Focus on innovation

Slingshot Fund releases new ‘10 to Watch,’ with a focus on mental health

List includes groups addressing addiction, abortion access, childhood education; CEO says goal is to raise visibility, offer snapshot of young Jewish philanthropists’ priorities

The innovation and young philanthropy-focused Slingshot Fund released its 2023 “10 to Watch” list, highlighting relatively new organizations and programs that its selection committee determined to be addressing critical needs in the Jewish community in fresh ways.

The groups and initiatives in the list address a broad array of topics, from abortion access to a new synagogue model to empowering Jews of color. At least three deal directly with mental health issues, albeit in different ways and with different focuses. Under Slingshot’s criteria, they are all less than five years old, though some are new initiatives by older groups.

According to Slingshot Fund, the goal of the “10 to Watch” is to raise awareness about the organizations on the list with the expectation that this will result in greater engagement from the community, new partnerships with other groups and interest from new donors, particularly those who already work with Slingshot.

“We are looking to raise visibility with the hopes that it will increase engagement — philanthropic engagement, leadership engagement, communal engagement,“ Stefanie Rhodes, the CEO of Slingshot Fund, told eJewishPhilanthropy.

BaMidbar, an organization that focuses on mental health care through outdoor and adventure activities, which made this year’s list, hoped that by appearing on the “10 to Watch” it would be better able to find partners for its programs, its CEO, Jory Hanselman Mayschak, told eJP.

BaMidbar, which spun off from Ramah in the Rockies in Colorado two years ago, has since gone national with programs in Massachusetts and California.

“BaMidbar does a lot of work through partnership. So Slingshot is important for us both in terms of getting in front of funders and also because it’s something that Jewish communal professionals look to. As we look to strengthen our partnership and expand our work with other organizations, it’s a strong platform to share that work across the Jewish community,” Hanselman Mayschak said.

For another member of the list, the Shomer Collective by Natan, which focuses on end-of-life issues, getting on Slingshot’s list was part of a broader effort to raise both its profile and, more generally, the topics of death and dying. The Shomer Collective grew out of Natan but has since received a number of grants and gifts from other Jewish foundations and groups. It currently has two full-time staff members but is looking to expand to four shortly.

“We are really looking to normalize conversations about death and dying in Jewish communities, and we are always looking for opportunities for exposure,” Shomer Collective’s CEO, Rabbi Melanie Levav, told eJP. 

“We saw Slingshot as another opportunity,” she said. “We applied knowing that Slingshot has a great reputation and that we are among other entrepreneurs and startups who benefit from the exposure that Slingshot has to offer.”

Rhodes said the list offers a snapshot of the issues that are currently at the front of Jewish people’s minds, particularly young Jews’ minds.

“I expect there’s a correlation between the concerns and opportunities that people have and see and the organizations that we see on the list. Given who the demographics are, it’s also a window into what Jewish philanthropic leadership in their 20s and 30s cares about,” she said.

The full “10 to Watch” list this year comprises:

  • A More Perfect Union: The Jewish Partnership for Democracy
  • BaMidbar
  • JALSA’s Jews of Color Leadership and Engagement Initiative
  • Jews for Abortion Access, a project of the National Council of Jewish Women
  • LEV Children’s Museum
  • New Synagogue Project
  • Our Jewish Recovery
  • R&R: the rest of our lives
  • Shomer Collective, powered by Natan
  • The Workshop

“Mental health, democracy, sabbaticals, women’s health – these are issues that are on the front pages of the news. These are some of the biggest issues that we’re facing,” Rhodes said.

“It certainly seems to me to be a reflection of what is both on the minds of the folks reading the applications and the energy that is already in the Jewish community,” she said.

For years, Slingshot Fund released a larger guide with information on 50 organizations. Three years ago, it whittled that down to its current top 10. Last year, Slingshot introduced a new application method: Instead of having applicants all fill out the same form and answer the same question, they would be allowed to submit anything that spoke to their mission and their financial situation, something like a grant application or an annual report.

According to Rhodes, in addition to making this easier for applicants, it improved the quality of their answers.

“The main thing we are looking at is, ‘Is this meeting a need?’ The way that we got this answer in the past was to ask everyone the exact same question. But it turns out that the richness of the answers that we get when [the applicants] didn’t have to fit our precise phrasing was much deeper,” she said.

Overall, the programs and groups tend to skew more progressive, though Slingshot sees this as a natural result of the fact that it focuses on innovation and that its selection committee is generally younger.

The committee is made up of approximately 40 people who either work in foundations or who are current or potential young philanthropists. In some cases, Slingshot invites people to serve on the committee as a first step toward getting them involved in philanthropy, Rhodes said.

She said the committee members range from “people who are Orthodox to people who culturally identify as Jews” and, politically, include “people from both sides of the aisle.” Rhodes said the organization also strives to have gender parity in the committee, as well as having members who are Jews of color.