Over the last 20-plus years, The Covenant Foundation has received thousands of inquiries about how we make funding decisions and how the results of our grants bear out in the field. We’ve compiled data culled from conversations with hundreds of grantees and we’ve learned much about the behaviors and preferences of grantee organizations. But there is one repeated trend we’ve noticed: a preference for large grants over small. In fact, when the granting scope is described, most institutions tend to go for the largest grant amount over the longest period of time.
However, we have also found—through our research, outgoing interviews with grantees and results of grant success over the past eight years—that it is not unusual for organizations to do much better with a smaller short-term grant.
In 2007, The Covenant Foundation introduced a new category of smaller-scale grants, called Ignition Grants, which provide up to $20,000 of funding for a single year. As the name suggests, these “Ignition Grants” are intended to spark innovation and to allow organizations to “explore new, untested ideas or determine how established practices can become even more effective.” Since the stakes are not as high as in the case of larger grants, this type of grant allows an organization to test the waters.
As one Covenant grantee put it, “[T]he grant provided the incentive/‘ignition’ for us to think through the program and become more reflective. It helped us formalize the program and take it to the next level. It was mission specific programming-a growth experience for our organization.”
Seth Godin, an entrepreneur and blogger who thinks about the marketing of ideas in the digital age, speaks about testing the waters this way:
“Perhaps it’s better to commit to wading instead. When you do a small thing, when you finish it, polish it, put it into the world, you’ve made something. You’ve committed and you’ve finished.
And then you can do it again, but louder. And larger. It’s easy to be afraid of taking a plunge, because, after all, plunging is dangerous. And the fear is a safe way to do nothing at all.
Wading, on the other hand, gets under the radar. It gives you a chance to begin.”
More on What We’ve Learned
First and foremost, a program’s success depends on educators who believe that Jewish education is a positive force in changing times. These people are situated on the cutting edge of Jewish communal life, and are passionate practitioner activists who do not accept the status quo. Their actions show that they are ready to take risks, to push back boundaries, and to boldly seek out and experiment with new possibilities. The most successful projects are conceived by visionaries who translate their dreams into realities, or who have the wisdom to surround themselves with a capable team that can do so. Both parts of the equation, vision and implementation, are necessary.
We’ve also learned that programs cannot succeed in isolation, but are dependent on networks, collaborations, and community support. Basically, people support what they help to create. As a result, gathering a coalition of supporters to be part of the process ensures that there are supporters as the project evolves, and makes the task of recruitment far easier. Creating change in an organization or community, while challenging, can be accomplished through a combination of effort, support, and inspiration, leading to constant discovery and celebrating it.
Tamara Ingram, Group Executive Vice President at Grey Group puts it this way:
“Today’s world is amoebic, biological, organic. It’s less about the perfect solution than about constant discovery.”
When Does a Gift Become a Burden?
The question of when a gift becomes a burden is central during the Covenant Foundation grant selection process.
We have watched in dismay as projects and initiatives that showed great promise eventually fizzled and in some cases even caused strife within an institution. The lesson: be careful what you wish for—receiving a grant, large or small, raises the stakes on success because not only are there dollars at risk, but also the currency of self-esteem and reputation.
This Foundation assesses not just a project’s merit, viability, and durability, but also the ability of the environment to support it—and we ask potential grantees to do the same. We ask several questions to help uncover the most potentially successful partnerships:
Grant recipients, many of whom have very limited previous grant project experience, not only have to be willing to learn about how to propose doable projects in a clear and concise manner, and how to articulate and craft measurable goals, but also must learn how to administer and implement their projects in the context of ongoing institutional work while simultaneously monitoring and documenting their accomplishments.
In many instances institutions are much more facile at managing these smaller grants.
Regardless of the scope or breadth of a project, turbulence in the host institution inevitably stresses a project; when there are staff changes and the founding visionaries leave, projects founder; when practical implementers are unavailable, most times very promising ideas cannot get off the ground.
A final question:
When all is said and done, is the risk of getting a grant worth the time, effort, and the possibility of failure?
As another Covenant grantee put it:
“Getting a grant gave me a greater sense of purpose. It helped me understand that I wasn’t acting in a vacuum. That an organization outside of my institution was endorsing my work drove home that I was doing something for the greater good for my world, a greater sense of Tikkun Olam, as opposed to ‘my little olam.’”
Returning to Seth Godin once again: “The tiny cost of failure…is dwarfed by the huge cost of not trying.”
Dreams fade away because we can’t tolerate the short-term pain necessary to get to our long-term goals.
Delighting a few with an idea worth spreading is more valuable than ever before.
“There are people out there who are educating their hearts as we speak. They’re getting on with the work, they’re loving their kids, they’re loving their students, they’re loving their communities. We must retrain our vision toward those people—we must develop eyes to see and ears to hear where that love is already happening—that is worth our energy and our care and our time, to tend that love, to show that love ourselves.”
—Krista Tippett, Founder and CEO, The On Being Project
“There are just two outcomes that really matter: First, that students feel Judaism is the fertile ground in which they get nurtured to grow, and second, that they find Judaism joyful.” Rabbi Joy Levitt, Executive Director, JCC Manhattan
"Civil discourse requires us to listen generously and to act as though—and to really believe—we could be open to persuasion. We each may think: 'I did not cause this situation, I am not to blame.' Yet we each have the capacity to help society turn the corner, if we honestly ask what went wrong and what we can do about it."
