Practicing Engagement With Jewish Funders

More than 315 Jewish funders – independent philanthropists, foundation trustees and foundation professionals – along with about 100 presenters, gathered yesterday in Philadelphia for the first day of the Jewish Funders Network’s annual conference. The theme this year, “What’s your story?” focuses on the importance of storytelling as a tool for mission-driven organizations.

The point was driven home by keynote speaker author Andy Goodman. “Numbers tend to numb,” Goodman said, citing research that found stories are more effective than statistics at engaging donors. (keynote video is available here).

While the day also included an introduction to JFN’s future president, skill-building sessions and plenty of networking, the big story was clearly new media and the use of Twitter.

At a standing room only session on the challenges facing funders of new media ventures, panelists from major funders – both within and outside the Jewish world – looked at how we interact and share information. And that interaction was clearly on display with the consistent stream of Twitter updates being posted throughout the various programs. With “Tweets” coming from both foundation professionals and session presenters, and not media professionals, both the quantity and quality of information being pushed out was light years ahead of last year’s Conference.

Other sessions included in-depth conversations relevant to funders working in Israel. Panels discussed the challenge of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state and the difficulties of negotiating a shared society that fulfills the vision of Israel’s proclamation of independence: a country “for the benefit of all its inhabitants” that “will ensure complete equality … irrespective of religion, race or sex.”

Today’s plenary sessions continue the theme of storytelling, with presenters from the worlds of politics, the media and Jewish foundations, as well as the presentation of the Sidney Shapiro Tzedakah Award to Charles Bronfman, and the annual presentation of the J.J. Greenberg Memorial Award to a foundation professional under age 40.