Legacy Magazine: Why Grantmaking is More Than Just Funding

The Foundation's biggest ever graint cycle - Naomi Strongin

by Naomi Strongin, Vice President, Center for Designed Philanthropy

When people learn that I work at the Jewish Community Foundation, they often ask how their favorite organization can receive funding. The question implies their view that The Foundation is laser-focused on sending money to nonprofits in need — but that is not The Foundation’s whole story. Another equally vital component to our work goes beyond dollars and cents — why and how we fulfill our mission speaks to something more fundamental.

The Talmud teaches us that the world stands on three pillars — Torah and the love of learning, community service, and acts of loving-kindness. In a similar vein, The Foundation’s grantmaking rests on a set of three core values:

  1. Tzedakah — The pursuit of justice for the organizations we support.
  2. Shalom — The pursuit of peace and fullness for the communities our grantees serve.
  3. Tikkun olam — The pursuit of a more perfect world through tangible, specific commitments at the ground level that make such a world possible.

With these building blocks as our guide, we help a range of stakeholders such as donors, grantees, and civic leaders glean insight into what their funding can achieve and how strategic philanthropic investment can strengthen institutions and improve people’s lives.

We measure success by more than just the dollar amounts of our grants — because they tell only part of the larger Foundation story.

Accomplishing this takes work — distributing critical funds to nonprofits, building essential infrastructure for support, establishing robust communication networks, and convening important allies committed to lifting every member of our diverse society. It’s why we measure success by more than just the dollar amounts of our grants — because they tell only part of the larger Foundation story.

Central to this story is the sense of trust we foster in both donors and grantees. On the grantee side, we strive to make clear to all recipients of Foundation funds that we are invested in their ability to thrive. We start by listening, and then we ask how we can assist and develop programs and other resources to respond to their needs.

Last year, we reached out to nonprofits, funders, and experts in a broad array of fields to assess how The Foundation could best support a city struggling in the face of the pandemic. What we heard was a desperate demand to adapt programs and delivery models to the COVID-19 era, a call for professional and leadership development and wellness, and a need to explore new partnerships, which led to the rollout of our Reimagine Grants that awarded $3.7 million to 44 local organizations. This represented both the greatest dollar amount and number of recipients ever awarded by The Foundation in a single grants cycle. It was a direct outgrowth of our dialogue with the organizations we are proud to help.

Our workshops and seminars enable nonprofit professionals to sit around the same table (or Zoom screen) and learn about (and from) their peers.

We subsequently brought many of those grantees together on Zoom to get to know one another. Making shidduchim (matches) that can lead to unexpected and fruitful collaborations is vital to The Foundation’s
work. Our workshops and seminars enable nonprofit professionals to sit around the same table (or Zoom screen) and learn about (and from) their peers. The results can be transformative.

As our grantees become better acquainted, they can turn to one another for guidance and referrals and share best practices, which ultimately buoys the individual organizations and the whole nonprofit sector. This is a sacred and connected community, a kehillah kedoshah, in action.

Just as The Foundation nurtures relationships among our grantees, we also create new connections for donors, taking advantage of our deep knowledge and experience to offer keen insights and introductions that can help drive their philanthropy. Whether we’re hosting a panel on foster youth, a seminar on seniors, or an expert talk on estate planning, we help equip donors to have a real impact. At The Foundation, they find a community of like-minded individuals with similar interests. They rely on us to do due diligence, as we are continually vetting charities to ensure their credibility and effectiveness. In turn, this allows Foundation donors to maximize their effectiveness by introducing them to organizations with a solid track record of accomplishment.

Personalized attention is another Foundation hallmark and a significant aspect of the service we provide.

Our donors come to us at different stages of their philanthropic journeys — some are just setting out, whereas others have already gotten their feet wet and know where they want to go. Some seek to establish a charitable estate plan, while others are eager to engage the next generation. In each case, we enable them to pursue their passions and make a difference across our region, in Israel, and around the globe.

This past year, The Foundation added even more value for grantees through an investment in Catchafire, an online platform that pairs skilled volunteers with non-profits that have specific (typically short-term) project needs. Approximately 100 of our grantees now have access, free of charge, to this system and are already reaping the benefits. One group was recently looking to develop an in-house accounting software system, and through Catchafire, it partnered with a retired accountant with a background in accounting software development. Over 35 hours, the volunteer helped build the new system the organization was hoping for, saving the nonprofit more than $5,000. Other Foundation grantees have used Catchafire for help with direct mail, customer relations management, rebranding, and public relations. Our investment in helping LA nonprofits thrive ultimately benefits our donors because the organizations these donors support can now leverage their dollars for greater impact.

We’re part of countless conversations about making life better for Angelenos and Israelis every day, and our institutional grants are dedicated to achieving that goal. But it’s how we do that which makes The Foundation unique. That process, rooted in our essential values of tzedakah, shalom, and tikkun olam, enables The Foundation to be a force for positive change in the world. I invite you to join us in carrying this cause and these conversations forward.

This article was featured in The Foundation’s Spring 2022 Legacy magazine.