Why it’s a win for all: The Jewish Teen Funder Collaborative’s new home at JFNA

In Short

The Funder Collaborative built a powerful national network with deep cross-community relationships and found relevant new ways to serve Jewish teens, such as elevating wellness as foundational to achieving teen education and engagement outcomes. The Collaborative is now entering an important new stage with a permanent home.

In 2013, the Jim Joseph Foundation wanted to understand and address the perpetual problem of teens dropping out of Jewish life following b’nai mitzvah. The Foundation posed some big questions to itself and to researchers it commissioned to understand the challenge. How could the Jewish community engage more — and more diverse — post-b’nai mitzvah teens in Jewish experiences that add meaning and value to their lives? How could we strengthen connections to and among Jewish teens that give them a sense of belonging? 

After uncovering some potential answers, the Foundation began working with 10 local and five national funders to create 10 teen initiatives in communities across the U.S. Together, these funders and initiatives formed the Jewish Teen Education and Engagement Funder Collaborative, with the common goal to develop and invest in local engagement opportunities to create high-quality, relevant and sustainable Jewish education and engagement experiences. Importantly, the early commitment from the Jim Joseph Foundation provided matching funds that local communities used to leverage for fundraising and/or allocating significant funding themselves. 

In addition to sharing a common goal, over time the communities would also share learnings, benchmarks, frameworks and measures of success. To varying degrees they each experimented with new approaches to reach diverse new audiences. While each initiative had the autonomy to create initiatives suited for and reflective of their community, undoubtedly they had a larger collective impact than they could through individual action. The Funder Collaborative built a powerful national network with deep cross-community relationships, and found relevant new ways to serve Jewish teens, such as elevating wellness as foundational to achieving teen education and engagement outcomes. 

As the foundation stepped back from involvement in the day-to-day operations in 2016, the Collaborative hired an executive director. This gave it more autonomy and space for more honest knowledge sharing among the ten communities. Over these last five years, the initiatives succeeded in critical areas–from professional development of youth professionals, to supporting parents of teens, to offering timely programs around college admissions and more. These and other resources and offerings were increasingly used by communities outside of the Funder Collaborative. We began to recognize the broader impact of this work on the field–and the additional impact the Funder Collaborative could have moving forward if it could find a way to expand and scale effectively.

We challenged the initiatives to think about their own sustainability, which helped us to develop a plan for the Collaborative’s sustainability too. Some funder collaboratives rightfully come and go; this one warranted continuing in a permanent institutional home.  

With this in mind, the Jewish Teen Funder Collaborative is now entering an important new stage with a permanent home at The Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA). The Collaborative worked closely for three months with Plan A Advisors, a management consulting firm for nonprofits, to find an organization that was a strong fit and that complemented the Funder Collaborative’s mission, vision and culture. In the end, the consultants landed squarely on JFNA, which provides the platform, audience, growth opportunities, commitment, fiscal and organizational stability, infrastructure and leadership the Funder Collaborative needed to expand and thrive. 

JFNA and the Funder Collaborative both share a mission to create flourishing communities with meaningful Jewish life. They also had a relationship, as many of the teen initiatives’ local funder partnerships were with each community’s Federation. Moreover, the Funder Collaborative’s cultural identity as an entrepreneurial, transparent, nimble and forward-thinking collective has been critical to its success, and it was thus crucial to find a home that allowed it to preserve this culture within the operational framework of a larger organization.

By setting clear expectations of what constitutes a successful transition, we have ensured that this latest development is a “win” for all involved. The Jewish Federations of North America are enthusiastic about the Collaborative’s work and the opportunity to amplify its impact by offering an immediate national platform for the Funder Collaborative to expand its methodology and platform beyond its current reach. JFNA is committed to preserving the Funder Collaborative’s cultural identity while empowering it through cross-departmental relationships in JFNA and including the Funder Collaborative in senior-level meetings, leadership opportunities and fiscal decision-making. The Funder Collaborative will have access to the many resources, partners and national reach of JFNA–which represents over 300 Jewish communities–enabling it to positively influence communities, youth professionals and families around the country. JFNA will gain access to the Funder Collaborative’s intellectual property, proven models of experimentation, learning and collaboration, as well as the Funder Collaborative’s professional leadership who are being absorbed as well. 

Beyond the “wins” for the Funder Collaborative and JFNA, the Jim Joseph Foundation is able to perpetuate impact and outcomes generated from grants awarded nearly a decade ago. A significant multi-year investment produced what is now a sustainable national initiative. The initial ten teen initiatives will live on well past the grant period and learnings about their successes and challenges will be shared widely–both developments that are core principles for the Foundation. Relatedly, the Funder Collaborative housed at JFNA benefits the entire field of Jewish education and engagement, which will gain easy access to the Collaborative’s resources, training initiatives and more.

As just a few examples, as part of JFNA the Funder Collaborative will be able to expand the impact of its efforts with diverse audiences, working to:

  • spur a national communal effort to elevate the careers  of youth professionals, improve and make training widely available and provide forums for the dissemination of best practices;
  • elevate the central role of parents in Jewish teen education and engagement, and bridge work to organizations that reach parents and connect to college;
  • serve as a thought-leader on data collection, analysis, and dissemination, and as a source, aggregator, and interpreter of measurement tools for other organizations;
  • be a source of best practices that are applicable across a variety of community types and sizes, including scaling successful models to unique and diverse situations beyond teen programming.

As the Funder Collaborative begins this new era at JFNA, it can thrive and grow as a resource for the entire community. Bringing the Funder Collaborative’s approach, its gathered wisdom and its best practices to inform and spur work across Jewish communities of every size and geography will strengthen all Jewish teen education and engagement efforts. The success of the Funder Collaborative’s original initiative, its expansion and its absorption by JFNA is a model to consider for any initiative in Jewish education and engagement aiming for greater impact and sustainability.

Sara Allen is executive director of the Jewish Teen Education and Engagement Funder Collaborative and associate vice president, community and Jewish life at JFNA. Aaron Saxe is a senior program officer at the Jim Joseph Foundation.