million. The two largest budget categories were the organizations with budgets between $100,000 and $300,000 and organizations with budgets from $1-2 million.
  • Incubation: Of the 131 applications, 40 of the organizations were incubated and received resources and services to position their startups for success. Our applicants that had been incubated showed healthier budgets than those organizations that had not been incubated. Of the organizations that were incubated, only 13% ended the year with a deficit, in contrast to 20% among the non-incubated applicant pool.
  • Age: The age range of the entire applicant pool was from 6 years old at our youngest, to 94 years old at our oldest.

The field is wide and deep, but the common denominator is the need for increased capital in order for applicants to achieve their goals. It is striking that given the current economic climate, very few organizations proposed mergers, spin-offs, scaling down, or closures – the majority proposing growth models of exponential expansion.

Despite the wide range of organizations and the varied growth trajectories and circumstances of our applicants, at this juncture we are able to share with you the questions that we believe our field needs to address in order to ensure the long-term sustainability of mid-level organizations.

  • Should funders continue to support start-ups when there is an abundance of post-start-ups competing for limited resources? How can innovative projects be incorporated into already-existing infrastructure?
  • The Bikkurim Abundant Harvest Study shared metrics by which to evaluate second stage readiness. However, no applicant fulfilled all of these qualifications. How should funders identify which markers are most important for a specific organization?
  • Applicants expressed the challenge of an increased need for multi-year grants at this transitional stage, combined with the difficulty of securing multi-year commitments. How can the funding community explore ways to make multi-year giving the standard?
  • We believe that there are alternative models in between closure and expansion. How can we encourage organizations to think about creative models of sustainability earlier on in their development?

The Samuel Bronfman Foundation’s Second Stage Fund is our first attempt to understand the composition of this cohort in the Jewish community, the needs of post start-ups, and the challenges organizations are facing as they make the transition into their next phase of development. We are now positioned to ask questions and exchange ideas with our colleagues to create viable solutions for their long-term sustainability.

Ariel Groveman Weiner is the Associate Director of The Samuel Bronfman Foundation.

Miriam Levine is the Program Associate of The Samuel Bronfman Foundation.

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  1. says

    First, I want to congratulate the Samuel Bronfman Foundation for tackling the complexities of funding at second stage and to congratulate the three grant recipients: Hazon, Keshet, and Mechon Hadar on the extraordinary contributions they have made to the Jewish community and on their impact yet to come. Starting, running, and growing an innovative organization is no easy task. These three are a testament to what is possible and what the community gains from their perseverance. I also want to commend the staff of the Samuel Bronfman Foundation for engaging in such a thoughtful and reflective process and for sharing their learning so broadly. There are no easy answers to second stage and in order to find them, we will all need to share what we are learning. I want to respond briefly to some of the questions Ariel raises. I believe the time has come to seriously balance the amount of energy and resources that are poured into generating new ideas vs. cultivating and supporting the strongest ideas. This does not mean halting investment and work at early stage. It does mean being more selective, actively encouraging collaboration, and helping entrepreneurs and established institutions work together more effectively. I heartily endorse Ariel’s call for multi-year funding — particularly for organizations that are a proven quantity with impressive (measured) results. Multi-year funding has a strong stabilizing effect and gives organizations the breathing room to tweak their model, professionalize their operations, and grow smartly. Even young organizations need to vision their ultimate scope– What is the right size to achieve our impact? When will we be able to feel our work is done and go out of business? Is there someone else working towards the same impacts with whom we might join forces now or in the future? Organizations still need to be nimble and opportunistic in the moment, but opportunism should not be their only growth strategy. I hope that the Samuel Bronfman Foundation will be the first of many to invest in second stage. Bikkurim looks forward to partnering formally and informally with funders and organizations interested in second stage growth.

  2. Aliza Kline says

    I noticed that all three organizations are directed by their long-time, founding directors and wonder if and how we can support successful succession of leadership, both professional and lay in the “innovation sector.” For organizations growing from start up to grown up, deepening the bench for successive leadership can be a key factor in organizational growth. Imagine the good Idit Klein from Keshet, Nigel Savage from Hazon and Elie Kaunfer from Mechon Hadar can do in the world beyond the organizations to which they’ve devoted themselves. Are we encouraging them to identify up and coming professionals who aspire to their roles? Let the mentoring begin!