May 232019

Cross-posted on eJewishPhilanthropy

By Deena Fuchs

“What is it that you wish we would have done differently over the last 20-plus years of our grantmaking?” That’s what I asked a few of my AVI CHAI colleagues earlier this week. There were a number of different responses, many of which would make for other interesting articles. One answer though rose to the top. “We wish we would have funded in partnership sooner.”

For those of you who knew AVI CHAI in our pre-spend down era, you will recognize that a desire for greater partnership reflects a seismic shift from AVI CHAI’s approach just a little more than ten years ago. Let me share with you how we got here and what we learned along the way.

From goit alone to partnership only

In 2009, Professor Joel Fleishman, in response to a request from the foundation to provide some guidance for our future spend-down a decade later, wrote, “As long as AVI CHAI did indeed have more than sufficient resources to accomplish what it hoped to do, and as long as it expected to be around indefinitely to enable its principal grantees to continue to receive support, the downside of its preference for “go-it-alone” was likely minimal. Once AVI CHAI made the determination to spend down, however, the full cost of that preference began to make itself felt.”

In response to this observation and a set of recommendations, AVI CHAI entered a new phase in North America. We recognized that dozens of programs we initiated, incubated and supported were potentially poorly positioned for sustainability post AVI CHAI. We would need to help our grantees find other funders or develop new business models. As we entered our final decade of new grantmaking, we also considered whether it made sense for AVI CHAI to continue to “go-it-alone” in the development of new programs. After discussion of Professor Fleishman’s recommendations by Trustees and staff, we instituted a policy of funding only 50 percent for new programs that we thought would need to be sustainable in the long-term. We hired the Bridgespan Group to guide us through the transition, and I was appointed as the foundation’s Director of Strategy and Partnerships.

We shared the Fleishman report widely, exposing publicly this criticism of our “go-it-alone” philanthropy. We shared our new 50-percent stance with our colleagues, in the hopes that we would easily find partners for new work. But, in fact, peer foundations were skeptical about partnering with us. Only then did we begin to understand that our long-standing approach to go-it-along philanthropy was perceived by others as “AVI CHAI does not play nicely in the sandbox.”

I clearly remember a Jewish Funders Network foundation professionals’ meeting in 2010, where we first shared our new partnership building mandate. We were met with much cynicism and even anger. Our colleagues initially interpreted our new approach as “now we are partnering, so come fund our programs.” While we did hope to find additional funders for our existing portfolio, for us, partnership took many forms, and we were prepared to invest in them all.

And we did, changing the perception of AVI CHAI relatively quickly. A year later, at the 2011 Jewish Funders Network professionals’ meeting, we reported publicly on the efforts we were making to advance our work in partnership. This time, our colleagues responded with surprise and support. I distinctly remember one colleague saying – “I never thought you would actually do this. You walked the talk.” And now, eight years later, as we are about to close, we can point to nearly $140 million collectively invested in our fields of focus – day schools and overnight summer camps – in partnership.

How We Made the ShiftThree Kinds of Partnerships

Working closely with AVI CHAI Trustees, who joined the staff in these efforts, we began by meeting with many funders and foundation staff with local, regional and national funding interests. We listened. Deeply. In that listening we heard what I like to call the “Venn,” the areas in which our goals, strategies and broad understanding of the needs of the field overlapped with those of other funders – much like a Venn Diagram. We also gained a greater appreciation of the deep passion and commitment by other funders to advance those shared goals.

The partnerships that emerged fell into three categories:

  • Co-creation: Once we found the overlapping Venn, we began by dreaming together. “What would it look like if together we…..” The operative words there are “together” and “we.” Dreaming together allowed us all to look past the constraints and limits of “this is the way I do it.” It also built the trust and respect, and in turn the humility, needed to be effective partners. Usually, the dreaming included one or more operating nonprofits who would implement programs to realize the dream. At times, the dreaming and strategizing together led to partnerships with other national funders. Other times, we dreamed with local funders to create a program for their city that, if successful, could be a pilot or model for other communities.
  • Investing in programs developed and designed by other funders, where our contribution expanded participation. In these cases, we were not actively engaged in the development of the idea but joined in because we saw the philanthropic opportunity as mission aligned and compelling.
  • Where others invest in programs initiated earlier on by AVI CHAI. We have been fortunate as a spend-down foundation that some of our largest programs, ultimately drew investment from major funders who will enable the work to proceed.

