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Wanted: Bold Jewish Ideas

February 26, 2016

This article was originally posted on the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati's blog under the title, "The Jewish Federation of Cincinnati Launches 2 Innovation Funds to Offer up to $100,000 in Grants".

The Jewish Federation of Cincinnati’s leadership has created two new funds to support Jewish innovation, to be called the Jewish Innovation Funds. The idea was spurred by Cincinnati 2020, the collaborative plan for the Cincinnati Jewish community’s future, and specifically its call to create a vibrant local Jewish community.

This new investment in innovation has two parts: macrogrants awarded for large-scale initiatives, and microgrants for smaller projects. Both will seek innovation and Jewish values in their grant-making. The larger grants, from $10,000 to $50,000, are intended for bold Jewish ideas, broadly conceived: programming, seed capital for nonprofit ventures, tools to enrich communal life or solve critical social issues, and more. The microgrants, from $500 to $1,500, are intended for new, inventive programming in the Jewish community. The hope is that the Innovation Funds will continue past this year.

Friedman take 14“It’s essential that our community have a spirit of innovation,” said Tedd Friedman, President-elect of the Jewish Federation. “With the new Innovation Funds we want to invest in creative ideas that give back to the Jewish community.”

“We have a unique opportunity right now to support bold Jewish ideas and out-of-the-box thinking,” said Danielle V. Minson, Chief Development Officer at the Federation, in announcing the initiatives last week. “In Cincinnati, we have a thriving entrepreneurial community and a thriving Jewish community. We want to strengthen our community by supporting the synergy between the two. We will look for philanthropic, community-oriented, innovative ventures with maximum impact.”

While united in purpose, the two grant opportunities are funded differently and coordinated by different groups. 


Group Ramps Up Quickly to Offer Large Grants: Deadline March 31
Two months ago, several generous donors created a giving circle, modeled on Jewish giving circles nationwide, and using the resources of Amplifier, an online network of giving circles motivated by Jewish values. According to Amplifier, a giving circle is a group of friends, family or co-workers who come together to give. Members can join to build relationships with like-minded people, explore the Jewish nonprofit world, or learn more about grantmaking.

Giving circle members have committed $10,000 each, above and beyond their gift to the Federation’s Annual Campaign, to launch this fund. The investors will decide together, in accord with the giving circle framework, how to allocate these charitable dollars.

“As a member of the Natan Fund, another Jewish giving circle, it feels great to start this new fund in Cincinnati with the Federation,” said John Stein, a founding member of the new givingcircle. “Giving circles are a way to find out about and give directly to what you care about most. With the Jewish Innovation Funds, we hope to support extraordinary, creative, high-impact projects grounded in Jewish values. To me, that’s a good risk.”

Danielle - take 1“I want to give where it matters most, and that for me that is ‘doing Jewish’ and ‘doing local,’” said Bret Caller, another founding member. “We have the opportunity to support organizations and social entrepreneurs that address the wide array of Cincinnati community needs through a Jewish lens.”

These forward-thinkers have their eye on a demographic they say is crucial, but underserved: the Jewish innovators and social entrepreneurs who have powerful—but brand new—ideas. The macrogrants can also support new programs or the enhancement of well-established initiatives.


Microgrants Program Aims for “Solutions to Our Greatest Challenges”
The microgrants program, also funded by a few generous individuals, will award grants for “grassroots, organic, innovative projects and programming,” said Barbara Miller, Director of Community Building at the Federation.

The program is the brainchild of, and administered by, the Federation’s newly formed Innovation Council. The Innovation Council is comprised of ten seasoned, veteran Federation volunteers, each with a long history of involvement in the planning and allocations process and the Jewish community.

Their experience gives them “a unique lens. They have seen over thirty different programs and agencies; they have peeked under the hood and seen where there are gaps and opportunities,” said Council member and Vice President of Planning & Allocations for the Jewish Federation, John Silverman. “The volunteers get a feel for where there are opportunities missed—wouldn’t it be great if we could do ‘blank.’ We hope that these new initiatives will fill in that blank.”

Discussing the importance of creativity, Council member Jen Dauer said, “The microgrants program will provide resources to allow people to explore and imagine meaningfully new and different solutions to our greatest engagement challenges. It will enable us to free individuals and organizations to be unencumbered by traditional boundaries and perceived constraints. As we create this capacity, we are confident we will unleash our community’s passionate spirit.”

“We hope that people will look back in five years and say, this great Jewish program—whatever it is—started because we were able to offer these grants,” said Silverman.


The Perfect Place at the Right Time
Home to a rich tech and entrepreneurial ecosystem, Cincinnati has been named by CNN as one of the six cities “where startups thrive.” At the same time, Jewish entrepreneurship has grown dramatically across the US, especially nonprofit, community-focused work such as that of Upstartlab.org, Philadelphia’s Tribe12, Joshua Venture Group, and PresenTense.org.

“The national upsurge in Jewish nonprofit innovation is a wave that we are well poised to ride,” said Friedman. “We are hoping to create real catalysts for change in Cincinnati.”


How to Apply

Both organizations and individuals are invited to learn more and apply for the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati’s Jewish Innovation Funds at jewishcincinnati.org/innovation, which will go live March 1. The Request for Proposals for the macrogrants will be open from March 1-March 31. The microgrants will be awarded on an ongoing basis. For more information on the macrogrants, contact Ariel Weiss, Jewish Federation Grants Funding Manager, at [email protected]. For more information on the microgrants, contact Billy Bie, Jewish Federation Planning Associate, at [email protected]