Double down

Making big bets on Jewish day schools

In Short

Jewish day schools promise and deliver the kind of social change that can and should attract Big Bets philanthropy. Together, day school supporters and community leaders can help articulate opportunities that will bring funders the kind of pride and joy that Foster described.  

Passion. Gratitude. Investment. Inspiration. These are just some of the words we could use to describe the palpable positive energy of Prizmah’s 2022 Day School Investor Summit in May. 

At the second event of its kind, which brought together Jewish day school investors from across North America, the hope and dreams that filled the room rested on the layers of good news for Jewish day schools that Prizmah has measured and reported over the last several years. Day school enrollment increased and maintained strength for the first time in many years, endowments and fundraising for schools are growing, and new day school families are able to clearly articulate what day school enthusiasts have known all along — that the community and relationships built within Jewish day schools are some of the foundational aspects of future Jewish engagement and personal growth and success. 

Excited to seize the moment and use the positive momentum to drive even more growth and stability for the field, attendees engaged in learning and conversations around affordability, enrollment, talent, excellence and the value of a day school education. Based on our experiences in our home communities of Toronto and West Hartford, Conn., as well as what we learned and witnessed at the summit, we know that now is the time to “double down” on investments to Jewish day schools. 

We know what challenges need to be addressed, we know the potential our schools have and we are pooling our resources — intellectual, interpersonal and financial — to create measurable impact that will set the field up for continued success. 

What Are Big Bets?

Bridgespan Managing Partner William Foster delivered a strong and hopeful message to investors at the summit on “Big Bets Philanthropy.” He asked us to think about two critical questions as we dreamed together: “What would it take for you to make a gift that was ten times any previous gift you have made, and what would it take to make that one of the happiest moments of your life?” 

Foster and his team at Bridgespan seek to promote Big Bets philanthropy. They researched gifts of $10 million or more in a 14-year period and found that while 80% of these gifts went to large institutions and causes such as universities and medical research, donors reported that they were most proud of their gifts to smaller causes for social change. Big Bets gifts are those that are very significant, both for the funder and for the recipient.

According to Foster’s research, funders make a Big Bet gift when they understand what can change as a result — literally what will be different in the world because of this gift. Institutions need to be able to identify these kinds of opportunities for funders with whom they have developed relationships over time, and this puts small organizations with small teams at a disadvantage compared to large institutions with teams of development professionals who have more capacity to connect and know their donors’ hearts and can identify aligned opportunities for impact. 

Jewish day schools promise and deliver the kind of social change that can and should attract Big Bets philanthropy. Together, day school supporters and community leaders can help articulate opportunities that will bring funders the kind of pride and joy that Foster described.  

In convening the summit, Prizmah provided access to a field-wide perspective on the challenges day schools face: deepening the talent pipeline; articulating the impact of day schools on individuals, communities, and the Jewish future; making day school education affordable to more families and delivering nothing less than an excellent educational experience that nurtures the whole child. The design-thinking format of the summit pushed us to imagine and share ideas to address these challenges: “A national endowment for day schools,” “Jewish Teach for America,” and “support for small communities” were just a few. 

But we won’t succeed just by brainstorming. Serving a field of hundreds of schools, Prizmah is committed to creating opportunities for the kind of coalitions and relationships that unleash possibilities far beyond what one school or one donor might imagine. In convening the Day School Investor Summit, Prizmah intends to ignite more Big Bets for Jewish day schools and yeshivas.

Personally, we each know something about Big Bets, the impact they can make for our schools and communities, and the way they shape funders mindsets.  

Big Bets Partnerships

As chairs of the summit as well as big-betters ourselves, we are grateful to have the ability to activate partners in our work.

In Toronto, Sarena’s home community, the Generations Trust Scholarship was established to address affordability needs of families who would not otherwise qualify for financial support. Ann and her husband Jeremy made a big bet in their home community of West Hartford, Conneticut, investing in a tuition subsidy program to stabilize enrollment and attract new Jewish families to the community. Both bets saw both expected and unexpected successes for the schools and the community.

The Benefits of a National Day School Philanthropic Movement 

Too often, philanthropists feel a sense of loneliness. Gatherings like the Day School Investor Summit make it possible to develop the relationships and friendships that can lead to the energy, ideas and resources needed to seize moments like this — where the upward momentum is strong and carries the possibility for exponential growth. 

Making a big bet is a vote of confidence, as well as an acceptance of risk. The relationship-building and sharing of ideas that happened at Prizmah’s Day School Investor Summit is the kind of support that risk-takers need to take the leap and make strides towards a vibrant Jewish future.