Regardless of the partnership model, the key elements of deep listening, shared goals, trust, respect, and humility are essential for their success. Over time those partnerships opened us to exciting learning from the thinking of other funders, and it helped us understand that the learning and thinking we shared with other funders will be a part of AVI CHAI’s long-term legacy.

So Why Not Partner Always?

Partnerships can be powerful tools for philanthropic success, but they are not always appropriate. One reason to avoid partnerships is, as Professor Fleishman explained, “collaboration inevitably forces all parties to accommodate to some of the preferences of others and many times results in ‘dumbing down’ the ultimate outcome.” We did experience that a few times.

Partnerships slow the process of starting new programs. Partnerships take more time than program funding on your own because of the necessary interaction among funders and differing grantmaking timetables. For us, as a sunsetting foundation, time was sacred, and the time things took to take shape and then take off was sometimes frustrating.

There were also the times when goals were not as aligned as we originally thought, when the ideal of partnership overshadowed good judgement, and when we just could not agree on a path forward. And, there were times when our partners didn’t always work in the same spirit of partnership.

And yet ….

If my colleagues and I were to go back and do it all again, we would look for more philanthropic partnerships rather than fewer. More often than not, we felt that the programs we created in partnership were enhanced by the collaboration. Personally, I worked on two separate programs focused on increasing the pre-school to day school pipeline. Each program was designed, monitored and evaluated in partnership with colleague foundations. Each one was uniquely enhanced by the respective foundation’s approach to program design, relationships with grantees, existing knowledge base, and approaches to impact measurement. Each program was better than it could have been if it had been done by AVI CHAI or either of the other foundations alone. In fact, I am confident they would not have happened at all but for the partnership. Many of my AVI CHAI colleagues share similar experiences. The upsides of enhanced programs and increased funding in the areas we cared about was worth the potential downside.

Upon reflection: Partnering with others on some programs also means that more funds could be available for some of the riskier solo big bets you might want to make. Who knows what other big investments we might have made over our tenure if we built partnerships into our grantmaking sooner?

A Final ThoughtGrantees Are Partners Too

One thing worth noting in any discussion on partnership: the spirit of partnership needs to extend to the grantees as well. Grantees often have a hard time navigating the varying needs of funding partners – whether they be different reporting procedures or having multiple points of contact. Working in partnership should be empowering to and efficient for operating nonprofits, not burdensome. In the two day-school pipeline grants I referenced above, the co-funders worked together with the grantees to streamline reports and benchmarks that we reviewed together at the same time, thereby saving everyone time and effort.


So, six months before we close, we share these experiences with our colleagues, many of whom are our partners and now friends. We have enormous hakarat hatov to you all for joining with us as we made our shifts and for believing in the potential of our partnership.

Deena K. Fuchs is Senior Director of Strategy and Partnerships at The AVI CHAI Foundation. She will soon be joining the Jewish Funders Network as its first Executive Vice President, where she will help JFN to grow and transform as the organization seeks to enhance its role as a catalyst for partnerships and coalitions in the Jewish philanthropic world.

Giving Away Knowledge, Free of Charge

 Posted by on January 17, 2019 at 11:00 am  No Responses »  Tagged with: ,  Categories:
Jan 172019

This piece is cross-posted in eJewishPhilanthropy.

By Deena K. Fuchs

I woke up January 1st with an uneasy feeling. It was officially the first day of the last year of The AVI CHAI Foundation’s grantmaking. This is not the time, nor the place to go into how that feels and the myriad conflicting thoughts that go through my head over the course of a day. (Although I would be happy to talk that through over a cup of coffee.) But this is the right venue to share some thoughts about how my colleagues and I are thinking about our last year.

