From Pushke to Power Suit
How the new Jewish women’s foundations are changing Jewish philanthropy and women’s lives
By Susan Weidman Schneider
[eJP note: The following article appeared in the Spring 2002 issue of Lilith Magazine. It is reprinted as a response to Women’s Philanthropy – Change Is In the Air, published on eJP yesterday.]
Ten years ago, a Jewish woman with a feminist consciousness and a checkbook had to read carefully and listen hard to support Jewish women’s and girls’ causes. Writing those checks required both research and decision-making. To give to education or to anti-violence work? To give to a women’s film project which might change minds or to a program for home bound elderly women which would keep their spirits alive? And our feminist philanthropist faced all this alone.
But not anymore. Since the early 1990s more than a dozen Jewish women’s foundations have sprung up in communities all across North America, from Vancouver to Miami, Boston to San Diego. And more foundations are being planned as you read this sentence. Joining such stalwarts as US-Israel Women-to-Women, which has been funding feminist projects in Israel for over 20 years, and the Women’s Empowerment Fund of The American Jewish World Service, the new community-based foundations pool contributions from women donors who then decide collectively – and strategically – how to use their money to improve the circumstances of women and girls. Most share a mandate to improve the status, health, self-awareness and general wellbeing of Jewish women and girls in both the United States and Israel. These funds range in size from those with less than $100,000 in assets to a few like the Jewish Women’s Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago, with 230 trustees each giving a minimum of $10,000 over five years, to the 10-million-dollar Hadassah Foundation which awarded its first grants, totaling more than half a million dollars, two years ago.
The 19 Jewish women’s funds spread across the U.S. and Canada have in the past few years funded projects to address eating disorders in Jewish teen girls, to teach leadership skills to Ethiopian Jewish women in Israel and Jewish women in the U.S., to reach out to lesbian, bisexual and transgender Jewish women, to curate an art exhibit on mikvah, to house homeless mothers and children, to help low-income women in Israel learn how to establish small businesses. The projects run the gamut from direct service and the economic empowerment of women to programs whose goals are to increase female self-esteem and spiritual enfranchisement.
The questions women are asking as they formulate the mission statements of the new foundations are both Jewish and feminist. Sarah Blustain, a Washington editor, asks: “Does giving Jewish mean giving to Jewish causes? Does giving as feminists mean giving to women? And does ‘repairing the world’ mean, literally, the world, or is it okay to just start with the homeless on my front steps?”
Why Jewish? Why women? And why now?
Jewish women are earning and inheriting more money now than ever before, part of the huge intergenerational transfer of wealth as baby boomers age. The nascent Jewish women’s funding movement, characterized by the new Jewish women’s foundations (JWFs), has emerged from three sources. First, Jewish women’s growing consciousness of their own charity clout (reported in a widely reprinted Lilith series in the 1990s). Second, the visibility of such models as local women’s foundations and political pooled giving to support women candidates. And third, the prodding – and modeling – of Barbara B. Dobkin, the New York philanthropist whose name has become synonymous with the support of women’s causes and of Jewish women change-makers. To jump-start a new paradigm, her forthright talks (both one-on-one and to groups of movers and shakers) about the importance of advocating for Jewish women and girls have tried to catalyze women of means everywhere to reach deep into their pockets.
One of the new entities. The Jewish Women’s Foundation of New York, will give out about $75,000 in grants for Jewish women and girls this year. It was founded six years ago by Frances Brandt, who now chairs it, and four other women. “Five of us got it started in a ladies’ room at Federation,” she says. “We knew that only a very small percentage of Jewish community money finds its way to things directed at women and girls, and the truth of the matter was – Jewish women and girls were not getting what they needed! Not enough women were in positions in the Jewish community to be making the decisions that would have funneled the money to the causes we were passionate about. The suits at the table were all men!!
