This post was originally published on eJewish Philanthropy.
Angie Leiber, the development director at Hannah Senesh Day School, is a recent participant in Amplifier’s Jewish Giving Circle Incubator. The Incubator helps individuals and and professionals representing their organizations start new giving circles. Below, Angie and and Judy Schoenberg, a Senesh parent and the new circle’s chair, share their journey of launching the first-ever day school giving circle. Want to pioneer a circle at your organization, or for your friends? Applications for the next Incubator cohort open on July 5th.
“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” -Anne Frank
Many of us have been in book clubs, running clubs, dinner clubs and investment clubs. But what about a parent club or “circle” focused on giving? What if parents were galvanized around improving their school and community not only individually but based on their values together? What could collaborative decision-making look like infused with Jewish wisdom? Does leveraging parent contributions make a difference? These are some of the big questions Hannah Senesh Community Day School boldly took on this year that led it to make history by pioneering the Lower School Giving Circle.
With strategic support from Amplifier, a network of Jewish giving circles, the Hannah Senesh Community Day School launched the first ever giving circle at a Jewish day school in the school year 2015-2016. Lower School parents who contributed $1,000 or more were afforded an opportunity to gather together and use their pooled philanthropic resources to thoughtfully decide how they will direct their giving within the context of the school’s mission and operational budget.
Circle Aligns with School Values: We learned so much about how Senesh’s values of Seek Meaning, Build Community and Learn Joyfully played out in this new way to experience Jewish philanthropy. The process of developing the giving circle’s values and mission, as well as getting an inside view of the school, gave parents and school leadership an opportunity to come together around a common vision of the priorities for the school. Parents gained a deeper understanding of the school’s needs and current allocations in the operational budget, and felt empowered to make contributions that had real benefit for the school. And it was a win-win as the school leadership felt empowered to be transparent in dialogue with a group of parents who wanted to know more and who care deeply about their giving.
These are our collective insights from what we learned this pilot year. We hope that these practices will prove useful as a model for other Jewish day schools looking to establish similar giving circles:
1. Moving from “Me” to “We”: Collaborative Decision Making
In establishing a giving circle, we learned that it is important to have a process in place to move the group from thinking about themselves as individual donors to a group of donors who are part of a collaborative decision making process. This was important to getting the group started and gave parents who did not all know each other time to understand what giving means to them through a Jewish lens and what motivated them to be there. The process also helped with group cohesion and relationship building. The group reflected on the role of Jewish education and philanthropy in their lives. The importance of leaving a lasting legacy of Jewish values and wisdom was a common theme for the group in these conversations that built a foundation for their work together.
2. Establishing a Values–Driven Mission and Purpose
Drawing from Jewish thinkers provided common ground for developing the giving circle’s own values and mission statement. We also established the purpose for the 2016 pilot year unique to focusing on investigating the financial structure and directing annual contributions to the areas in the 2016-2017 operational budget. We decided that the mission will stay in place from year to year while the purpose can change based on the focus areas for the group as it evolves. Below are the circle’s values, “words to live by” or aphorisms that guided us, the mission statement and the purpose for 2016.
Giving Circle Values:
- Responsibility, Gratitude, Compassion, Joy
Words to Live By:
- “There is always time to be a mensch.”
- “Value every moment.”
- “Those that sow with tears, reap with joy.”
- The Lower School Giving Circle is a working group of lower school parents committed to a collaborative giving approach to leverage our collective resources and talents. Guided by Jewish values, we assume the responsibility of promoting a vibrant future for children and their communities. We are grateful for all we have, and have been given by those before us. It is with philanthropic leadership, rooted in joy and compassion, that we continue that legacy while acknowledging the importance of being present in every moment.
Giving Circle Purpose 2016:
- Incubator year focusing on investigating Senesh’s financial structure and collectively directing annual contributions to areas within the 2016-17 operating budget that align with the circle’s mission.
After these statements were in place, we had parameters within which we could understand the school’s financial structure and the current key priorities.
3. The Benefits of Transparency and the Inside View
Parents who participated gathered in intimate settings and heard directly from Nicole Nash, Head of School, and Gary Gottlieb, a member of the Board of Trustees and finance committee, about the school’s budgeting process. They also heard from Dan Perla, former Program Officer for day school finance at The AVI CHAI Foundation. Dan shared his experience and strategic recommendations on improving financial viability at day schools. Having insights from the broader landscape of Jewish day school affordability made all the difference in order for us to most effectively assess where our school fit into the larger picture.
Based on this information, the giving circle chose to allocate their aggregate annual contributions to financial aid and teacher compensation.
4. Enhancing Parent Stakeholder Engagement
The parents in the giving circle committed to meeting 3-4 times over the school year for education and decision-making. Being in a group of parents representing all different grades in the school was a powerful education process for everyone – even longstanding parents at the school. The learning process was so intimate and the space that the circle created was so safe that parents were able to have open and honest conversations with each other. Opinions were voiced to school leadership that may not have ever been out in the open had this circle not have been created. For example, after the presentation on the school budget, one parent remarked that now she really understood where all the tuition funds went. Learning the amount of financial aid the school gives to its families made her more aware of this as a priority and focus for the school’s operational budget.
When parents get to have conversations about how the school operates with leadership and that door to authentic dialogue has been opened, their investment and commitment to the school also deepens. This process can increase the likelihood that parents convert to being school advocates and ambassadors in multi-faceted ways, rather than just being seen in the donor role. This changes parents’ relationship to the school and broadens what they potentially can offer as support.
5. Incubating New Ideas
The group hopes to continue its initiative in the next school year with broader engagement from the school community. Conversations about the operational budget and the finances of the school touch almost every other aspect of how the school functions. The giving circle became a space where new ideas blossomed as members became more aware of the power of leveraging their assets together. At our final meeting, the conversation turned to admissions. We brainstormed new ways to structure financial aid and tuition that would be more flexible and aligned with innovative practices in the field. The giving circle fed this information to school leadership and started to see itself as a potential change agent for the school.
Everyone who participated left feeling empowered in their giving and more impactful together, rather than going at it alone.