AVI CHAI has supported Jewish education since 1984. For 35 years, our Trustees and staff have invested in the Jewish future. We experimented, floundered, switched gears, researched, built institutions, shaped programs, initiated successes and failures, built grantee capacities, shifted philanthropic approaches and internal cultures around communications and partnership, and more. We had some great successes, along with our share of significant failures. Through both, we learned about the fields in which we work, about philanthropic practice, and about ways in which foundations and grantees can work together to advance shared goals.

So, what do we do with this knowledge? How can we best ensure that the lessons we learned have value for others?

As the senior professional responsible for the foundation’s strategies around thought leadership and partnership building, I think about this question – a lot. And, over time, I have begun to see much greater synergy between the two areas of my work. While thought leadership may have best represented the way we viewed our knowledge sharing in the past, thought partnership is how we view it going forward. It may seem like semantics, but this language reflects a shift in stance and understanding of the role AVI CHAI has left to play in the field of Jewish philanthropy.

What are thought leaders? According to Forbes, a thought leader is “an individual that is recognized as an authority in a specialized field and whose expertise is sought.” We developed an expertise in our funding areas and in effective philanthropy, and from that perspective we could be considered thought leaders. However, a partner is something that is much greater – someone inextricably linked to you and whose success is tied to your own. We view our grantee and philanthropic colleagues as our partners in striving for a strong Jewish future. Therefore, any lessons we may have learned are intended to advance their work – in whatever area it might be.

So, what does thought partnership look like?

Be real – telling our stories
One of the true benefits of working in a spend-down environment is the opportunity it gives us to reflect. We all have 20/20 hindsight. A spend down affords us the humility to share that hindsight in ways that can be constructive for our partners, so they may learn, innovate, and succeed.

We have made thought partnership a focus of our work foundation-wide and you can expect to see a year-long series of pieces, presented monthly here on eJP, about our key learnings. This is the first in the series. Others will focus on capacity building, partnership building, the use of foundation staff as a resource for grantees, research as a tool for philanthropic decisions, using data for decision making, linking theory to practice, and field building. Ideally, these topics presented candidly and transparently, through the lens of our experiences, will be useful to our partners as they consider their work.

Be clear – and accessible
Zalman C. Bernstein built his successful business on financial research. AVI CHAI is made from the same DNA and from the very beginning commissioned research to help direct our grantmaking. It is all available on our website. We have learned though that, for some, the reports can be dense and unwieldy. So, we have recently begun adapting some reports into infographics that pull out key findings and recommendations. We want our current partners, and future partners, to have easier access to this information in digestible formats. To date, we have released three such infographics, and we are already seeing a significant uptake in their use. We plan to produce more content in this format.

Be social – build conversations
For the foundation’s first 15 or so years, we practiced our philanthropy alone and rarely engaged with our funder colleagues in a collaborative way. Upon Zalman Bernstein’s death we shifted our stance somewhat, recognizing that with the death of our founder, we had to be more transparent to the Jewish community. That shift, though, came with limitations. I remember quite vividly a discussion I had with foundation leadership about instituting an AVI CHAI blog. I was permitted to proceed with one caveat – comments needed to be turned off! We wanted to share but we didn’t want to engage in conversation. Fast forward a few years, we now have weekly meetings reviewing social media metrics where we gauge our success or lack thereof on how deeply we are engaging with our audiences online.

Strong partnerships are built on effective communication and trust. Communicating means more than sharing; it requires deep listening. In the last year or so, we have been diligently working to build our social media presence so that we can best listen, share and engage in conversations with our partners and the larger community. Since we began this work in earnest, we are pleased that our numbers continue to grow each week and we surpass the benchmarks we set for ourselves.

Even more gratifying is the feedback we have been getting from funder colleagues who thank us for the conversations we are starting online and for exposing them to new resources and ways of thinking.

Be humble – it is not about us
Spending down brings with it a whole new perspective of whose voices need to be heard. In short, it is not about us, especially as AVI CHAI will cease to have an active voice by year’s end. Our focus is now on the people who are making change happen, the people on the ground who are doing the hard and oftentimes underappreciated work. Because of the position we sit in and the role we play, it is our responsibility and opportunity to amplify their voices. We have begun to do that on our blog, through videos we have produced that showcase AVI CHAI funded initiatives, through organizational and media partnerships, and on social media. We invite our grantees to share what they have learned, program participants to share what they have gained, and we have recently begun crowdsourcing stories from organizational colleagues, educational leaders and school professionals around shared themes and values.

