JTFN Holds Largest-Ever Gathering for the Field of Jewish Teen Philanthropy

JTFN 2014by Andrew Paull

Earlier this week, more than 90 Jewish professionals, educators, and funders gathered at the Jewish Teen Philanthropy Summit, the largest-ever gathering of this field. The Summit, organized by the Jewish Teen Funders Network, brought together staff from synagogues, JCCs, community foundations, federations, youth movements, and day schools from across North America for two days of workshops, networking, collaborating, and Jewish learning.

Jewish teen philanthropy programs engage teens, ages 13-18, as “teen foundation board members” who come together for an intensive educational and grantmaking process. As Mark Charendoff, president of the Maimonides Fund, said in an article for The Jewish Week, “Jewish teen philanthropy is an excuse to get young Jews in a room together to talk about Jewish values. Money gives the conversation more weight, but it’s the conversation that matters.” Through this process, teens learn about the nonprofit sector, create a mission statement, evaluate grant proposals, make site visits, engage in a consensus-building process, and award grants.

At their core, Jewish teen philanthropy programs focus on Jewish education and engagement. It was fitting, then, to open the Summit with an exploration of what it means to build and measure Jewish identity among teens. Session leader David Bryfman, chief learning officer of The Jewish Education Project, encouraged participants to understand “this work is not only about philanthropy; it’s about transforming lives.” Other speakers presented on such topics as teen leadership, network mapping, grant-reading, and Jewish texts and values.

A panel on current trends in the philanthropic world discussed next-gen philanthropy, giving circles, and Jewish funding collaboration. Annie Hernandez, director of Youth Philanthropy Connect, a non-sectarian initiative to network family foundations engaging youth, said “JTFN and the broader Jewish community are leading the way in faith-based teen philanthropy.” Andrés Spokoiny, president of the Jewish Funders Network, emphasized “philanthropy is changing because people are changing. The shift from individual to collective is a change of the 21st century. The Jewish community, including teens, is now approaching philanthropy in a collective way.”

To close the Summit, author and New York Times columnist Ron Lieber urged participants to see themselves “in the business of making adults.” He lauded teen foundations for “introducing teens to very adult decisions,” and shared rituals on how to have meaningful, open conversations with kids on money, wealth, and generosity.

Evidence suggests that early experiences in philanthropy will strengthen a teen’s connection to Jewish life and ensure his or her commitment to lifelong giving. And the high level of interest in the Jewish Teen Philanthropy Summit, more than twice the size of JTFN’s last conference, suggests this movement is on the rise.

Andrew Paull is the program and communications assistant at the Jewish Teen Funders Network, a project of the Jewish Funders Network. There are 133 Jewish teen philanthropy programs in the United States and Canada, with more launching this fall. To see the full schedule and access materials from the Jewish Teen Philanthropy Summit, please visit www.jtfn.org/summit.