Making Room For Established Startups
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Making Room For Established Startups

Slingshot adds ‘standard bearer’ to its list of innovative Jewish nonprofits, addressing challenges of second-stage funding.

The Jewish grantmaker Slingshot has tinkered with the formula for its annual guide to “innovative” Jewish organizations, in part to address the problem of startups that fail for lack of ongoing funding.

The collective of young funders has added a new category — “standard bearer” — to the roster of groups that receive its financial support, said Executive Director Will Schneider. The 10 standard bearers have appeared in at least five of the seven annual guides.

“These are the groups that deserve that kind of capacity-building, second-stage support,” Schneider said. The standard bearers include InterfaithFamily.com, Inc, a website and advocacy group that welcomes interfaith couples to the Jewish community and runs a clergy referral service, as well as Los Angeles’ alternative spiritual community IKAR.

For such groups, “their security is thin. There’s always anxiety about how to meet the budget and it’s hard to grow when that’s on your mind,” Schneider said.

Slingshot is a group of funders in their 20s and 30s who pool their money to support the organizations featured each year in the guidebook. That annual guide’s imprimatur and wide distribution also helps about 80 percent of the featured organizations attract additional funding, Schneider said.

The creation of the standard-bearer class also helped Slingshot open up the guide to other organizations, including 18 that had never before been included. Making a fledgling startup like Wilderness Torah or Jewish Rock Radio compete for space with a more established group like Mechon Hadar, the widely praised adult yeshiva and independent minyan consultancy, doesn’t really make sense, Schneider said.

There would have been 11 standard bearers but for the closure of record label JDub, which shut its doors in August after nine years of operation in which it released 35 albums and helped launch the career of crossover chasidic reggae star Matisyahu.

While many of the organizations appearing in Slingshot are startups or relatively young, some, including some first-timers like Rabbis for Human Rights-North America and Teva Learning Alliance, have been in existence for more than 15 years. The Jewish Education Project, also a Slingshot first-timer, is the product of a merger of two established organizations, one (the Board of Jewish Education of Greater New York) more than a century old.

Schneider said that in determining organizations to highlight, the age of a group was less important than its relevance to contemporary Jewish life.

The fact that even JDub, which developed a hybrid business model with multiple sources of revenue, had to close signals a bigger problem, said Nina Bruder, the executive director of startup incubator Bikkurim.

“There’s a survival-of-the-fittest element of this,” said Bruder. “But even the fittest aren’t surviving.”

Bikkurim has conducted a study of both startups and organizations just past that stage, to be published before the end of the year, that concludes with a call for a new fund to support groups that are young, but growing, Bruder said.

“There’s a stronger pipeline of funding for the startup phase than for the second stage,” she said.

Natan, another funder that is focused on younger donors and new grantees, also has a category compatible to Slingshot’s “standard bearer” in what it calls its “core grants.” They are organizations that it has funded for more than three years and have the potential to make systemic change in their fields.

Both Schneider and Bruder say the answer to the problem of second-stage funding is the cultivation of new donors, not a shifting of money from other areas.

“I want new blood for this,” said Schneider. “I want people who haven’t been funders before, but could be.”

To reach more people, Slingshot will distribute 400 copies at the Jewish Futures Conference for the first time and is making a more concerted effort to induce current supporters to spread the word through their own networks. It will move “Slingshot Day,” at which it used to introduce the guidebook, to March in order to more effectively introduce the funders to their grantees.

Also, the organization is growing, Schneider said. In August, Slingshot hired a second staff member and moved its offices into those of the Jewish Communal Fund. The group’s funders have been asking for more training in the skills of lay leadership — board service, public speaking, writing opinion pieces — and Slingshot is gearing up to provide that.

Support for arts and culture often weakens in a soft economy, but Bruder believes Jewish funders who so far support only non-Jewish causes will turn toward the community once they encounter the exciting young organizations that need their support.

“There are plenty of people who have a lot of money,” she said.

Many of the organizations featured for the first time, such as Eden Village Camp, Kavanah Garden, Shoresh Jewish Environmental Programs, Teva, Wilderness Torah and Kayam Farm, have an environmentalist mission.

Other Slingshot first-timers are: Jewish Community Action-Foreclosure Prevention; Haggadot.com; Jewish Teen Funders Network; Judaism Your Way; OurJewishCommunity.org; Repair the World; Rimon: The Minnesota Jewish Arts Council; Shalom Hartman Institute of North America; Shalom Sesame/Sesame Workshop and TORCH.

Remaining in the Slingshot guide after being featured in previous editions are, in alphabetical order: Access-American Jewish Committee’s new generation program; BBYO PANIM Institute; Be’chol Lashon; Bible Raps; the Bronfman Youth Fellowships Alumni Venture Fund; Center Without Walls; Challah for Hunger; Diarna: Mapping Mizrahi Heritage; Encounter; Gateways-Access to Jewish Education; G-dcast; Hebrew SeniorLife Chaplaincy Institute; Hidden Sparks; Hillel’s Campus Entrepreneur & Senior Jewish Educator Initiative; Institute for Curriculum Services; the Inter-Agency Task Force on Israeli Arab Issues; Jewish Heart for Africa; Jewish Meditation Center of Brooklyn; Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation; Keshet; Matan; Moishe House; Moving Traditions; MyJewishLearning.com; Nehirim: GLBT Jewish Culture and Spirituality; the PresenTense Group; Project Chessed; Rose Youth Foundation, an initiative of Rose Community Foundation; Seeds of Peace; Six Points Fellowship for Emerging Jewish Artists; and Uri L’Tzedek.

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