Defining Success at The Samuel Bronfman Foundation

by Dana Raucher

All philanthropists seek in some way to use their gifts to bring lasting change to the world. What distinguishes one donor from another is the underlying motivation behind their giving: the unique inspiration behind the direction and mission of their philanthropic work. As professionals committed to inspiring the renaissance of a thriving, relevant Jewish community, we know that Jewish philanthropy should be identified by more than just the fact that those giving the money happen to be Jewish. Instead, our goal should be to bring underlying meaning and articulated intention to our giving, and to encourage others to do the same.

At The Samuel Bronfman Foundation, we believe that if we can encourage a generation of Jews to feel a sense of ownership and commitment to their community and its traditions, the case for Jewish engagement will already be an essential part of their identity by the time they are in a position to become leaders themselves. Therefore, we define success in our philanthropic work as the ability to encourage a rising generation of Jews to interact with each other and with the world through a Jewish lens. We do this by providing them opportunities to engage and grapple with core Jewish values. We seek to give young Jews the tools and the confidence to make their own choices, to bring their own ideas to the forefront and to move our community in a direction that is meaningful to them.

Just as we are confident that our history and culture are crucial in inspiring today’s youth to seriously engage with Judaism, we also know that connecting with these values gives direction to our own philanthropic vision. Because of this, we seek to make Jewish study central to our own work here at the Foundation. Through the Bronfman Vision Forum, we bring together philanthropic and communal leaders for the opportunity to engage in meaningful study of Jewish texts, fostering intellectual growth and a deeper understanding of the Jewish values that drive our work. In doing so, we have taken significant steps towards placing Jewish learning and ideas at the heart of our communal discourse.

Our experience shows us that for Jewish philanthropy to be truly successful, all involved – from donors, to nonprofit professionals and the individuals who ultimately benefit from the work of these organizations – have to emerge from the grantmaking process with a greater understanding of Jewish knowledge and values that will then empower them to engage with the community more fully and meaningfully. Learning cannot be a supplemental part of our work. If we are to successfully make the mission and direction of our philanthropy fundamentally Jewish, our connection to Jewish knowledge must inform our thinking and undergird the decisions we make on a daily basis.

Dana Raucher is the executive director of The Samuel Bronfman Foundation.