Most recently we co-hosted with Prizmah: Center for Jewish Day School a Hanukkah campaign around day school heroes. Day schools around the country shared personal stories about staff and students who are true modern-day Maccabees. The stories were inspiring. Their voices need to be heard.

Be useful
Knowledge sharing through written pieces and online conversations will without question keep us busy and will hopefully be useful. Nevertheless, there is more we can and, I believe, should do. Which raises the question: How can we help you think through your work? How can our experiences bring value to your thinking? This is what I view as the ultimate in thought partnership. How can we be your thought partner in advancing your philanthropic or programmatic goals?

A few weeks ago, I was invited by a colleague foundation to meet with staff to “think together.” I had the privilege of sitting in on a days’ worth of meetings – staff and programmatic alike. The staff presented their work and the challenges they were facing, and they asked for my feedback. I had no experience with the programs themselves, but I recognized the challenges and the opportunities as they were presented. I honestly shared stories of similar experiences and the lessons learned from them, and I challenged some of their assumptions that were eerily reminiscent of ones we once had. I think / I hope that I provided real added value to their thinking and their planning. I share this with the explicit intention of offering our staff to “think together” with you if you think it could be useful in advancing your work.

To paraphrase a quote I once saw on thought leadership. “Thought leadership is not about being known. It is about being known for making a difference.” We know that is what you want – to make a difference. If there is any way that we can help you achieve this goal, please reach out. It would be a wonderful way to spend our last year.

Deena K. Fuchs is Senior Director of Strategy and Partnerships, The AVI CHAI Foundation NA.

Re-digging the Wells of the Day School Field

 Posted by on December 20, 2018 at 10:51 am  No Responses »  Tagged with: ,  Categories:
Dec 202018
Courtesy: JCDS-Boston’s Jewish Community Day School

By Deena K. Fuchs

When I joined the AVI CHAI Foundation, a little more than 18 years ago, one of the first events I participated in was a Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education (PEJE) Donor Assembly. It was a well-received effort to bring together very significant donors from day schools from around the country and to celebrate them as a group. That year – its first – featured a tour of PEJE co-founder and funder Michael Steinhardt’s personal zoo. As you can imagine, the experience left quite an impression on this young and novice foundation professional.

For sure, the menagerie and the lavish setting left an imprint. But 20 years later, what I vividly remember were the people who were there. Each and every participant at the assembly had made their local Jewish day school a priority in their giving. They understood the value of their day school to their family, community, and to the Jewish future. I remember feeling that I was part of something big.

Over the years, PEJE convened a few more Donor Assemblies, which slowly evolved into Leader Assemblies, as attendance shifted away from funders to school professionals. The conferences were a highlight of the day school field calendar; it was important for both professional development and networking opportunities. Those conferences became the highly acclaimed North American Jewish Day School Conference, a partnership of the handful of organizations that served the Jewish day school field. It was that successful conference partnership that ultimately yielded a merger of the five separate day school organizations, in 2016, to become Prizmah: Center for Jewish day schools. The day school field looks quite different now than it did in 2000.

A few weeks ago, I returned from the first ever Day School Investor Summit, convened by Prizmah. I am still on a high. Yes, the setting was beautiful. Who doesn’t want to spend two days in Bal Harbour? And yes, the people there were all dedicated to their local day schools; the collegiality in the air was palpable. It was a celebration of the people in the room and an acknowledgement that they have done some pretty amazing things for their schools and communities. But it was more than that.

Through sessions and meetings designed to share creative philanthropic models, it offered the participants an opportunity to both be inspired and to inspire each other. Through group text learning and interactive sessions, it afforded them the opportunity to learn and to teach. And through provocative and inspiring presentations from field leaders, including Mem Bernstein and Randy Zuckerberg, and a presentation of the Prizmah strategic plan, it generated a deep sense of accomplishment and possibility.

