Helping Teens Evaluate Charities

“To give away money is an easy matter … and in any man’s power. But to decide to whom to give it, and how large and when, for what purpose and how, is neither in every man’s power nor an easy matter. Hence it is that such excellence is rare, praiseworthy and noble.”

Clink-e1418046904772-570x1024By Tamar Snyder

In mid-March, 20 teens who are members of the JCC Rockland Teen Leadership Initiative (TLI) will sit around a table in the teen lounge and review requests for funding from several local Jewish communal agencies. They will have a maximum of $5,400 to allocate toward grants for local organizations whose projects help those in need. Like most of us, the funds at their disposal are limited. It will be impossible to fund all of the worthy projects for which they receive proposals. How then will they decide which organizations to fund, and how much to grant each project?

My goal on a recent weeknight was to help the teens explore these challenges and devise solutions by creating an evaluation rubric to assess grant requests more objectively.

We started out with the TLI members introducing themselves. The teens shared their names, schools and favorite charities which ranged from those focused on specific illnesses to the community food pantry and included both local and overseas organizations. Participants then downloaded Clink!, Jewish Communal Fund’s free giving app, from Apple’s app store (just search for “Jewish Communal Fund” or visit

Using Clink!, teens were presented with 28 issue areas, from women’s rights and poverty to Jewish education and Israel. By swiping away the causes that were less meaningful to them, teens were left with the three top issue areas about which they were most passionate. Unsurprisingly, the resulting topics spanned the entire spectrum of the app, with only two teens choosing the same three top issue areas. Clearly, narrowing down funding prospects based upon issue area would prove to be challenging for a group with such diverse interests.

After discussing ways to learn more about a charity – via site visits, viewing the charity’s website, reading the 990 financial form and speaking with staff members and volunteers – I introduced the concept of an evaluation rubric. Having a common set of questions to ask about each of the incoming proposals levels the playing field and enables a group to choose grant recipients more objectively. Together we decided that each question would have the same weight and range from 1 (lowest) to 5 (highest).

The teens struck me as a very thoughtful and bright group as they posed questions for us to include on the rubric:

  • How much do I identify with the purpose or mission of this program?
  • How many people will benefit from this program?
  • Is the project’s budget appropriate and realistic?
  • How great is the need that this project addresses?
  • Does this organization have a track-record of success in this area?
  • How long-lasting will the impact of this program be?
  • How financially sound is the organization?
  • How large is the organization?

Many of the questions did not have a black-and-white answer that was either wholly good or wholly bad. For example, the teens discussed whether they would prefer to reach a larger number of people more superficially, or greatly impact a smaller number of people. They also spoke about whether they would prefer to give grants to a larger organization (which may have more experience, staff and other resources but may not view their grant as sizeable) or a smaller organization (for which even a $1,500 grant would make a big difference).

This session encouraged the TLI teens to be more thoughtful about their own giving, be it in terms of monetary donations or when volunteering their time. They have learned that giving strategically is a difficult, but worthwhile, endeavor.

Tamar Snyder is the Associate Director of Strategic Initiatives and Communications at Jewish Communal Fund, the largest and most active Jewish donor advised fund in the country. Click here to view the presentation on SlideShare.