Danielle Foreman: Encouraging Philanthropy Among Her Peers

Danielle ForemanBy Abigail Pickus

For Danielle Foreman, working in philanthropy isn’t just about channeling resources – it’s also about making givers of her generation.

“Working in philanthropy is a great honor and comes with a lot of responsibility,” said the 31-year-old Senior Program Officer at the San Francisco-based Koret Foundation. “I feel philanthropy also includes building others people’s interest in philanthropy, especially other NextGen Jews to make sure they have a voice in shaping the community they want to be part of.”

Philanthropy, after all, isn’t just for the older generations. And it isn’t something haphazard, either. There is a methodology to it, something Foreman soon found out many of her peers did not know.

Take the recent ALS ‘ice bucket challenge’ campaign that went viral. At dinner with some girlfriends in the aftermath of the campaign, Foreman found the spotlight suddenly on her when her friends wanted to know if she – the philanthropy professional – had given to the cause like they had.

“My answer was no,” said Foreman. “I explained that while ALS is a very worthy cause, it was not part of my personal giving strategy, and the influx of cash in one year was going to be a challenge for the organization.”

Wondering how nearly $100 million could be bad for an organization, Foreman went on to explain that the millions of new donors who participated in the popular campaign – owing to a very savvy social media strategy – were probably not going to be repeat donors. Turning the table around she asked her friends: How many would give again?

The response was negligible, which only proved Foreman’s point.

“This was the first time that many of these ladies, some with tremendous new-tech wealth, had even thought about how their gift could affect an organization – and potentially affect it in a negative way. They also didn’t realize that one could have a real giving strategy aligned with their personal values,” said Foreman.

The point?

“Philanthropy needs to be taught and discussed. Strategic philanthropy goes hand in hand with responsible philanthropy and we can’t forget the organization’s needs in our quest to do good,” she said.

Foreman grew up in Marin County, just north of San Francisco, a second generation Californian. (At 96, her grandfather read Torah at his synagogue up until last year.)

She came of age in a tight-knit family in which Judaism played a central role, but it was only after her father, an attorney, participated in the first cohort of the Wexner Heritage Program, that Judaism became even more instrumental.

“The Wexner program shifted for him his role in our family into a Jewish leader,” recalled Foreman. “ I could feel a change in how we did holidays with him providing more content and meaning to our family’s Jewish experiences. It brought our family’s Jewishness closer together.”

After attending the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication, she continued on for an M.P.A. in public and nonprofit management and policy from New York University’s Robert F. Wagner School for Public Service, graduating in 2009.

New York was far away from home for Foreman – literally and figuratively.

“Being from the Bay Area, I had absolutely no idea about the New York Jewish world,” she said.

While she was amazed with the variety of Jewish organizations and excited about the way the Jewish community was doing so many interesting things, but as an outsider who knew she would eventually make her way back West, she knew she didn’t want to engage in a traditional way.

So when a friend suggested she join the Slingshot Fund, a network of Jews in their 20s and 30s who collectively decide which Jewish organizations to support (Slingshot also produces an annual guide highlighting the most innovative North American Jewish organizations), she realized she had found her calling.”

“Philanthropy was a place where I had a voice and could contribute,” she said. “It’s a different way of connecting to the Jewish community rather than just participating in a program.”

In 2010, Foreman and her New Yorker husband, Jonathan Brandon, moved back to San Francisco, thanks to a transfer by her husband’s employer.

“We always wanted to come back to the Bay Area. It’s a place that exemplifies our values, it’s where I had grown up and I wanted to live close to my family. We don’t plan on going anywhere else,” she said.

At first, Foreman looked for policy jobs, having worked previously as a political media and strategy consultant.

But something shifted when she returned to San Francisco and when a job at Koret opened up, she realized that it was philanthropy that she wanted to do.

As one of Koret’s two program officers, Foreman manages half of the foundation’s giving focused on grants in the Jewish community, particularly in the areas of the Initiative on Jewish Peoplehood and the Initiative to Combat Anti-Semitism.

When Foreman joined Koret, the Initiative on Jewish Peoplehood had just been formed. Working together with board members, she helped imagine it to include NextGens and how they identify and connect to the Jewish community.

“Most of the grantees at the time were traditional Jewish institutions, such as JCC’s and Hillels,” recalled Foreman. “I looked at our portfolio and realized that in general it skewed toward an older generation. The NextGen piece was totally missing even though in the Bay Area it was thriving. So I decided to push the foundation to think more inclusively. Coming with my Slingshot lens, I thought about how Jewish NextGens want to connect with organizations that they feel are relevant to them and offer meaning and purpose.”

Through her encouragement, Koret began supporting organizations like Reboot, Urban Adamah, Moishe House, Kevah and G-dcast, all led and geared toward NextGens.

Looking forward, Foreman knows it will include one thing for sure: her commitment to encouraging philanthropy among her peers.

“One constant for me is about providing opportunities for NextGens to really think about ways of getting involved in philanthropy,” she said. “I love being able to see them get excited about philanthropy, to think through what issues drive them, what values motivate them and how they can be a part of creating social change in their communities.”

“Danielle Foreman: Encouraging Philanthropy Among Her Peers” is part of an on-going series on young Jewish adults – both entrepreneurs and communal professionals – making a difference in their world, and ours.