A new group of young Jews, the grandsons and granddaughters of several prominent giving families, is carrying on a legacy of giving while rewriting the rules for a new generation.
The Slingshot Fund was born on Grand Street.
Danielle Durchslag, a great-granddaughter of Nathan Cummings, founder of Sara Lee, wanted to meet some of her peers, to explore what the opportunity to serve on the board of the Nathan Cummings Foundation might mean. With the help of 21/64, a nonprofit consulting division of the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies, Grand Street was created as a network for next-generation family members like Durchslag. She and 11 other young Jews gathered to discuss innovative funding opportunities and their place in the family legacy. It became an annual gathering with a new cohort of 12 next generation board members or board members-to-be added each year.
“At the end of one of these sessions, someone said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to have a Zagat-style guide to some of these organizations?’” recalls Sharna Goldseker, Vice President of Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies. “We sort of knew what our parents funded, but we felt like there was more out there that was relevant to our generation.”
That conversation gave birth in 2005 to Slingshot: A Resource Guide to Jewish Innovation, an annual compilation of 50 inspiring and innovative organizations, projects, and programs in the North American Jewish community; and, in 2007, to the Slingshot Fund.
Founded by Jews in their 20s and 30s, Slingshot hopes to be “a new model for raising and distributing grants by engaging people in Jewish philanthropy who would otherwise not be involved.” Last fall, the Fund chose eight organizations featured in the Slingshot guide to receive general operating support grants of $45,000 each.
The group’s desire to honor family tradition and faith but in a way that resonated with young people led Slingshot to support organizations like Storahtelling, interfaithfamily.com, and JDub Records Inc.
“It really started as an experiment,” says Goldseker. “If the Jewish community is interested in engaging the next generation, here are 50 possible ‘solutions’ for doing just that.”
“My generation is definitely thinking about the legacy of our grandparents’ and parents’ generation,” says Jessica Warren, founding member of Slingshot, a board member of the Naomi and Martin Warren Family Foundation in Houston, Texas, and a graduate student at New York University. “We’re not disregarding what they’re doing. It’s about figuring out a way to honor that legacy.”
“I’ve been very frustrated with certain models in the Jewish community. It’s very hard to get to the heart of what you can do,” says Warren, pointing to the centralized, hands-off approach that she encounters with a number of organizations.
Warren isn’t alone in her frustration. A recent report from United Jewish Communities suggested that federation giving “declines precipitously” among younger Jews.
Slingshot was crafted to give members a hands-on, strategic, resonant way to support innovative Jewish charities.
In addition to the review process for inclusion in the Slingshot guide, the Slingshot Fund founders spent another 18 months planning their new operation. They raised more than $400,000 personally and from their family philanthropies. A request for proposals was drafted and sent to the Slingshot cohort. Proposals were reviewed; site visits conducted; and final decisions made.
It was particularly important to Slingshot that their grants be for general support.
“There’s so much project-based support out there, and while there’s a little bit of a shift in the nonprofit sector happening, we really wanted to push that as one of core values,” says Warren. “If we don’t trust the organization enough to fund their bottom line, there should be questions about project support. We want to build the capacity to do bigger things.”
“[When you’re doing project support], it’s a lot easier to say I’m helping this child do something,” says Warren. “When you’re doing capacity, you’re supporting copiers, what makes the day-to-day work happen. It’s not as sexy, but it’s important.”
And so was an interactive online presence.
“We want people to know that citizens of all shapes and sizes can be philanthropists,” says Goldseker. “The web site tries to make giving to support transforming the Jewish community accessible and transparent.”
The Slingshot site offers message boards, podcasts, and online giving to support Slingshot charities, features that a new generation expects from the web.
“I don’t know if we’re fully Web 2.0, maybe 1.5, but we went to a pretty interactive site right off the bat,” says Goldseker.
“The values of Jewish tradition are being passed down, but they’re being implemented in a way that resonates with a new generation,” she adds.
For more information about the Slingshot Fund and its work, visit its website.