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Major Jewish funders commit to supporting grantees amid coronavirus pandemic

Barry Finestone, president and CEO of the Jim Joseph Foundation

Nearly two dozen major Jewish funders released a joint statement on Thursday addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, laying out an approach to addressing their philanthropies at a time when many non-profit organizations and the individuals and communities they serve are struggling to address immediate challenges and long-term needs. The funders outlined a number of ways they are continuing to support grantees and the field as coronavirus concerns have caused countless programming issues — including cancelled programming and a shortage of remote-work capabilities. They specified that funding levels would be maintained and previously awarded grants would be honored, and that new approaches to address unforeseen issues would be welcomed.

Unprecedented and uncertain: Lisa Eisen, co-president of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, spoke to Jewish Insider about the new landscape organizations must now navigate. “At this unprecedented and uncertain time, none of us can continue business as usual. We are in touch with our grantees about the potential impact of coronavirus on their work, and we will partner with them to help address their needs with general and other forms of support,” Eisen said. “While it is too early to gauge how this might shift relationships between funders and grantees overall, we hope everyone will come together in new and creative ways to meet the moment as a community.”

An evolving situation: Jim Joseph Foundation President and CEO Barry Finestone told JI that funders had begun “adjusting expectations, maintaining previously awarded grants, [and] being nimble as the situation evolves” to better address the challenges faced by grantees. Mark Charendoff, who heads the Maimonides Fund, echoed Finestone. “These are the types of make-or-break conversations that are going to happen in the next 60 days.”

Read the full text below:

Message to our Grantee Partners

Since biblical times, Judaism’s imperative has been to protect the most vulnerable members of society. Vulnerability has taken on new meaning in our communities today. It includes our friends and neighbors, teachers and rabbis, colleagues and family.

As COVID-19 drastically affects the world, our country and our community, we know that many of our grantee partners and other organizations face unprecedented challenges and concerns. We want you to know that we, your philanthropic partners, are in this together with you.

First, we wish a Refuah Shlemah to the many people in our community and around the world who have been directly affected by COVID-19.

We appreciate the ways in which so many organizations have stepped up in this moment to prioritize the health and wellbeing of individuals and the community, reminding all of us about how to live out our value of kol yisrael arevim zeh b’zeh (all of Israel are responsible for one another) with such care and intention. We are inspired by the many synagogues, schools, JCCs and other institutions that demonstrated creativity and flexibility as they adjusted Purim celebrations. This is a model for how all of us can respond quickly and work differently to continue to provide Jewish learning and community.

And yet, we know that you have had to cancel in-person and immersive travel programs, holiday celebrations, and convenings. You have had to close schools. Many of you have understandable concerns that raising funds, making payroll, and meeting grant benchmarks may be deeply impacted.

We want you to know that we hear these concerns—we have them as well, and we plan to act. As foundations and funders committed to klal yisrael, we have a responsibility to support our community and to help your organizations and the people who are part of your teams during this challenging period. We have been in touch with many of you—thank you for telling us about your immediate challenges and anticipated future needs. We welcome these conversations and know there will be many more.

We don’t have all the answers. We do, however, want to share some of the ways we are approaching our role as philanthropic funders who need and want to help our grantees.

·        Maintaining our funding levels:  Previously awarded grants will not be revoked if a program or conference is postponed. We understand you have sunk costs and need the latitude to repurpose money already received.

·        Adjusting our expectations: Cancellations of in-person programs—professional development, convenings, retreats, trips and more—will adversely affect organizations’ participation and engagement numbers. We understand that these types of benchmarks often associated with grants will not be reached and will adjust our expectations to reflect the reality of the times.

·        Giving you time to plan and respond to the crisis: We understand that normal grant reporting requirements, site visits, and other commitments to funders take away from the time you need to plan and respond appropriately to the current crisis. We will work with you and make adjustments to ensure your time can be used in the most effective ways necessary.

·        Being nimble: As the situation evolves, and as we learn more about your needs, we will strive to offer support as quickly as possible. We will work with you and each other to help make funds available to address and respond to the coronavirus and global economic scenarios in strategic ways. This might include programmatic grants for new approaches to mission-driven work; interest-free loans; and other forms of technical non-financial assistance.

·        Staying coordinated: Wherever possible, we will coordinate our efforts and communication. If you need to talk to more than one funder, we will try to speak with you at the same time. We are committed to streamlining the flow of information between your organization’s leadership and the multiple funder contacts many of you have. In short, we will make these communications easier and more efficient for you.

Our community has made it through challenging times before, and we will do so again. We are committed to being understanding, palpably supportive, strategic and flexible to help ease the way.

As we talk with you more over the coming days and months, we will take what we learn and do our very best to turn it into meaningful actions that support your organizations, professional teams, and your programs and initiatives. Jewish life, learning, and meaningful engagement will continue. And the people who do this work will be supported.

Thank you for your commitment to our community.

Sincerely, your philanthropic partners:
Aviv Foundation
Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation
Crown Family Philanthropies
David S. and Karen A. Shapira Foundation
Jewish Funders Network
Jim Joseph Foundation
Joseph & Harvey Meyerhoff Family Charitable Funds
Koret Foundation
Leichtag Foundation
Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah
Maimonides Fund
One8 Foundation
Righteous Persons Foundation
The Klarman Family Foundation
The Marcus Foundation
The Natan Fund
The Paul E. Singer Foundation
The Russell Berrie Foundation
The Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life

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