by Nancy Astor Fox
It was a room filled with twelve “kids” – aged 14 to 40-something. They discussed sustainability, bloated project budgets, questionable overhead costs. They debated the impact of funding large scholarships for a small group of students versus providing partial support for programs that may benefit an entire community. As parents sitting around that table, watching and listening to the discussions, we were filled with pride. Our goal, to build connections to Israel and to engage our kids in Jewish philanthropy, was coming to life before our eyes.
Three years ago, a group of us were thinking of ways to enhance our charitable experiences. We wanted to have a greater impact and understanding of the donations we were giving. We wanted to think of ways to increase awareness and funding to the plethora of worthwhile organizations in Israel. And, perhaps most importantly, we wanted to share our passion, and connections, with our children.
And so, the Acharai Fund was “born.” Named for the Hebrew term meaning “FOLLOW ME”, we were not the first to recognize the significance of this word. Nor were we the first to create a giving circle focused on Jewish philanthropy. But what is different about the Acharai Fund, and what distinguishes us from other wonderful groups and collaboratives, is the fact that this truly is a multi-generational giving circle with our children responsible for vetting, evaluating and selecting the recipient of one of four five-figure grants. And, this “next gen” not only does a wonderful job, they love doing it.
The Acharai Fund was started in 2011 with 36 families as members. We are a completely volunteer organization and 100% of our donations ($5,000 per family) are used toward four grants given to organizations operating in Israel. Acharai members developed our website, created our logo and drafted the letter of inquiry, full proposal, evaluative criteria and grant making guidelines. Our members, young and old, participate in detailed financial reviews and exhaustive proposal evaluations. Our kids, the “next gen” group, take full responsibility for choosing their area of focus, vetting their applications and ultimately, selecting their grant winner. Along the way, we all learn about the meaningful work conducted by nonprofit organizations and amutot in Israel.
In our first year, we relied on our contacts, rabbis and assorted networks, as well as “word of mouth/internet,” to distribute these LOIs. We said a silent prayer when we hit “send” in the first email announcing the availability of these grants. We bet among ourselves whether we would receive over or under 25 applications. Would this really work and would anyone really apply? (As an aside, we got 71 applications in 2012, most received in the last 24 hours before the grant deadline).
We completed our two-part grant review process in six months and had 75% participation among the Acharai Fund families. To determine our grant awards, we gathered together one Sunday afternoon in September and watched homemade videos sent to us by the finalist organizations. Each family had one vote per funding category with the “next gens” casting the vote in their area of focus. Those families who could not attend, or those kids living out of town, were sent a private youtube link so that they could watch the videos and send in their votes before the meeting.
We are proud to share that as a result of our first year’s grants, the Acharai Fund families are responsible for feeding the hungry in Jerusalem, for providing support for wounded IDF soldiers helping other wounded IDF soldiers, and for an Arab and Jewish girls basketball team playing and learning together in Haifa. Our children are responsible for the construction of a dining room in a children’s home in Netanya – a vote they cast in order to help other children to have some normalcy in their often difficult lives.
Fast forward one year. We have 43 families and 81 LOIs to review. We learned some valuable lessons and made some changes along the way. We all remain committed to democratic decision-making, transparency and inclusiveness. We are dedicated to teaching and modeling Jewish philanthropy to our children. And, once again, we will gather together as families on a Sunday afternoon in September and will vote for the “winners” of our 2013 grants. Truthfully, as I watch the LOI evaluation process currently taking place, and remember the room filled with all of our families last year, I know that we are truly the winners in this endeavor.
Nancy Astor Fox is the “volunteer” executive director of The Acharai Fund. She served as the Associate Director of the Gerda and Kurt Klein Foundation and was a member of the Board of Trustees of JFNA as well as the Board and Executive Boards of National Women’s Philanthropy. For more information about the Acharai Fund, visit acharaifund.org.