Are We Investing in the Same People Twice? Spoiler Alert – the Answer is “Yes!”

By Steven Green

A common question in philanthropy is whether there is double counting of the number of beneficiaries a funder’s grant dollars serves. Often, by asking this question, there is an implicit bias that reaching the same individuals more often than a single intervention is not a desired outcome.

Why is this question relevant to the Jim Joseph Foundation? On a cursory level, approximately 18% of the active grants in our portfolio provide Jewish education and engagement opportunities to youth and families with young children [age 2-12]; 39% to teens [age 13-17]; 22% to college-age students [age 18-22]; and 21% to post-college [age 18-35]. The same individual could be a PJ Library recipient, then a BBYO member, then a Hillel-engaged student, then a Birthright Israel participant, then a Moishe House resident, and then a DeLeT-trained educator (the Foundation in-part supports each of these organizations). Rabbi David Kasher, for example, shared his experience as a Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical Student, a UC Berkeley Hillel Senior Jewish Educator and graduate student, the Senior Rabbinic Educator at Kevah, and an alumnus and faculty member of Reboot – collectively a cornucopia of legacy organizations and start-ups that fit within the Jim Joseph Foundation’s definition of Jewish education.

Contrary to this double – or triple, or quadruple – counting being a negative, the Foundation sees this trajectory as both a promising and a fruitful investment in Jewish education. No single stage of life has a monopoly on being influential and offering space for an individual to engage with relevant knowledge. Thus, the Foundation views Jewish life and learning as a continuum in which investments can build upon one another; they are not narrow moments in time experienced in a vacuum.

Support for Israel experiences is a quintessential example: In 2006, the Foundation made its first investment in Birthright Israel to support the ten-day immersive experience for young Jewish adults. Then, in 2007, the Foundation made its first multi-year investment in NEXT: A Division of Birthright Israel, viewing the trip itself as a powerful opportunity that warranted local engagement and follow-up for interested alumni. In recent years, the Foundation has invested in Onward Israel, a program designed as a post-Birthright experience that offers young adults the opportunity to engage in Israeli life and culture in a deeper way through a multi-month internship and integrated Jewish learning.

Similarly, teens in the Community-Based Teen Education and Engagement Initiatives are primed to ultimately engage with Hillel or AEPi or a Shalom Hartman Institute iEngage cohort. We know, too, there is overlap among individuals trained by the Wexner Field Fellowship or the Leading Edge CEO Onboarding Initiative and other organizations the Foundation supports.

Investments informed by this “continuum mindset” reflect the understanding that a variety of rich Jewish learning experiences at all stages of life creates numerous opportunities for personal growth and development. According to Erik and Joan Erikson’s mid-20th century theory of psychosocial development, of the nine[1] stages of life that individuals undergo, there are five unique stages between the ages of 2 and 40. These are represented by the following virtues, respectively: Will [ages 2-4], Purpose [4-5], Competence [5-12], Fidelity [12-18], Love [18-40]. The Foundation has a better chance of fulfilling its vision – More young Jews engage in ongoing Jewish learning and choose to live vibrant Jewish lives – if we reach and engage individuals at each of these touchpoints, rather than focusing on a single stage.

Investing through a strategic, multi-tiered method is a virtuous cycle. Fundamental lessons and values are learned through varying pedagogy, experiences, and academic rigor depending on the stage of life and the individual, with many of the core learnings gleaned from early childhood through young adulthood. When an intervention succeeds, the Foundation strongly considers reinvesting. At the same time, the Foundation does not hesitate to invest in a new initiative designed to engage many individuals already influenced by a prior investment. It is our desire to provide meaningful Jewish learning for more than just a moment in time.

Steven Green is Director of Grants Management and Program Officer at the Jim Joseph Foundation.

[1] Erik H. Erikson, Joan M. Erikson, The Life Cycle Completed: Extended Version (W. W. Norton, 1998) [originally 8 stages]

Cross-posted on the Jim Joseph Foundation Blog