“It took a long time to get any Jewish community money into domestic violence prevention,” says Brandt. “Now the male leadership in New York is all too happy to point to the New York Jewish Women’s Foundation as a sign of how good they are on women’s issues! Our Federation has gotten better about funding some women’s projects – now everybody is on the bandwagon for domestic violence and breast cancer.” But the men weren’t there until women advocated on these issues.
Is separate giving the answer?
One large donor to Jewish and secular causes, Brenda Brown Rever of Baltimore, a past chair of the national Women’s Constituency of the Jewish Federations, wonders, though, if there is a danger in having only women fund women’s issues. “Once a woman decides that she is going to give the bulk of her money to the women’s foundations,” Rever asks, “will that take her out of play in the larger universe, where she could bring these issues – and new women leaders themselves – into the mainstream? A big difference could be made in mainstream Jewish philanthopy with women’s presence. The monumental step we have to take is changing men’s minds, so that women and men together decide what a community should be spending on. I believe women’s foundations are a necessary interim step before our issues are integrated. But until we make a difference in the mainstream, we are not going to have the impact we want to have.”
Beth Klarman, co-chair of the Jewish women’s foundation in Boston, agrees. She wants the gender-integrated world of philanthropy to come to value women’s concerns. Klarman says, “There are issues particular to women and girls, but I hope that as the whole field evolves we can take the lessons learned into a larger context.”
Historically, in the Jewish tzedakah world, women’s philanthropy has often been dismissed as “plus giving” over and above what the community expected to raise from the men, who were the “real” philanthropists. In terms of dollars raised so far by the new Jewish women’s foundations, this designation is still correct. The $20 million in assets of the Jewish women’s funds stands in dramatic contrast to the more than $ 2 billion in assets of the United Jewish Communities (the national organization linking Jewish federations across the U.S. and Canada). Nancy Schwartz Sternoff, Executive Director of the Dobkin Family Foundation (which has created the umbrella for the Jewish women’s foundations), predicts, however, “a crescendo” of funding in the future, once the original projects funded by Jewish women’s foundations serve to publicize the scope of Jewish women’s and girls’ needs.
And today’s Jewish women’s foundations are radically different from the charitable giving represented, say, by women’s “divisions” of local Jewish federations. These new funds are all donor-directed; that is, the women who give the money (whether earned, spousal or inherited) are calling the shots, are the ones deciding where it will be spent. And this means more donors, more dollars, a bigger voice.
What kind of women are stirring things up?
A woman in Florida (whose profession requires anonymity here) explains why she “jumped at the chance” to launch one of the newest foundations. “What triggered it? Well, I think it was years of trigger… of being disappointed in the Federation, of not having a voice as a woman. It made me so frustrated that I finally said ‘I have to do this a different way’.” She was tired, she says, of seeing professional women sidelined in her local Federation. In many cities, because business and professional women’s groups weren’t bringing in big money, Federations have closed them down. Those groups had provided a locus for working women who not only gave tzedakah but also wanted to network with one another while they did so. These women, she says, will gravitate to the new foundations. “There are capable businesswomen out there who are looking for a place to be heard in relation to where their philanthropic dollars go. And for younger women, we are establishing role models.”
Pittsburgh’s Judy Roscow echoes these words almost exactly: “Professional women do not have many opportunities to feel instrumental in the Jewish world. One executive woman who joined our foundation told me, ‘I want to do this because I want young women to come in, and I want to be a role model for them’.”
Many new trustees are “women who are passionate about their identification with Jewish life and about women’s issues,” says Nancy Schwartz Sternoff, “but they’ve been disappointed that the Federation movement is so patriarchal and risk-averse, and that women’s and girls’ issues are not addressed with annual campaign dollars.” It appears that many strong women with strong opinions – especially on women’s issues – share the experience of not having been welcome in the leadership circles of Jewish communities.