- Martha Minow, the 300th Anniversary University Professor at Harvard University and Joseph William Singer, Bussey Professor of Law, Harvard University
The Wow Metric of Success: Jewish Life in Bloom on the Farm: Spring has arrived, and the Jewish community is busy planting with purpose. In Vaughan, Ontario, the yellow coltsfoot and purple-blue scilla are just starting to flower at the Kavanah Garden, a half acre community garden that’s part of Shoresh, the Canadian-based Jewish environmental organization that includes the Kavanah Garden and Bela Farm. Last Sunday, on “Yom Manual Labor” volunteers gathered to turn the soil, plant seeds, paint outdoor tables and participate in construction projects with the Shoresh team, preparing the garden for growing season.
“Our Jewish community is only as strong as its ability to include all members in the fabric of Jewish life. Doing so helps each of us recognize the unique strengths we all bring to the Jewish community, and that community cannot possibly be complete until we actively and intentionally welcome each other.”
-Meredith Englander Polsky, 2017 Covenant Award Recipient, Director of Institutes and Training, Matan, and Developmental Support Coordinator, Temple Beth Ami Nursery School
“From all of my teachers, I have grown wise.” Psalms 119:99. Framing Jewish Education, a project of The Jewish Lens and supported by The Covenant Foundation, was created to engage teachers, students, and families in conversation about the value of Jewish education and to illustrate the power of great teaching and learning via a curriculum based on visual literacy and text.
“For me, study is a divine and daily imperative; I study a page of Talmud daily so that I am not only teaching. My teaching is constantly being fed by my learning.” —Erica Brown Associate Professor, George Washington School of Education and Human Development. Director, Mayberg Center for Jewish Education and Leadership, 2009 Covenant Award Recipient
The Covenant Classroom means something different to every educator but common goals are to motivate, engage and be inclusive of all learners. In this volume, we’ve collected an array of Teachings on Inspiration and Motivation in all areas of Education.
#ThankATeacher It has been twenty-five years since The Covenant Foundation first opened its doors, and we continue to be humbled by extraordinary Jewish educators from across North America and across the spectrum of Jewish life who have devoted their careers and considerable talents to the field of Jewish education. Now, in celebration of a quarter-century-old tradition of honoring Jewish education and educators, and to kick off a year of public engagement around great teaching, we’re proud to share The Covenant Foundation voices app with you: a new digital way to give and share your gratitude.
“What would it look like if we bet on Jewish early childhood education for the long-term, as our tradition instructs? The task might seem large, but the reward, we know, is great (Pirkei Avot 2:15).”
“Countless leaders have been inspired by the story of the Jewish people leaving bondage in Egypt – those whose names we know, like Martin Luther King, Jr. and those whose names we never will know, whose every-day acts of kindness and resistance fuel social change. This story, our story, has become a cornerstone of modern social justice work.”
—Abby Levine, Director of The Jewish Social Justice Roundtable
This is how I see a “Covenant Classroom”: a place where challenging topics are passionately discussed; a place where complex ancient texts are grappled with; a place in which self- esteem grows, and motivation to learn increases exponentially because of it. An environment in which each Jewish soul is given the confidence to continue the eternal search for meaning.”
—Dr. Sandra Ostrowicz Lilienthal, Curriculum Developer and Instructor at The Rose and Jack Orloff Central Agency for Jewish Education of Broward County and 2015 Covenant Award Recipient
“When powerful, new approaches to learning are introduced through digital tools, meaningful disruptions occur along the way… When this happens, new approaches which previously seemed inaccessible, are suddenly within reach.”
—Barry Joseph, Associate Director for Digital Learning, Youth Initiatives, American Museum of Natural History
“The future of Jewish teen engagement can in fact be found in 3D printers, and in text-people, and in service, and outdoor education, and in anything that brings teens into contact with authentic learning experiences and passionate, caring, knowledgeable educators.”
—Charlie Schwartz, Senior Jewish Educator, Director, BIMA & Genesis, Brandeis High School Programs
Portal seems like a particularly apt metaphor for entry points into Jewish life and learning because ultimately we want those experiences to be deeply experiential and transformative. We also want them to be accessible. A portal has no toll; passage is free. At the same time, a portal is particularistic, not a generic entrance. It conveys a sense of magic, ritual, and power. Similarly, we want to convey that Jewish life is rich, layered, and meaningful beyond what is immediately apparent. We want the encounter with Jewish life to take you on a journey that is profound and surprising. And, given that each of us may enter through the same portal but have a completely different experience of what is on the other "side," the possibilities are endless.
— Judith Rosenbaum, Executive Director, The Jewish Women’s Archive
"We need a new kind of creativity in the classroom that’s going to reach Jewish kids… If a teacher is imaginative, he or she is going to connect to students’ hearts and souls.”
—Dr. Arnold Eisen, Chancellor, Jewish Theological Seminary, Board Member, The Covenant Foundation.
"There are four types of students... The sponge absorbs everything. The funnel brings in on one side lets it out the other. The strainer lets out the wine and retains the lees. The sieve lets out the flour dust and retains the fine flour." —Pirkei Avot 5:15
"There’s a misconception that a venture must depend on large grants from big donors. It makes more sense and it’s more sustainable to test out an idea, and see whether it has the opportunity to make an impact on people’s lives."
— Ariel Beery, founder, PresenTense
I think [creating new Jewish texts] is a really good description of what we’re trying to do. These days we’re increasingly creating products that are intended to be shared on the web. We’ve felt and continue to feel that this medium, and virtual communication as a whole, is being under-tapped for its possibilities for making art.
— Reflections from Sam Ball on the New Jewish Filmmaker Project