Giving Wisely and With Impact: Part 2

For many Jews, giving is a part of who they are. After all, tzedakah literally means “justice,” even though it’s often translated as charity. It’s a way to create a world where fairness is the rule rather than the exception. Since giving is a central tenet of Judaism, tzedakah is also a way to manifest the values Jews hold most deep.

But it is one matter to give. It is another to give wisely and with measurable impact. Achieving the latter goal is laudable but not easily attainable. To help with that process, Jewish Funders Network and the Jewish Communal Fund published “Your Jewish Philanthropy Roadmap,” a publication to help make Jewish philanthropy more strategic.

This four-part series is adapted from the “Roadmap” and will focus on milestones that funders and donors inevitably encounter on their philanthropic journey. Rather than provide a rote set of answers, the “Roadmap” offers options to address several issues that are the framework of any decision to give.

Part 2: On the path to philanthropic success: how to find the right entry point

Philanthropists and funders want to do much more than write a check. Instead, they respond to a need to connect their giving to their convictions and motivations. When that motivation is determined, philanthropists can provide support that is both sustained and successful. Here are the first three steps that should be taken to ensure that happens.

Step 1: Frame the issues

We all use a different lens to see the world. There are the big challenges philanthropists might want to confront, such as poverty, disease, and climate change. But they might drill down to a more specific challenge, like a children’s nutrition program that encourages healthy eating by using more organic foods. Others will focus on a specific population – such as refugees and the elderly – or a community where several problem areas need to be addressed. This approach particularly resonates with Diaspora philanthropists or those with multi-generational roots in one location.

Step 2: Narrow the focus

The frame has been created. Now comes the harder part – narrowing the focus so a philanthropist’s motivations and convictions can be realized. To simply say “I’m interested in education issues” is problematic. The category is too broad and the needs far-flung. Within education it might be better to focus on the priorities of, for example, early learning, sustaining day schools or funding new initiatives in higher education. Even then philanthropists might want to drill down further for their funding to resonate. For example, someone interested in literacy programs might confine their focus to teacher training.

But do keep in mind that narrowing the focus does not have to mean a singular focus. To be sure, an issue that interests a funder could cross over into more than one subject area. Similarly, Jewish funders should also look at how to balance giving to Jewish causes and secular causes operating in the same space. They might also need to look at how to navigate between communal and individual gifts.

Step 3: Defining the outcome

It’s vital for philanthropists and funders to have a vision of what they want to happen. This is the time to consider how an organization solves a problem, not just which problem it takes on. It’s easier to figure out a desired end result within such a context. Going back to the example of literacy programs, some nonprofits might address these issues by partnering with schools or social service agencies; others may run tutoring programs in community centers.

By going through these steps, funders are in a better position to ask the tough questions and set conditions before making a gift. Armed with that knowledge, they can better measure the results from their grants and determine whether, in the end, they have truly made a difference.

Next: Thinking about change and measuring progress

Part 1 of “Giving Wisely and With Impact” can be found here.