Sternoff also describes the foundations as a new vehicle for reaching out to women who don’t respond to the pull of annual Federation campaigns. Cynthia Shulman, a long-term key player in many Jewish organizations in Boston, believes that the increased visibility of women in Jewish leadership roles will appeal to unaffiliated Jewish women. As this population sees “more women involved in leadership roles at CJP [Combined Jewish Philanthropies – Boston’s federation],” Shulman predicts, “they will see opportunities for their own participation. I’m only the second woman to have served as chair of the CJP board in 100 some years! In my early days with Federation, the major annual event happened at a country club that didn’t admit women!!! The Jewish Women’s Foundation has touched a nerve with women for so many different reasons. Some join because the money is going to women and children – not just to Israel and just to all-Jewish causes. It’s not the same as what CJP funds.”
The one overarching rallying point for all women attracted to the JWFs is women’s issues. “Some are really passionate about feminism and Jewish feminism – even if they won’t use the word feminist,” reports Laura Kaufman, director of the Jewish Women’s Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago. This shared concern aside, however, there is a split as to whether the JWFs tend to bring in new donors to Jewish causes or new donors to women’s causes. In Milwaukee, for example, 95% of the members of the JWF are already donors to the general campaign of the Jewish Federation. On the other hand, in places like Winnipeg, the JWF includes those women but has also become a magnet for unaffiliated women “turned off from the Jewish community,” according to David Cohen, who directs the Jewish Women’s Endowment Fund there. “Women come out to our Women’s Endowment events who are not seen anywhere else in the Jewish community,” Cohen reports. The Federations, which in each city house and sometimes underwrite the new foundations, see their investment as one geared to attracting women who might then go on to contribute to more conventional Jewish campaigns as well.
As far as Frances Brandt is concerned, women are drawn to the Jewish women’s foundations for three reasons – only one of which has to do with the money itself. “First, women want to control where their money goes (namely, to women and children). Second, women want hands-on experiences. They want to be at the table when the grants are being discussed to really learn about the projects being funded. And the third reason is one we should never forget: Many women like to be in a group with other women. Period. People used to dump on Jewish women’s organizations for being all about women getting together, and now it turns out that women are seeking just that kind of connection!”
Judy Roscow, Director of Pittsburgh’s Jewish women’s foundation, concurs with Brandt, as does almost every other woman LILITH spoke to for this report. “We have 31 donors and half a million dollars. Our foundation is very successful. Why? Because part of our sell is the opportunity to be with really interesting Jewish women. They don’t come together under any other umbrella. “Like Brandt, Roscow identifies three lures for the trustees: “The fact that they will as a group decide where the dollars go; that they are together with other interesting women; and that the programs they fund are for women and girls.” The initial funders in Pittsburgh were so enthusiastic about the process of making decisions, in fact, that, “Everyone wanted to be on the grants committee and on the steering committee.”
But the Jewish women’s foundations are not for every donor. Some high-powered Jewish women “lay leaders” who feel they already make boardroom decisions about how the community gives away its money say, off the record, that they already have “a seat a the table,” and the slower process of discussing every grant application with a group is not for them. And some married women say they want to give with their husbands. Judy Roscow says this is a change from the past. “Lots of working women in their 30s and 40s say they want to give couples’ gifts. Philanthropy used to be a way women could have an identity for themselves by giving separately. Now they may be looking for something to do together with their husbands.”
Hip young women, even those who have access to family wealth and could afford to contribute, are also probably not the first target for foundations seeking new participants. Activist women in their 20s and 30s seem drawn more to Third Wave or other more overtly feminist and change-oriented foundations. And young professional women of means may prefer the assorted “young professionals” affiliates of various charities – from hospitals to Jewish museums to the Jewish Funders Network Younger Funders Collaborative.
