Engaging Young Jewish Philanthropists to Transform the Jewish Future

Screen capture: Slingshotfund.org

A Look at the History and Future of Slingshot
By Coby Lerner

I found myself participating in my first Slingshot Fund a year after graduating from college when I had just moved to New York. I was seeking to learn about innovative Jewish work, an understanding of the tactics that make philanthropy effective, a connection to Jewish life beyond Hillel, and a community of peers grappling with similar questions around identity, legacy, and philanthropy. As I learned the story of how Slingshot came to be, it felt like an even better fit than I’d realized, and I eventually signed on to join the board.

Slingshot was established 14 years ago with the support of Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies by a group of young philanthropists trying to identify and fund organizations working on ambitious and innovative projects within Jewish life. The organization eventually developed three core programs: The Slingshot Guide, Slingshot Day, and the The Slingshot Fund. Through this work, Slingshot helped identify, support, and celebrate over 300 organizations that have collectively changed the face of the Jewish nonprofit sector.

The Jewish community is now pursuing more innovative and exciting projects than ever, and the approaches championed by this vanguard can be seen in every corner of the field. By helping to mainstream Jewish innovation, we created an opportunity for us to reflect on where we might focus and achieve greater impact in the future. In 2016, we conducted an evaluation and found that Slingshot has had a profound impact on the space both by helping the community to prioritize innovation and through serving as a critical resource for emerging Jewish philanthropists. In fact, 72% of respondents report Slingshot played an important role in motivating funders to support Jewish innovation and 85% of next-gen funders who participated in our skill-building programs reported that Slingshot had played a major role in increasing their knowledge about philanthropy and their connections to organizations doing innovative work in the Jewish community.

In 2018, armed with data on our strengths, opportunities, and challenges, Slingshot embarked on a strategic planning process to determine how to further our impact. We engaged the consultant team of Positive Pathways Consulting and One Leap for the varied and crucial perspectives they brought to our work in the fields of community building, innovation, and Jewish life. The question at the center of our process was simply this: do we evolve with our tools (e.g., the Guide and the Day) and focus on supporting capacity building for innovative organizations, or do we double down on our original mission and identify new approaches to empowering young philanthropists?

Our new direction is guided by the following three ideas:

  1. Our most unique asset is the network of emerging young philanthropists we’ve built through our programs. We also recognized that as much as our programs had benefited the growth of young, innovative organizations, today there are many capacity-building organizations better equipped to do this work.
  2. The anticipated turnover of professional Jewish leadership in the coming years is going to be matched by an equally significant turnover in volunteer leadership. According to a 2017 Leading Edge study, over the next five to seven years, 75% to 90% of Jewish nonprofit CEOs and other senior leaders will retire or otherwise leave the sector in the United States. Moreover, a 2018 Chronicle of Philanthropy report estimates $8.8 trillion dollars will be passed down to Gen X and millennial Americans by 2027.
  3. At a time in which people of all ages are grappling with the dynamics of power, privilege, and money, the next generation of volunteer leaders will need to lead with empathy, compassion, and humility. We are going to need to strengthen the partnerships between volunteer and professional leaders in order to successfully navigate the challenges that our generation will be called on to lead through.

In support of these ideas, Slingshot is returning to our roots as an organization that mobilizes next generation funders to help build a vibrant Jewish future. Here’s what we’ll be doing in the coming months and years:

Slingshot Fellowship

We’re launching a one-of-a-kind, customized educational experience to equip the next generation of Jewish funders with the leadership skills, philanthropic tools, and network they need to deepen their impact on Jewish life.

Board Training Programs

At a time when many Jewish organizations must adapt, recharge, and respond to pressing concerns, we are ready to glean the insights and creativity of next gen Jewish philanthropists to build a stronger Jewish future. As a result, we are partnering with the Paul and Jenna Segal Foundation and 21/64 to distribute a new board training program to train next gen philanthropists for board leadership. Graduates of the PJSF X 21/64 Board Leadership course are eligible for matching with boards of Jewish organizations that align with their passions, skills and where their leadership can make an impact. We’re also offering opportunities for existing boards to learn about the culture changes and long-term investments that are necessary for nurturing multi-generational board leadership.

Action Circles

To respond to grave challenges in the Jewish world and beyond, we are offering facilitated groups for young activists to set their own agendas, work on issues of interest, and leverage their resources, skills, contacts, and passions to make significant change.

Grant-Making Resources

Slingshot will be launching a number of new products aimed at shifting the way we think and talk about philanthropy within the Jewish community. The first of these will be available later this month: Slingshot’s Guide to Funding with a Gender Lens, created through a partnership with gender justice leader, Tuti B. Scott of Changemaking Strategies. This pioneering resource helps funders express their leadership, philanthropy, and vision for the future within a framework of gender equity and is the first of many topics we’ll be exploring. 

After participating in several Slingshot Fund giving circles and serving on the board for five years, I’m excited to share all of this with you as Slingshot’s current board chair, a role for which my experiences with Slingshot have prepared me. However, I’m even more excited to take the skills I’ve honed through my time at Slingshot and bring them to the next organization I will serve, and the one after that. We will measure our success by the number and quality of leaders we help, and the impact they have as active change agents working in true partnership to shape a vibrant, relevant, and continuously evolving Jewish community. We’re excited to roll up our sleeves and get to work. We hope you will join us.

To learn more, visit https://slingshotfund.org.

Coby Lerner is Board Chair of Slingshot.