A Personal Reflection: Five Years at the Jim Joseph Foundation

July 23, 2012

Source: Jim Joseph Foundation


The Jim Joseph Foundation's new website features a personal reflection by Adene Sacks, who just recently departed the Foundation after five years as program officer. Here she offers her observations – both retrospectively and prospectively – on the Foundation’s learning and its field-building efforts during its first five years of grant making in which it made more than $265 million in grants to the field of Jewish education.


She recalls the first year which was focused on strategic planning, field mapping and research in order to prepare to realize the Foundation's mission: to foster compelling, effective Jewish learning experiences for young Jews.


In the three years that followed, the Foundation engaged in a flood of large grants, investing boldly in efforts that would amplify what had already been proven to work in the field of Jewish education.


By 2009, the grant making strategies began to shift as the Foundation incorporated feedback from the field. The strategies were expanded beyond training professional educators to include three additional points of leverage: (1) strengthening peer to peer education, (2) increasing ongoing and immersive Jewish learning, and (3) building strong organizations to serve the field.


In 2011, the Foundation leadership adopted a formal theory of change and a refined set of strategies

The Foundation leadership has viewed the last five years as a time for experimentation, learning and risk. This risk was mitigated by combining program investments with parallel investments in independently contracted evaluation. This allowed them, in real time, to chart their progress towards their stated goals.


Over the startup years the Foundation has codified a number of key operating assumptions:

  • The elevation of teachers and friends is key to achieving the vision of the Jim Joseph Foundation.
  • Jewish education must be developmentally aligned and integrate the multiplicity of identity.
  • Networks are not only a reflection of social structure; they are also a tool for achieving that structure.
  • The Foundation must continuously strive to deploy resources that are in alignment with grantee needs and capabilities and actively coordinate with partners across the field.
  • The utility of evaluation must stretch beyond accountability and translate into learning and active exchange across the field of Jewish education and beyond.

Sacks also has formulated a set of key emerging questions that will shape the Foundation's future:

  • What is the next generation of ‘big bets’ in Jewish Education?
  • How will the Foundation reinvest strategically in the scaling of the successes of its highest-performing grantees?
  • How will the Foundation ensure that it continues to adapt its practices, as young people and their needs evolve?
  • How will the Foundation share what it has learned in a way that benefits practitioners and funders, and effect change that is systemic, rather than isolated?
  • Should organizations remain the dominant vehicle to achieve the mission of the Foundation or are there other inter-organizational networks or nontraditional partners whose leadership would amplify the Foundation’s impact?

The entire article is available on the new Jim Joseph Foundation website

Updated: Jul. 31, 2012