To attract the next generation in larger numbers, the new Jewish women’s funds may have to prove their effectiveness. Sharna Goldseker, 27, who co-chaired this year’s Jewish Funders Network annual conference, says that some women older than she is are just beginning “to claim their right to give away their family money.” For many of her generation of Jews, she says, there is a strong sense of wanting not to be a “donor” (“Too passive,” says Goldseker) but to be a “funder” who monitors the outcomes of her giving. “Don’t just tell me your organization serves a lunch to 150 people. Tell me how this changed their lives,” she wants to know. Though Goldseker herself is not yet a participant in any of the Jewish women’s foundations, she says that what would be interesting to her is mothers and daughters doing some of their philanthropy together. The funds which have created multi-generational memberships, like New York and Chicago, should be pleased to hear this. And since the young women who have financial savvy usually learned it from their fathers, here is a chance for them to see what their mothers know about giving the money away strategically.
More than just small change?
Most women – even wealthy women comfortable with writing hefty checks to other charities – are unaccustomed to giving large amounts to women’s causes. “Many of the other communities warned us, ‘Don’t do it our way – we started too low!’” reports Evy Garfinkle, director of the Jewish Women’s Foundation of Milwaukee. What’s low? What’s high? Joining the Women’s Endowment Fund in Winnipeg costs only $100 annually, whereas, in Boston and elsewhere the minimum contribution is $10,000 payable over five years. Most of the foundations have a minimum $1,000 initial contribution. One of the problems with women’s funding generally is that we think too small. It’s the balaboste mentality, calling forth our historical role models, those shtetl women who had figured out how to feed 20 unexpected shabbat guests with half a chicken. The amounts Jewish women give (and the amounts Jewish women’s projects ask for) probably are too low. One of the phrases uttered by lay people and professionals a-like is “raising the bar.” If pooled giving leverages the power of individual donors, so too does the power to make important social change increase as the dollar amount goes up.
But the instinct women have to be as inclusive as possible, as egalitarian, as non-elitist, as balaboste-like, may backfire. Listen to this from Phoenix: Sheryl Quen, the women’s foundation director, says “Our original funders wanted the foundation to be egalitarian and far reaching. The giving levels are at $100 and $1,000, so we only have $6,000 to $7,000 to give away this year. How much impact does it make when you have this small sum to give away?” The Women’s Endowment Fund in Winnipeg has gotten around their low entry contribution by encouraging donors to consider a bequest, or to name the fund as beneficiary of a life insurance policy.
In smaller communities, where the number of prospective supporters of a Jewish women’s foundation is not large, even with a higher minimum contribution the total amount available is relatively small. South Bend, now launching a Jewish women’s fund, hopes to have assets of $75,000 by the time they are ready to receive proposals, allowing for about $5,000 annually in grants. But disbursing this sum will still mean having a complete grant-review process, highly labor intensive.
The question of scale is important. Cynthia Shulman, one of the founders of the Boston Jewish Community Women’s Foundation, says that having their Jewish women’s fund “big enough to make a difference” was a goal from the outset. The founders made the bold decision to give away more that the typical, cautious 5% of assets annually. “We had an interesting discussion about how much we should be giving away. How will the fund grow? How can we give away more than what we’re throwing off in interest? But we decided we needed to do this attract women into the fund. We were showing that we have faith in the women of Boston and the future of the fund. That was our point, and it held.”
Transforming the givers and the grantees
Some changes wrought by the Jewish women’s foundations are in the thinking of the donors themselves. Women who have been very involved in the Jewish community’s traditional supports for child welfare, homes for the aged and refugee relief, for example, now know to put on a gender lens before they write a check, asking questions about how a JCC, for example, meets the needs of girls. Other women, who have been involved in secular women’s causes (sometimes as funders, sometimes as volunteers), now have a chance to see what’s going on under the umbrella of Jewish social service agencies.
For activist donors, there’s the relief of having consonance between two aspects of one’s identity – as a Jew and as a woman. “When I would go to women’s meetings in my role as an executive for a secular women’s organization,” said Laura Kaufman, “I often felt that I had to leave my Jewish identity at the door.”
