by Marita Anderson

Each year, hundreds of millions of dollars are donated to organizations dedicated to strengthening the Jewish community. When it came time to give in 2013, I wanted to try something new and give in a way that I could be certain my dollars were being put to good use. Not only did I contribute the same amount as I always do, but the impact of my gift this year will be doubled, most likely even more.

The American Jewish community has changed, and so has its priorities. According to the Pew survey’s “A Portrait of Jewish Americans” 2013 report, it found that 32% of Jews born after 1980 self-identify as “Jews of no religion” yet 94% of Jewish Americans are proud to be Jewish and 80% find it important to their lives even though 58% of them have non-Jewish spouses. These numbers tell us that while Jewish Americans strongly identify as Jewish, they participate less in traditional organized Jewish life. This demonstrates that there is significant room for engagement with these demographics. This begs the questions: How do we know which programs are most wanted and needed? Also, how big and effective an impact are our donations making? Well, the best way to figure it out is to ask them directly!

My goal is to engage and empower millennials, especially those less connected to Judaism, in building programs that they want and need. So, I chose to contribute in a way that responds to the younger generation of Jews and guarantees a bigger impact from my donation. I am doing this through a Community Matching Grant, or CMG, in partnership with Jewcer.

Jewcer is a social good startup that uses crowdfunding as a means of engagement and empowerment within the Jewish community. After sharing my goals with Jewcer, we decided to create a grant opportunity together, Jewcer SPARK. Unlike traditional grants, the SPARK grant process incorporates crowdfunding as a condition to receiving the grant. After a standard solicitation for initiatives, ideas, events and programs, I get to choose which submissions proceed to raise at least $1,800 from at least 50 people in 30 days. If the potential grantee succeeds in crowdfunding, they receive a matching grant of $1,800 – that is, they will now have $3,600 to implement their initiative, hence the term Community Matching Grant. This process allows me to hand-pick the ideas that I think will best meet the goals of innovation and engagement with younger, less connected Jews while the vetting and final selection process is really done by the community through crowdfunding.

The Jewcer team and I worked together to select the criteria for SPARK that would achieve the best results for our experiment with Community Matching Grants. The grant amount $1,800 is an obviously Jewish choice, and doubling that to $3,600 is a significant enough amount that can make a difference for an initiative. Running this crowdfunding campaign over 30 days was recommended by Jewcer from their deep understanding of what it takes to run a successful campaign, and since crowdfunding, at its core, demonstrates community participation, we decided at least 50 people must support an initiative as part of the grant process.

We frequently see an elitist approach to philanthropy that assumes knowledge of what young people want and need. Philanthropic decisions often don’t include direct engagement with young people, even though they are the target demographic for many philanthropists. Generally, when people engage with initiatives that are relevant in their communities, they feel more ownership and collective responsibility for them. By allowing this up-and-coming generation to contribute to innovation that touches their lives, we get a glimpse into what they are willing to invest in and what they want. I believe in the relationships that are built through community organizing and Jewcer is a great tool for community investment through crowdfunding.

Some will say that traditional philanthropy should remain paramount and that engagement and charitable contributions should remain siloed. Others might argue that philanthropists shouldn’t determine where their dollars go because professional organizations know best. In some instances, they are correct. I am not arguing that traditional philanthropy should be trumped by Community Matching Grants or crowdfunding, but that it should be enhanced by the community. This new way of grant-making can strengthen and compliment traditional giving and make philanthropy more efficient and effective over the long term.

We as Jews are a small community, but we have great human potential and we cannot solely rely only on traditional grant-making to float us into the future. We must listen to the next generation by giving them an opportunity to show us what they support through the participation in our philanthropy. We must empower the best leaders, programs and causes to create deeper engagement. Community Matching Grants coupled with crowdfunding, do this and more. I now know that every $1,800 I give will strengthen or start an initiative with the power of $3,600, and moreover, I know the initiative is something the community needs and wants to take part in and come to fruition. It is time to listen to what young Jewish Americans are saying, and then strengthen their ideas with our contributions.

Marita Anderson is a dedicated Jewish community leader with experience serving on boards and committees of organizations such as AIPAC, Save a Child’s Heart, Project Kesher, Jewcer, and was a member of the Slingshot Fund. Her personal mission is to facilitate access to Judaism and engagement of the Jewish community beyond the established institutions. Marita is earning her MA in Jewish Studies at the Academy for Jewish Religion California.