By Aaron Saxe, first published by the Jim Joseph Foundation ›

If you’ve seen one foundation…you’ve seen one foundation.

This common refrain in the nonprofit world is a reminder of the singularity of every funder. In turn, with this premise, grantees, potential grantees, consultants, and others spend significant time and resources getting to know each funders’ preferences, habits, and other traits. Doing this for one funder is challenging; for multiple funders even more so. And, of course, doing it while also continuing to carry out the everyday work of the organization is most challenging.

Those on the funder side gain a new perspective when we step back and try to put ourselves in the shoes of grantees. We gain compassion for the professionals at these organizations and the challenges and windy paths they navigate. And we exhibit humility when we say, clearly, that the outcomes of our actions toward them don’t always align with our intentions.

Two recent interactions of mine with grantee-partners demonstrate this—and represent a moment of learning for the Jim Joseph Foundation. Our starting point for a funder-grantee relationship is a desire for frequent, relatively informal correspondence to build a relationship premised on partnership. Our mentality is that we—the funder and grantee-partner—are in this work together. These types of interactions, we believe, will create a level of comfort for the grantee-partner that makes sharing challenges and shortcomings easier. When those occur, as they almost always do to some degree, we can problem-solve together.

Yet, these two grantee-partner interactions opened my eyes to the very real challenges with this approach. One grantee-partner said they were not in touch with me for a much longer period of time than I would have expected because they were not comfortable sharing a half-baked idea regarding the Foundation-supported initiative. The other grantee-partner said they lacked the confidence—they even felt like imposters in their work despite strong momentum and learning outcomes—to proactively maintain ongoing communication with the Foundation. As the funder representative, I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that my first inclination was to question why both grantee-partners felt this way. However, after a short time, I began to reflect on the reasons these grantee-partners hesitated to interact with the Foundation in the way we hope all grantee-partners do. I quickly recognized that this was as much of a learning opportunity for the Foundation as it was for the non-profit executives.

Here are some takeaways that we think are beneficial to share and digest with the field:

The funder-grantee relationship will not look and feel the exact same across the board.

Certainly we still strongly believe that relational grantmaking is the ideal for which to strive. Yet that ideal is easier to achieve with some partners than others. True relational grantmaking means taking cues from the grantee-partner on the structure, tone, and frequency of the engagement they want to have. While we set some of these parameters, we also can listen more and have the listening inform the tenor of the relationship.

We need to be more cognizant about the backgrounds and perspectives of the various organizations with whom we work.

For example, a decades-long leader of a major legacy organization that already received multiple Foundation grants approaches a conversation with us differently than a new leader of a young organization that just received its first Foundation grant. And some leaders may be new to institutional giving altogether. Acting like those differences do not exist—and understanding how those differences influence one’s inclination to share challenges—is a mistake on our part and simply an unfair expectation to set across the breadth of our portfolio.

We need to recognize that grantee-partners are corresponding in different ways with different funders.

Other funders with whom our grantee-partners work do not necessarily want the same approach as we do to communication and relationship-building with grantee-partners. It’s no easy task for grantee-partners to be sure, and they can find themselves in particularly tricky spots if they are speaking with multiple funders at the same time.

Communication is key.

Lastly, these recent conversations don’t mean we need to abandon the style of grantmaking that has led to many fruitful Foundation-grantee relationships. Our style is aligned with our priorities and principles and it has evolved this way over more than ten years for good reason. Perhaps, though, we need to better explain early on in relationships with grantee-partners why we take this approach, what it is intended to cultivate, and more directly what we hope they gain from our more frequent and informal correspondence than other funders may take. Importantly, it requires patience early on as relationships deepen and comfort builds.

We share this now with an understanding that the Jewish philanthropic sector is in the midst of a particular moment of change. Over recent years, major funders have or will sunset and other, newer funders will look to fill voids. Our field is also in the midst of numerous leadership changes among nonprofit organizations; those new leaders are younger and come from more diverse backgrounds. Their lived experiences mean they may inherently have different approaches and ideas about effective grantee-funder communications. Simply, increasingly new people will continue to occupy the funder-grantee roles in the coming years. As we move forward, we take this fact and our recent experiences and related learnings into account. The funder-grantee relationship is unique in every situation—so too are the communications that best suit each interaction.

Aaron Saxe is a Senior Program Officer at the Jim Joseph Foundation.

