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Nurturing an Ecosystem of Empowered Philanthropy

April 04, 2016

Originally posted in eJewishPhilanthropy.


Our Jewish community needs to be smarter and more creative with our giving if we are to meet the enormous challenges – and the powerful opportunities – facing us today. To be more effective change agents requires that we take advantage of key trends shaping Jewish philanthropy.

Like philanthropy more broadly, Jewish philanthropy is riding the wave of economic and technological sea changes that have reshaped how we approach our work in the 21st century. Several years ago, I wrote on trends in our sector, namely, that philanthropy was becoming more accessible to a greater number of donors, and funders were playing a more catalytic role in advancing the fields and causes most important to them.

Today, these trends continue to take root and giving is increasing even as local needs and global challenges grow. The Jewish community is moving toward a state of what can be called empowered philanthropy: a generation of energized donors large and small who are taking active ownership over their giving and the impact it makes. This is a model in which we are taking advantage of new tools to be more creative, more collaborative and more informed in our investments and strategies.

Now it is time we ensure this model takes hold by scaling what works: expanding new forms of giving that embolden the next generation; embracing an ecosystem mindset to achieve system-wide change; and using data to enhance and accelerate our collective impact.

Creative giving is empowering a new generation

Innovative forms of philanthropy, such as crowdfunding, giving circles, micro-grants and social impact investing, are engaging new Jewish givers at all levels. Crowdfunding has proven particularly effective in both the Jewish and broader nonprofit worlds, with well-established platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo enabling people to find, fund and promote projects that resonate with their interests and values.

More recently, giving circles have become an attractive model for younger donors, who enjoy both the social and philanthropic benefits of coming together with peers to pool their giving. According to a 2014 report, one in eight Americans participated in a giving circle – and nearly 40 percent were under 40. Within the Jewish community, Amplifier, a network of giving circles grounded in Jewish values, helps millennials and other donors join with like-minded peers. Leveraging an online platform and resources, the model seamlessly integrates social networking with social good, taking into account the habits of a busy generation intent on seeing the tangible impact of its charitable dollars. Today, Amplifier is home to more than 100 giving circles and a growing list of Jewish non-profits supporting economic development, education, inclusion, social justice and more.

To forge a new generation of empowered Jewish funders, we need to fully embrace democratized philanthropy. We need to harness the technologies that make it possible. And we need to ensure that more young Jews can access user-friendly tools to imbue their giving with Jewish values, a community ethos and an ability to shape their philanthropy in their own image.

An ecosystem mindset is taking hold

Grantmaking used to be a Darwinian arrangement of independent funders supporting independent organizations. Today, philanthropists and organizations alike recognize that our most vexing challenges have complex interdependencies. To truly achieve our missions, we have to work together to build more productive systems that serve our shared objectives. And Jewish funders are stepping up – rather than asking what is best for individual grantees or even our own portfolio, we are widening our parameters to ask, what is best for the ecosystem? Indeed, by forging new partnerships and approaching our work within the context of the larger whole, we best position ourselves to scale impact and foster more sustainable change.

Our community recently adopted this approach when investing in talent. To better attract and retain talented Jewish professionals, a consortium of foundations and federations came together to launch Leading Edge, an organization that now serves as a central entity for onboarding new CEOs, improving workplace culture and activating lay leaders. Similarly, OLAM, a platform for strengthening global Jewish service, brings together a broad coalition of funding and organizational partners to support the work of those tackling hunger, poverty, disease and other global challenges. These initiatives are two of many burgeoning collaborations that indicate our community is embracing the ecosystem mindset.

While shifting our center of gravity from independence to interdependence takes time and courage, we must actively pursue strategies that transcend any one organization or funder. Instead, we must work together to set common benchmarks, share knowledge and forge shared solutions to our shared challenges.

Data is accelerating our impact

Making strategic use of data is no longer unique to the business sector. More players in the Jewish philanthropic world are recognizing the importance of and reaping the benefits that advanced data collection, sharing and analysis provide. But this is not simply a numbers game – big data clears a path to what Darrin McKeever of the Davidson Foundation calls “big wisdom.” When we use all the tools at our fingertips, from aggregated data sets to human insight, we gain the understanding needed to make better decisions and, ultimately, to magnify our impact.

As the Israel on Campus Coalition director Jacob Baime describes their experience, “data helps to drive collaboration and collaboration helps to drive more data.” ICC has made a concerted effort to collect large amounts of qualitative and quantitative information about their work on college campuses across the country and to share their data with their partners through a community portal.

ICC has set a great example. When it comes to using big data to attain big wisdom, we are each other’s greatest resources. Our successes and failures are most valuable when we learn from them together and use them to inform our work moving forward. When we collect and share data, placing an emphasis on open source transparency, we enable funders to give bigger and give smarter, and we help our grantee partners make a greater impact on the ground. That is why data must increasingly become a communal resource – information can and must help fuel empowered philanthropy.

This paradigm is within reach, but we must grab hold together. It means embracing new technologies that engage the smaller giver, the grassroots activist and the social networker. It means breaking down barriers that keep organizations in silos and coming together to achieve our objectives. And it means ensuring that our resources and our data do not remain proprietary, but instead contribute to a broader, more accurate picture of the Jewish landscape.

Indeed, now is the time to scale our successes and embrace key trends that amplify our work. Now is the time to become empowered philanthropists who, in turn, empower our partners, our constituents and our communities.

Lisa Eisen is Vice President of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation , a global organization committed to igniting the passion and unleashing the power of young people to create positive change in the Jewish community and beyond.