And, yet, the cynics and not such cynics could accurately point to the fact that here we were once again, 18 years later, still talking about the same things – making the case for a day school education, how to make day schools more affordable and sustainable, and how to make them institutions of academic excellence.

In his remarks opening the second day of the Summit, Rabbi Marc Baker, President of Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston and former Head of School of Gann Academy, shared an insight from the weekly Torah portion that, for me, effectively closed-down the critique.

He recounted the fact that Isaac re-dug the wells that his father Abraham originally dug, explaining that this re-digging is the essence of the Jewish people. It requires a deep humility to recognize what those before you have done and accomplished and to see the value of their enterprise. And, it challenges us to revisit and reconsider and recreate. The wells might be the same; but the water that flows through them will always be new and fresh.

So, now, 18 years after the first donor assembly, the field convened again. We celebrated the work that was done before. We inspired each other and, in so doing, we re-dug the wells of the day school field. In our re-digging, we unearthed innovations in day schools across the country, we unpacked new paradigms for effective lay leadership, we revisited messages on day school impact, and we surfaced new philanthropic models for day school investment.

By re-digging together we collectively put forth the promise that the fresh water in these “new / old wells” will provide the nourishment the day school field needs. This time around, I may no longer be the same novice foundation professional, but I am feeling a part of something even bigger.

Deena K. Fuchs is Senior Director of Strategy and Partnerships at The AVI CHAI Foundation.

Aug 232018

This piece is cross-posted from eJewishPhilanthropy.

By Deena Fuchs

At a recent gathering, conversation turned to AVI CHAI’s impending spend-down at the close of 2019. A number of colleagues expressed interest in hearing more about the spend-down and its implications. I was actually surprised by the request for more information. Since announcing the spend-down more than a decade ago, I feel like we are the ever-spending-down foundation, and there was nothing more to say.

That is, until I read Professor Joel Fleishman’s latest installment in his chronicle of AVI CHAI’s concluding years, and I realized that in fact there really is what to share.

We began this bi-annual documentation when we first made the spend-down public in 2010. At that time, we were looking for any and all literature on spend-down foundations so we could learn best practice and glean lessons from others’ experiences. We learned that there was little to nothing available. We decided to fill that gap and make our experiences transparent for anyone who might find themselves in a similar place. Our journey has been documented for everyone to see. For anyone interested, our prior six reports are available on our website.

Fleishman’s latest report is more than just a chronicle of our programmatic work during our last years. He succinctly captures our partnerships with other funders, a culture shift directly related to our spend-down and the urgent realization that go-it-alone philanthropy was not sustainable. He documents different ways in which we are approaching capacity building for our grantees and ways in which we are working to facilitate their growth and strength before we close in an effort to leave them prepared for a post-AVI CHAI world. In both areas, consistent with our goals of transparency, he opines on what is working and on what isn’t working as well.

Fleishman’s report also offers insights on some new developments: where the foundation stands on new initiatives (not too many as we near spend-down) and staff morale (generally good but with some growing unease.) The spend-down is approaching (we have 17 more months to go) and, as is to be expected, has begun to temper some of the programmatic creativity the staff has employed (and enjoyed) to date.

In his conclusion, Professor Fleishman raises a question he had not considered publically before – the question of AVI CHAI’s thought leadership in the philanthropy field. He cites our work in capacity building and data-driven decision making as two areas in which he believes the foundation will leave a lasting impression on the fields in which we work. And he references a new direction we are planning to implement in our remaining 17 months: “convening and giving people opportunities to learn and to think together with us.” We are excited about this focus and look forward to sharing more with you in the weeks and months ahead.

Deena K. Fuchs is the Director of Strategic Partnerships for The AVI CHAI Foundation.

Failing to Succeed

 Posted by on January 5, 2012 at 8:39 am  No Responses »  Tagged with:  Categories:
Jan 052012

By: Deena Fuchs

The AVI CHAI staff is hard at work preparing for our upcoming Board of Trustees meeting and therefore not as prolific as usual, with respect to this blog. We will be sure to report back here about any new developments that arise from the meeting, which is slotted for early February.