Just from reading the proposals they evaluate, donors learn a lot about the issues that matter most in the lives of women and girls. And in some cases they are exposed to social problems they’ve never before confronted. David Cohen says that when, each spring, the grant recipients meet with the funders in Winnipeg, there is invariably some shock: “This is going on in our community?” Some of the funders, says Cohen, “drive to the JCC, to the big shul, to the airport … and they never go to the food bank, or the poor neighborhoods. They don’t believe it at first when they hear there’s a tzedakah fund in town to provide food and shelter for the Jewish poor – ‘There are no Jewish poor’.”
Education is directed to more than solving urgent economic needs like these. In Boston, Director Susan Ebert and co-chairs Beth Klarman and Roz Goren have set a up series of education programs, says Ebert, that go beyond process meetings and grant evaluations. ”Independent of whatever the thrust is of funding, this year we’ll focus on girls’ issues. We’re bringing in Catherine Steiner-Adair to talk about self-esteem.”
And the benefit to trustees goes beyond raising their Jewish and gender consciousness. They’re also learning to manage relatively large disbursements, and to make conscious the decisions about charitable giving that in the past they may have done with less awareness. They may have written their own checks to support a cause or a charity, and some are Lions of Judah, indicating a commitment of at least $5,000 annually to their local Jewish Federation. But even in such high-stake philanthropies, few women donors have had the experience of directing where their money goes.
What’s the big deal about collective giving?
Larger grants make bigger waves. When women bundle their money into one package, the sum has a greater impact than if each woman had written a check for her portion of the total and given privately. “There’s a multiplier effect,” says Sarah Blustain, a former LILITH editor now Managing Editor at The New Republic in Washington. She was part of a young women’s tzedakah collective in New York created by Barbara Dobkin as a training ground for women thinking about (and talking about) how to give away their modest sums of money. Melissa Kohner of Boston is co-author, with Tracy Gary, of Inspired Giving, a philanthropy workbook used by the young women’s tzedakah collective. Active with the Third Wave Foundation, and not a member of any Jewish women’s foundation, Kohner says that much of her giving in a collective has “intentionality” behind it. And when any foundation requires a minimum annual contribution in a certain area – gay rights, women’s issues – “it makes me more conscious; it challenges my giving.” Sarah Blustain says her tzedakah collective gave the participants something else as well. “It’s an opportunity to enter into a discussion about values we wouldn’t otherwise have had.”
Giving with intent – kavanah, the Hebrew word, also means the focus necessary for prayer – comes up again and again in conversations, especially with younger women. Rabbi Jennie Rosenn, Associate Jewish Chaplain at Columbia and Barnard, writes in Sh’ma, “How can we strive to view money in a holy way, as we do time, sex, or food?” The Jewish women’s foundations – and informal women’s tzedakah collectives – provide an opportunity for conversations about money and its uses. The giving, then, is not something casual, but something planned for, and often researched with care, not casual or spur-of-the-moment. Belda Lindenbaum is a New York philanthropist who, as president of Drisha, a women’s advanced Jewish learning center, and in other roles, has been in the forefront of supporting women’s causes in the Modern Orthodox world. She says, “I really feel that it is a privilege. I say to people I have funded: ‘Thank you for giving me this opportunity to make a difference’.”
Jews have characteristically felt so much uneasiness around money (Are we too poor? Are we too rich?) that sharing responsibility for its disbursement may be a relief, taking the decisions out of the fraught and the personal and rendering them public and honorific.
Grant makers working collectively also feel that they are sharing the risk, that if they are giving money to a project that seems too “out there” they won’t be shouldering sole responsibility for it, answering to others, justifying it perhaps to their own family members. Susan Ebert says, “Women who sit on boards of family foundations really welcome the collaborative aspects of this process.”
What are these foundations funding?
Phyllis Greenhalgh, Director of the just-forming JWF in Broward County, Florida, says that “Domestic violence is, unfortunately, seen as the ‘sexy’ women’s issue – but it is a communal issue, not a women’s issue. I’d like to see funding for developing girls’ leadership skills for the future, a vocational training program for women newly divorced, financial planning for all women. And single moms have no way to get infant day care in the Jewish community. My wish list is probably yards long, and that is just locally.”
