Not Just for Jewish Groups: Why This Bay Area Foundation is Open to Secular Grantees

Major cities across the country have Jewish Federations that serve as grantmakers, as well as private family foundations with strong religious leanings. The Jewish philanthropy movement remains strong in America, yet many nonprofits write off these types of foundations as potential funding sources. 

But while it’s true that many religion-based foundations stick with their own kind, this isn’t always the case. The San Francisco-based Jim Joseph Foundation is a good example of a religiously focused foundation that is actively reaching out to secular organizations for ideas. Recently, I connected with this funder to get a better understanding of why and how this is happening.

Earlier this spring, the Jim Joseph Foundation announced its first-ever request for proposals in two grantmaking program areas, which are "Cohort-Based Educator Professional Development Programs in Jewish Education” and “Leadership Development for Current and Future Leaders in Jewish Education.” While the deadline for this RFP is now passed, it's interesting to look at how this funder's thinking has evolved—since, despite the names of these programs, secular grantees actually have a shot here.  

The Jim Joseph Foundation has been all about Jewish education grant initiatives since it was established in 2006, and it’s awarded over $450 million grants to that end. However, the funder saw this latest RFP opportunity as an experiment to identify diverse and exceptional programs related in some way to these areas. And to embrace the spirit of collaboration dominating giving strategies across the country, the Jim Joseph Foundation is open to partnerships between Jewish and secular organizations.

I asked the foundation why it is now hoping to receive proposals from secular organizations as well as Jewish ones. Here is how the foundation replied. Per the funder’s request, the responses in this article are attributed to the foundation as a whole, and not to one specific board or staff member.

Excellent Jewish education is premised on many of the same important factors and well-known models as excellent education of any kind, including peer-to-peer learning, project-based learning, experiential learning and cohort models. Moreover, having dynamic, highly skilled, and well-resourced educators and education leaders leading these experiences is critical to achieving positive outcomes.
Numerous secular organizations employ professional development models that can be adapted for Jewish educators and future leaders. Secular organizations also have the knowledge and talent to design these development programs to help advance Jewish education, and it’s to the benefit of our field to leverage these organizations where possible. Of note, the foundation currently is formulating an investment strategy in Jewish Ed Tech, and we are looking closely at what’s going on in the secular Ed Tech world to inform what we do.

But one thing to keep in mind is that any secular organization that is looking at this grant opportunity must have some type of collaboration with a Jewish organization in the works when submitting a proposal. As with any prospective grantee, the funder will be looking at applicants’ records of success and design of the proposed programs.

The foundation added, “We especially would like to see a secular grant applicant that can employ best practices from their world that perhaps are unknown or have yet to be adapted to the world of Jewish education.”

The New Teacher Center (NTC) is an example of a secular organization that the Jim Joseph Foundation has supported in the past. This is a group that provides professional development and support to educators throughout their careers. The foundation’s grant to NTC helped establish the Jewish New Teacher Project, which utilizes many of the group’s proven strategies to develop educators at Jewish day schools and to retain them in the field.

I also asked the foundation if Jewish education can benefit secular society, and if so, how. Here’s how the Jim Joseph Foundation responded:

Jewish education, like other forms of education, can influence the whole person, leading to personal growth, development of leadership skills, and a sense of empowerment to create change for good. These, and other qualities of Jewish wisdom, help to develop people who are active contributors to, and leaders of, society. Just over the last few years, for example, we have learned how influential volunteer service experiences can be for Jewish teens and young adults. When these experiences are coupled with Jewish learning and reflection, the impact on both the learner and the community with which they are serving increases even more.

Related: A Closer Look at Jim Joseph Foundation’s New Leadership and Funding Shifts