In the meantime, my Google Alert for “AVI CHAI” just sent me a link to Gary Rosenblatt’s January 3rd editorial on Why Funders Need to Embrace Failure. I was gratified to see that he includes AVI CHAI as a foundation that is transparent about its “failures” and is ready and willing to admit when things don’t play out the way we plan. I put quotes around “failures” since I think it is important to make a distinction between failing to meet objectives and failing to learn. We have definitely failed to succeed at times, but from each and every experience we learn something. In fact, nearly three years ago I was asked to write a case study for the Journal of Jewish Communal Service, where I make that exact point. It is an oldie, but I hope a goodie, and still has lessons that should resonate today. Take a look

Deena K. Fuchs is the Director of Strategic Partnerships at The AVI CHAI Foundation

Tell Me a Story

 Posted by on December 20, 2011 at 8:50 am  No Responses »  Tagged with:  Categories:
Dec 202011

By: Deena Fuchs

Back in March, I wrote a blog post about the power of storytelling and the importance of being able to share the WHY – why do we do what we do? At the foundation there is a growing interest in how stories can and should be used in communications and how they can further the WHY message. We are funding the Jewish Day School Video Academy which has built into it a module not only on the importance of video storytelling for day school communications but also best practices for how to tell those stories.

As a staff we are beginning to learn how to build effective storytelling into our own communications and I will share what we learn. If you have any experience in effective storytelling, please share it here as well. We could truly benefit from your experience and expertise. You see, the truth of the matter is, as a foundation closing in eight years, we need to view our stories as part of our legacy – everyone remembers a really good story long after its author is gone.

In the meantime, I wanted to share a great WHY piece with you.  And, yes, it uses stories to make the inspiring WHY message even more compelling.

Deena K Fuchs is the Director of Strategic Partnerships at The AVI CHAI Foundation

Leading the way in Social Media

 Posted by on October 11, 2011 at 7:37 am  No Responses »  Tagged with: ,  Categories:
Oct 112011

When the foundation began work in the social media sphere, as with any other organization, we had our early adopters. Rachel Mohl Abrahams, a senior program officer at the foundation whose portfolio includes educational technology and online learning, is one of them. She has used twitter, facebook and this blog to advance her work and share what she has been learning. And, according to Getting Smart, she is doing a fabulous job. Such a great job, in fact, that she has just been dubbed a “twero” or “twitter hero.”

As we continue to integrate social media in our work, build and weave networks of people committed to our shared values of Jewish education, we wanted to wish Rachel a Kol hakavod for walking the walk and tweeting the tweet!

If you want to follow Rachel she is @rachelmabrahams. And, if you want to follow the foundation, we are at @AVICHAIFDN.

Why We Continue to Support PEJE

 Posted by on June 20, 2011 at 1:16 pm  1 Response »  Tagged with:  Categories:
Jun 202011

By:  Deena Fuchs and Susan Kardos

Debra Nussbaum Cohen in the Forward claims mixed results for PEJE’s efforts over the last 14 years. In developing her story, she interviewed a number of the original PEJE partners who are no longer funding the national organization. Unfortunately, she did not speak with anyone from AVI CHAI, a PEJE partner from its inception and a current funder of its endowment building work for day schools.

So, let’s imagine she had asked us “why do you continue to support PEJE?” We would have answered, “You see, we believe in day schools, and we believe in what PEJE is doing for them.  And, there is a whole group of current PEJE partners who believe the same. You might want to ask them too.”

Day schools provide the intensive and immersive educational experience from which the “energizing nucleus” of young people who will lead the Jewish people in the 21st century will emerge. As Rabbi Greenberg is quoted in the article, “… in the long run there is no serious alternative.”

Those original PEJE partners quoted in the article have left PEJE and gone on to develop creative programs to broadly solidify the next generation of Jewish connection. Kol Hakavod for that!  We – and PEJE’s other current partners – look at things a bit differently: we believe that connection is not enough to generate a thriving Jewish future. The products of those programs – connected Jews – need connectors.  They need leaders who are Jewishly literate, purposeful about their Jewish living and committed to the Jewish people. And, day schools are the best poised vehicle to deliver that. Cleary, not all day school graduates will become Jewish leaders. But, if you look at the data from Dr. Jack Wertheimer’s study on young Jewish leaders, day school graduates are Jewish community leaders to a very disproportionate extent.

