Increasing Supply, Not Only Demand

by Shawn Landres

People sometimes ask me how Jumpstart balances what appear to be the competing dimensions of our work: global vs. local, research vs. advocacy, startups vs. the “establishment,” and, most fraught of all, funders vs. grantees.

The thing is, we just don’t see our work that way. In our effort to help make Judaism & Jewish life vibrant and relevant, we know we gain strength and purpose by working together. Changemakers with shared visions shape the world with the tools they have available, whether those tools are financial or programmatic, operational or intellectual.

I was struck by Yoni Gordis’s observation to a roundtable on innovation and philanthropy moderated by Seth Cohen, just published in the October 2011 issue of Sh’ma:

“…We’ve done a great deal over the past ten years to beef up the demand side of innovation: Joshua Venture Group, Bikkurim, UpStart, Jumpstart. We’ve encouraged young people, which is great. But we have failed to beef up the supply side. We’ve hit a drum roll: ‘I should get my project out there,’ but we have not created mechanisms where younger funders with resources can meet these entrepreneurial young folk.”

Yoni’s insight is that he shifts the dynamic from funder-grantee to supply-demand. Looking at the field through the funder-grantee lens too often limits the focus to financial transactions and creates a distorted view of the grantee as a supplicant. Framing the process as “supply and demand” changes our perspective. It challenges us to (1) identify visions with demonstrated demand, (2) determine whether there are adequate resources – time, expertise, money, infrastructure – to meet the demand; and (3) find ways to provide those resources in order to realize those visions. In such a framework, funders and grantees alike must collaborate to achieve shared goals that are larger than any one partner.

The challenge we face today, as Yoni observes, is that we have an imbalance in that collaborative framework. At least in public, we appear to have invested more organizational energy on the demand side of the equation than on the supply side, encouraging the seeding of countless new initiatives by experts and programmers who then must seek out money and infrastructure to achieve their goals. While I am not as certain as Yoni that there are “no new mechanisms” – witness The Natan Fund, Slingshot, the Jewish Venture Philanthropy Fund of Los Angeles, and others – he is entirely correct that the public conversation has been much more about generating and responding to demand than on growing the supply side of the equation.

But there’s more to it than that. The Jewish Innovation Economy (2011) points out that “in the new Jewish economy, stakeholders can be both creators and consumers not only of their own individual Jewish identities, but also of their collective Jewish communities.” As younger generations assume leadership roles as philanthropists and grantmakers, they are taking an increasingly hands-on role in their giving and ever more frequently directing their funding toward the causes with which they themselves identify as part of the target population or even as participants. Indeed, some members of Natan, the Slingshot Fund, and other giving circles leverage their own expertise as consumers of Jewish life of to make more informed and personally relevant decisions about where to direct funds.

Since Jumpstart’s founding, we have been working just as hard on increasing supply as we have on strengthening demand. Most of our teaching and advocacy work has focused on establishing the value of creativity, risk-taking, and “engineered serendipity” in Jewish life, which means increasing the resources available to social entrepreneurs (and intrapreneurs) with transformative new ideas. Thus our primary audience increasingly is the resource providers themselves, especially individuals and foundations who want to invest in Jewish innovation but need guidance on where and how to begin. To be sure, working with philanthropists involves special sensitivities, considerations, and skills. In 2008 I completed 21/64‘s initial training program in multi-generational family philanthropy, and earlier this year an ROI Community Micro Grant enabled me to complete an advanced training for alumni of the previous program. This training is strengthening Jumpstart’s capacity to support foundations and individual philanthropies as they explore new strategies and giving areas.

Ultimately, in the rapidly changing world of 21st-century Jewish philanthropy and new initiatives, even the supply-demand dynamic may be too limiting a frame for our work. Suppliers and demanders – benefactors and beneficiaries – frequently are the same people working toward the same goals. I am looking forward not only to applying what I’ve learned from my ROI-supported training not only to Jumpstart’s growing portfolio of work with foundations and other resource providers, but also to contributing to the emerging ROI Community conversation about launching an ROI alumni venture fund – a giving circle of our own. Because when community leaders, whether volunteer or professional, funder or grantee, focus on our visions and connect our passion, knowledge, resources, and skills, we move beyond the limitations of supply and demand and there’s no limit to what we can create together.

Shawn Landres is Co-founder and CEO, Jumpstart.

This post originally appeared on the ROI Community blog; reposted with permission.