Some projects, like two at LILITH that were funded, respectively, by the Chicago and New York JWFs, would have been much less effective without this funding. An early Chicago grant funded much of “Clueless? The Jewish Community and Teenage Girls” – a project that launched Lilith’s coverage of innovative programs for teens, featuring their own evaluations of the Jewish experiences they say shaped them. Until then, there had been almost no focus on teen girls in Jewish life; before the LILITH project even the statistics on this population didn’t separate out by gender. The Chicago JWF grant not only helped launch the LILITH work, but also, by extension, mapped out some areas where the community would go in the following three years. The New York grant to LILITH was for reports spotlighting Jewish women’s mental and physical health; with this JWF funding LILITH was able to explore infertility and pregnancy loss, depression and suicide, insurance discrimination, eating disorders, and anxieties about breast size.
Across the continent, teenage Jewish girls are the target audience for a number of the projects funded by the JWFs. Because they are a population fairly easy to capture (we still know where they are) we can help shape attitudes while these Jewish females are still young. And it is “a gift for the community, that we are starting to uncover needs. For example, eating disorders and Jewish teens,” says San Diego’s Gail Littman. One worry, though, is that it may feel safer to fund girls rather than grown women. Littman wants to link the two populations: “We have a lot of women rabbis in our community, a terrific resource. We are thinking of a retreat, with pre-teen girls learning side by side with their mothers, and the moms can role-model.”
Should the grants go exclusively to projects that serve Jewish women and girls? In New York, the answer has been yes. In other communities, where Jews are a less visible presence, the JWFs have decided that, both to do good and to score some public relations points in the general community, funding should go to a broad range of women’s projects. In Pittsburgh, it took focus groups to clarify the issue; the JWF trustees decided to fund both Jewish and general women’s causes. In Winnipeg, only about 10% of the granting goes to Jewish women’s projects. The foundation has bought a washer and dryer for a residence for sex workers, and has helped shelter aborigine women. And in Boston the rationale was clear – to give the majority of support to Jewish causes, but not all. Susan Ebert describes this as “a kind of unofficial balance. We’re not funding just Jewish organizations – we’re funding an educational program for women and children in shelters, for example. Some people are astonished by this, but the majority feel that as responsible American citizens we had to look more broadly,”
Is this giving transformative? Will it change lives? Whatever brings to the forefront problems and issues that women here to fore have faced in silence or solitude changes not only the individual women but the whole community. The Jewish Women’s Endowment of Greater Seattle, which has been in existence for 17 years, provided funding for a groundbreaking video about violence in Jewish families through a grant to the Center for the Prevention of Sexual and Domestic Violence. The scenes are extraordinarily wrenching; middle-class women face the camera and tell of being trapped in (and escaping from and surviving) abusive marriages to Jewish men. The film has supported countless viewers in their own struggles to extricate themselves from violence.
The tag line of the Jewish Women’s Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago is Shma koleynu – “Hear our voices.” “You make noise, but someone has to listen,” Laura Kaufman says. Because Jewish women have been perceived by both Jews and by others as privileged people, Jewish women’s concerns have often been trivialized or marginalized, with the possible exception of family violence and sexual assault (which are, in fact, crimes). So how to get funders to pay attention? When the funders themselves are women, the chances are better that the voices in need will be heard.
One question persists, however; how to allocate scant resources. Should the money be directed toward advocacy work or for direct service? It’s an old question. Is it better to give a persona fish, or teach her to fish? Well, if she is starving, she’ll need to be fed before she’ll have the strength to hold a fishing rod (or net). But we also have responsibility to better the conditions that caused her to starve in the first place.
From this question flows another: What actually is strategic philanthropy? Helen Katz, Director of the Jewish Women’s Foundation of Metropolitan Detroit, gives an example, describing a grant to improve the health of Jewish women living in the Federation system of apartments and services for the elderly. “The project was to help them understand what health issues they were facing, arrange screening, and get them to help their neighbors do likewise. The first group of elderly women were themselves to become advocates for the program; part of the project we funded was to get the women organized also. Now a lot of these women who got involved the first year have formed a group to hire someone to continue the health initiative.” Boston’s Susan Ebert says this is “the venture capital idea, where you have an exit strategy; a goal is to find in a way that you can offer skills so the program does not die after the grant is made.”