Yes, day schools are expensive. But again, there is no serious alternative to a childhood / young adulthood filled with serious Jewish content, role models and atmosphere. No matter how useful and powerful 10 days in Israel are for a young Jews visiting Israel for the first time, in our view it just doesn’t compare to the depth of the experience at a Jewish day school. Advocating for day schools does not mean ignoring the challenges of day school affordability and finance. At AVI CHAI, we are so completely committed to working on the day school affordability issue that we have recently hired a senior staff member whose sole responsibility is just that.

PEJE recognizes all of this. Its leadership perceived the changes in the economy, the marketplace and the philanthropic landscape.  As nimble and adaptive leaders, Rabbi Elkin and now Amy Katz have refocused the organization to serve the day school field by offering knowledge and resources to foster financial sustainability and affordability.

But more important, PEJE leadership – both professional and lay – recognize that Jewish day schools are precious communal assets that we as a community need to support if we are truly committed to a thriving Jewish future.

May 032011

Jewish day schools currently have three main revenue streams: tuition, Federation allocations and annual fundraising. I think we can all agree that it is not enough. So PEJE has just announced the launch of Generations, in partnership with AVI CHAI and local federations or central Jewish education agencies, to build a fourth stream of revenue – Day School Endowments.

The pilot program is being launched in Baltimore and Los Angeles with seven schools in each region, and discussions are underway with UJA Federation – New York for a NY cohort.  The ultimate goal is to help each school build an endowment of at least $20,000 per enrolled student. ($2 million for a school of 100 or $20 million for a school of 1,000.) Participating day schools will receive extensive training in fundraising for endowments, with federation endowment departments managing the investments.

We, at AVI CHAI, believe that Generations has great promise for the day school field, not because it is a particularly new idea – endowments have been around forever – but because a properly resourced, sustained effort can be transformative. This is the time to invest in the long-term sustainability of Jewish day schools and Generations is timely, critical, and within the Jewish community’s control.

How so?


We did our homework and this is what we learned:


Jewish day schools can become sufficiently sophisticated to approach the industry standards already set by secular private schools. We collected endowment data from 20 day schools all at varying levels of success with their endowment building initiatives, and we learned that day schools—with the proper resources and disciplined, sustained effort—are ready to take the next step in making endowments a key development strategy. We also learned from the experience of The Grinspoon Institute for Jewish Philanthropy, which has focused its attention almost exclusively on Jewish overnight camps. Their results are impressive. In only a few years, tens of camps have raised tens of millions of dollars.

The previous generation of Jewish day school families is at a prime age for legacy giving. Experts in the field of philanthropy claim that over the next two decades, the number of Americans 65 and older will double; there is also an expected transfer of wealth, likely to exceed $45 trillion, of which an estimated $21 trillion will be earmarked for charitable giving and bequests. Day school parents and grandparents, some of whom were intimately involved in building their local day schools, clearly fit into this demographic.

The federation system is equipped to manage Jewish day school endowments. Many federations and their partners, Jewish Community Foundations, manage the funds of various agencies, and a number of day schools currently have endowment funds at federations. More importantly, most major federations already have in place highly trained planned giving and endowment staff, as well as lay leaders with expertise in this area who can work with day schools on building their endowments.


Many schools have already indicated considerable interest in this project. We spoke with day school professionals. We held focus groups with leaders from more than 70 schools from across the country to market test this strategy and we learned that this was a strategy worth pursuing. A summary comment, from one of the focus group participants, captured the overall tone of the focus groups. “For AVI CHAI to pursue and encourage endowment development as a piece of its lasting legacy makes a lot of sense. This is possibly the most important thing you can do for us.”

Well, I am not sure if this is the most important thing we can do and it is certainly not the solution to the day school affordability challenge. But I do know that without strong endowments, it will be even harder to ensure that our day schools will be around for future Generations.

Tell us how you think this would work in your community.

Deena K. Fuchs
Director of Strategic Partnerships