Covenant Foundation “Ignition Grants,” small-scale grants introduced in 2007, provide seed funding of up to $20,000 for a single year. Created with the idea that a small seed might spark big innovation, Ignition Grants allow organizations to explore new and exciting ideas that are still in the planning stages.
And over the past seven years, Ignition Grants have done just that. Awarded to 46 organizations in nearly every area of Jewish education, recipients of Ignition Grants have developed pioneering and inventive ideas in the field of Jewish education, producing online Torah study and Hebrew apps, environmental and outdoor education programs, films, visual arts projects, special needs education curricula, teen leadership development programs and much, much more.
Now, with seven years of research and experience under our collective belts, our goal is to understand the impact of a small-scale funding approach. To do so, we’ve commissioned a study to explore questions including:
Based on exit interviews of Ignition Grantees that received funding between 2007-2012, as well answers those grantees provided to a web-based survey, we’ve discovered that the selection strategy used by The Covenant Foundation for Ignition Grants has been highly effective at identifying organizations and ideas with the capacity for long-term success.
In fact, of the 27 grantees that completed our survey, 24 reported that their program is still in existence and is central to the mission of their organization. In addition, almost two-thirds reported that their work had not only continued since the time of the grant, but had also evolved and expanded. Five Ignition grantees – IKAR, The Paradigm Project, The Institute for Jewish Spirituality, MoEd, and Reimagining Jewish Education through Art – subsequently received Signature Grants from the Foundation to continue and expand the work of their Ignition Grants. What’s more, other grantees have also successfully grown their initial pilot programs into larger projects often across multiple sites, and have expanded beyond their local communities to offer programming and curricula on a national scale.
Ultimately, it’s clear from both survey response and results in the field that small-scale funding can spark big accomplishments and impacts.
For many Ignition Grantees, the small size of their organizations and their local focus makes it difficult to feel connected to the larger field of Jewish education and to participate in broader, forward-thinking conversations. To this end, we’ve found that the Covenant connection that’s established once an organization is awarded a grant has helped many grantees transcend organizational barriers. For some, the sense of connection came from the knowledge that there were others across the country engaged in similar work. In fact, a number of grantees developed relationships and connections with other organizations, some directly facilitated by the Foundation, others as a result of the funded projects that put the organization on the national stage.
From conference calls to webinars and networking at conferences, when multiple grantees were present, The Covenant Foundation has made networking and peer learning a central goal of the Ignition Grant experience. Based on our survey, 14 of the 24 survey respondents reported that they had interacted with other grantees during the time of their Ignition Grant. We also learned that half or more of our respondents would have appreciated conference calls or webinars for all Ignition Grantees (56%), in-person conferences for all Ignition Grantees (50%), and gatherings for grantees doing similar kinds of work (68%).
For most of our grantee organizations, receiving a Covenant Ignition Grant provides both tangible and intangible benefits beyond the impact of the funding itself.
First, many grantees confirmed that their funding had allowed them the freedom to experiment and think “outside the box,” which expanded their capabilities as an organization. They also described how the Ignition Grant sparked a process of reflection and learning, and for some, created a “proving ground” for an idea or approach that ultimately impacted the entire organization. In addition, a few grantees made the point that the Ignition Grants provided just the right amount of funding for a process of experimentation and learning – enough to have a meaningful impact, but not so much that it creates pressure to accomplish more than an organization is ready to do.
Further, when asked to describe the impact of receiving a Covenant Ignition Grant, the most common response from grantees was gratitude for the ways in which the Covenant “stamp of approval” elevated the status and visibility of their organization. Grantees went on to describe how the prestige of being awarded a Covenant grant enhanced their sustainability by helping them secure additional funding and making their organizations and programs more attractive to potential partners. A number of grantees also reported that by receiving an Ignition Grant, their organization’s visibility increased both in their local communities as well as on a national level. In turn, this increased visibility helped their organization demonstrate that its work is significant and valuable.
Further, we’ve found that being chosen as a Covenant Grantee can have an impact on an organization’s own identity. To this end, a number of grantees spoke about how being awarded a grant gave them and their organization a new sense of purpose for their work, pride in their accomplishments, and a commitment to live up to the confidence that the Foundation had shown in them.
And finally, many grantees greatly valued their new (in most cases) relationship with The Covenant Foundation itself, citing both the knowledge, perspective, and insight of Foundation professionals as well as the accessibility, supportiveness, and guidance from staff members throughout the entire grant year.
The sustainability statistics described here, along with current program status reports and the multiple impacts described by our grantees, all speak to the success of the Covenant Ignition Grant program in achieving the Foundation’s goals.
The vast majority of programs funded by Ignition Grants have firmly taken root in their organizations, and more than half have secured additional funding (including Signature Grants), expanded their scope, and/or been adapted in other communities. Looking at cross-grant experiences and themes, it is clear that limited funding can have a profound impact on organizations.
The Covenant Foundation can both work to enhance these impacts for current and future grantees, and formulate frameworks for assessing which organizations might benefit most from the experience of receiving an Ignition Grant.
To accomplish these goals, we’ve come up with a number of suggested steps, including:
Ultimately, our research shows above all that a small-scale granting strategy deserves to be and should remain a core approach of the Foundation. The words of Leon Morris, former Director of the Skirball Center for Adult Jewish Learning, express it best: “I think it’s wonderful. Keep funding out of the box projects that might not otherwise be funded. Keep investing in people and projects you believe in. This project was transformative for me, for the artists, and for Skirball.”
“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