Here is another example. “I’ve been surprised at venues where attitudinal change is happening,” says Kaufman. Chicago funded a project at an Orthodox day school that “admits” that girls at bat mitzvah age don’t have same kind of intense religious and educational experience that the boys get. “The girls get Torah training but are not encouraged to debate it and own it, while the boys are encouraged to be real students. The school wanted the girls to be able to own it too, and then be equal in Orthodoxy. That’s where the rubber meets the road – to interpret Torah.”
Can philanthropy change attitudes about gender?
One donor asks. “How do we change this from being a man’s world to being a man’s and women’s world?” That depends on how much women are willing to risk to challenge the status quot. Rabbi Laurie Rice of Seattle (see page 11) asks whether women who support various entities in the Jewish community, including the Federation-based JWFs, probe such things as personnel policies and maternity leave in the agencies they fund. The next question is how would the emerging local Jewish women’s foundations – which have enjoyed a honeymoon period with the Jewish Federations that have hosted them – deal with funding a grant that wanted to conduct just such an investigation into these policies? Will the requests for proposals put out by the Jewish women’s foundations spur new kinds of thinking in each community, now that it’s clear there is money for women’s issues? Will this encourage agencies to put on a gender lens? That would have been the prediction, since programs often follow money. Phyllis Greenhaigh, whose foundation in Broward has not yet had its first funding cycle, thinks so. Evy Garfinkle in Milwaukee directs one of the oldest JWFs, started in 1995. Her optimism has been tempered by reality. “The sad part is that we do not get enough proposals from our own Jewish Federation agencies. This points out something very telling in the community. Our agencies are not doing enough that affects the welfare of women and girls.” Sheryl Quen, Program Coordinator for the Jewish Women’s Endowment Fund in Phoenix, has a similar complaint: “Many of the Jewish agencies don’t have projects that fit our criteria.” David Cohen in Winnipeg says that with only 14,000 Jews in the whole city “there just are not enough Jewish nonprofits for us to fund only Jewish projects.” Which raises the interesting question, again, about whether the JWFs need to do a more aggressive job of encouraging creative thinking from individuals within Jewish agencies.
With all the talk of educating the donors about important feminist concerns, there has been little effort in any community to educate potential grant-seekers. Nancy Sternoff says “It is urgent,” that the Jewish women’s foundations encourage projects that will highlight and meet the needs of females within the Jewish community. She has a message for the donors and directors of the women’s foundations: “Go to your local JCC and tell them, ‘We have money to give away. You are doing nothing for girls. Let’s look at programs from around the country and see what you can do’. We’re still thinking in an old model of reactive philanthropy, rather than pro-active!” She is adamant that this is part of the advocacy process. Detroit uses its close to 100 trustees to reach Jewish agencies with which they are familiar. Helen Katz says, “We do pro-active work in our education programming. We always say ‘You need to tell people in the community to begin thinking about programs to benefit Jewish women and girls’.”
Laura Kaufman has other dicta. “You have to have a real vision about what kind of change you are trying to create. Then your vision motivates how the money will be given out.” She asks, “What do you want to have happen with your dollars? How will the world look different in ten years because of your funding? If you can’t answer that,” she says, “you cannot attract donors.” You need to be able to articulate this to the larger Jewish community, through your grant making and your leadership structure. The foundation can be a spokes-vehicle for issues you think important. You can use the foundation mantle for advocacy.
“Sometimes I hear ‘What about boys?’ I say: ‘If you are concerned about them, raise some money and do something about it’.”
Susan Weidman Schneider is the editor of Lilith Magazine.
Copyright Lilith Magazine; reprinted with permission