By Bob Bahr

First Published by the Atlanta Jewish Times

In a series of community conversations, Atlanta’s Jewish teens were urged to “look up” and spend less time gazing down at their cell phones and electronic gadgets. The advice to young people to take the initiative to limit the time they spend with social media is part of a new program by JumpSpark to combat what many see as a kind of social media addiction.

JumpSpark Director Kelly Cohen started the program to help create a more open dialogue between teens and their parents over the rampant use of social media.

Kelly Cohen

“It’s one thing for parents at home to say ‘let’s talk about your social media usage,’ but when we create the right container and bring in the right people,” she said, “we can have these conversations with teens to open up new paths for dialogue.”

At three programs held last week at The Temple, Temple Sinai and JumpSpark offices in Sandy Springs, teens and their parents and concerned professionals had the opportunity to discuss a problem that is getting increasing attention by mental health professionals and others.

The emerging problem is that the hold that social media exerts over teens is increased by the need teens have to be accepted by their peers, according to Dan Arnold, director of clinical service at Jewish Family & Career Services in Atlanta.

“Social status and connectedness are hallmarks of the adolescent struggle, and the prevalence of social media compounds the issue. Whether it is cyber-bullying, the lack of privacy or trying to keep up with the Joneses – or Kardashians – the impact of social media and the related pressure can be extremely damaging.”

Dan Arnold

Participants in the JumpSpark program heard much the same message from Scilla Andreen, a filmmaker who has created an educational documentary simply entitled “Like.” It is a comprehensive overview of the effect that social media has on young people. The screening and discussion at JumpSpark in Atlanta was similar to other viewings of the film, which has been seen 700 times in 11 countries since it was released in March.

“It really empowers people to self-regulate, to say OK, I have the tools. I am going to put my phone down a little more. I am not going to be a slave to it,” Andreen said. “It’s been amazing to get that response from people.”

Filmmaker Scilla Andreen facilitates a conversation about social media and teens at Temple Sinai.

There are many health care professionals who believe that since the introduction of the iPhone and other smartphone devices, the lives of young people have been radically changed. No matter what their social and economic status, whether in the inner city or the suburbs, they have been deeply affected by social media and the use of the technology that delivers it.

Dr. Jerry Bubrick is a nationally recognized expert on obsessive compulsive disorders and the senior clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute. He appeared in the film “Like” shown in Atlanta.

“It can be an addiction, very much so,” he emphasized in a phone interview from New York. “It’s hard to think of it sometimes as an addiction because there’s no physiological gain other than, you know, that there’s that dopamine rush when something feels good. But this is a generation of children that only knows smartphones, which is a little scary that there’s not this kind of internal desire to kind of shut it down or keep it to a minimum. It seems like it’s just all the time.”

The issue of addiction is apparently international as well. A report, just published in the British medical journal, BMC Psychiatry, found that nearly a quarter of the young people studied had behavior consistent with addiction. Of the 42,000 people whose experience was analyzed, 23 percent could not control their usage of smartphones, the BBC reported Nov. 29. They became “panicky” and “upset” when they couldn’t use their phones, the study found.

Last year, a group of over 100 mental health professionals and child welfare experts working with the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood wrote to Mark Zuckerberg, the founder and CEO of Facebook. They asked that he shut down Messenger Kids, the first social messaging app developed specifically for children under the age of 13.

“Social media use by teens,” they wrote, “is linked to significantly higher rates of depression, and adolescents who spend an hour a day chatting on social networks report less satisfaction with nearly every aspect of their lives.”

They went on to point out that half of all teens surveyed feel addicted to their phones and half the parents reported that they faced a constant battle trying to get their children to cut their use of social media.

“In a landscape of ubiquitous technology that undermines children’s emotional growth, the last thing the youngest among them need is a powerful enticement to move their friendships online” said Sherry Turkle, professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She was among the health professionals with the campaign who wrote to Zuckerberg.

It is, in a sense, this vulnerability that social media developers exploit. Facebook’s founding president Sean Parker has claimed that part of the enormous success of the social media platform is in the answer to a single question: “How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?” Messenger Kids is still an active part of the Facebook platform.

Part of the goal of the JumpSpark program is to start a more productive conversation between parents and their children over how to bring more balance into the discussiono of how technology affects personal and family relationships. According to Cohen, parents need to model the behavior they want their children to adopt.

In The New York Times Nov. 24, columnist David Leonhardt said as much. He suggested that everyone, not just teens, take a “Tech Shabbat” during the weekend following Thanksgiving.

“Turn off your phone, and keep it off for a full 24 hours,” he wrote. “I predict you’ll be surprised by how much you’ll like it.”