Getting local Jewish nonprofits recognition they deserve


Sixth & I Historic Synagogue. Jews United for Justice. Jewish Women International. GLOE. Ask Big Questions. BBYO Stand UP! Sunflower Bakery.

These are just some of the local Jewish organizations that are moving the needle in connecting us with a relevant, vibrant Judaism. They are making a significant, measurable impact with those who participate in their programs and hear their messages. And I know this because they have been recognized by Slingshot.

Slingshot was created when a group of young funders gathered and decided to create something like the Zagat restaurant guide for Jewish organizations. Slingshot: A Resource Guide to Jewish Innovation highlights the 50 most innovative nonprofits in North American Jewish life for these young funders and their peers. In 2007, they followed the Guide with the Slingshot Fund, a peer-giving network for these next-generation funders. Last year, they launched supplements to the Guide focusing on organizations doing innovative work in the Disabilities & Inclusion arena and on behalf of Women & Children. And this year, thanks to the generosity of the Emanuel J. Friedman Philanthropies, Slingshot will produce a D.C. edition for Jewish organizations impacting the local Jewish community in D.C., Maryland (Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties) and Virginia (Arlington and Fairfax Counties). National organizations doing ongoing work that impacts these communities may also apply.

So I am dedicating my Editor’s Notebook this week to all our amazing local organizations, and telling them to apply and apply now for inclusion. I do this because a nod in Slingshot can do significant things for an organization by way of funding, partnerships and recognition. In fact, the name “slingshot” speaks to launching an organization forward, much in the way a slingshot would propel a rock. (I had thought it was a reference to David and Goliath, but as Will Schneider, executive director of Slingshot said to me, “If that is the case, who is
Goliath? We’re not about taking anyone down.”)

The deadline is Jan. 24 (that’s two weeks from now). And, the application can take a few days of staff time to write and film (there is a video component).

But, before you go to and begin, I’m going to give you some tips to help with your application, courtesy of Slingshot’s Schneider and Simone Friedman Rones from Emanuel J. Friedman Philanthropies. I do this because I know how many amazing, amazing organizations we have, and I want the D.C. supplement to be filled. But I also want the Guide and the other supplements (Women & Children and Disabilities & Inclusion) to have many D.C. representatives. Don’t worry — you only have to fill out one application (kind of like the Common App for colleges). At the end of the application, you’ll be given the opportunity to select if you want to be considered for the other supplements. Getting into one will not prohibit you from getting into the others. Boston-based Mayyim Hayyim that has re-invented mikvah was listed in all three books.

According to Schneider, applying organizations should have a really good handle on messaging. “Mayyim Hayyim and Moishe House [by way of example] have a deep handle on what they are changing. It’s about users’ lives.” As Schneider describes, Mayyim Hayyim created a new community around the mikvah. It took an existing model and flipped it on its head and created a movement.

Moishe House changed the way we program. Before, programs were created in board rooms, and then the challenge was about marketing them. Moishe House started with people and whatever program they create works because it’s for them. “They program from the bottom up and have a good handle on what their message is.”

And it’s about relevancy. If you’re doing the same thing you were doing 10 years ago, don’t apply. But it’s also not just about new organizations. “It’s about keeping your eye on the user and keeping an eye on their needs. You can’t do the same thing year in and year out.”

Slingshot evaluators, comprised of philanthropists and development professionals, look for organizations that are willing to change tactics.

“We’re really trying to reward and celebrate innovation in the Washington Jewish community,” said Rones, who stepped up to fund the D.C. supplement after Schneider floated the idea at a meeting. “We want people who have good ideas to know that funders will take a risk on innovation. We want to encourage organizations to think in new and creative ways and to know that there are funders who will fund those organizations.”

Evaluation is a very systemitized and structured process. Rones strongly suggests that organizations prove measurable impact. Include information on how effective your program is, anecdotes from participants about the impact you’ve made on their lives. Show that the program is working and that it’s actually having an impact. And show that you play well with others. “One of our factors is how well [the applying organization] collaborates with others in the community, so it’s helpful to demonstrate that as well,” she adds.

Knowing the commitment of time and resources required to apply, Slingshot has planned a D.C. celebration scheduled for Oct. 26 at Sixth & I. There, organizations will have the opportunity to mingle with potential funders. Every organization named to the D.C. supplement will receive $500 and at the October event, a group of philanthropists and funders will vote on who gets a $10,000 prize (other prizes may be given out as well).

Schneider points out that The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington and Sixth & I have been wonderful partners. While Slingshot is written with funders in mind, he notes that the guide goes out to many organizations and is required reading for Jewish studies majors at Brandeis. This year, the applications will also be made available to giving circles across the country. Now, groups of philanthropists who didn’t have an RFP process or who aren’t well known enough to garner
response to calls for applications will be able to search the database by tags, and Slingshot will send a list of organizations in search of funding.

At least 80 percent of organizations named in Slingshot receive funding and 100 percent report new partnerships. It’s a win-win for community and innovation. I, for one, am inspired by the hard work done every day by our tremendous community. And, yes, now you can go and apply. Good luck!

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