You have probably heard of Zagat – those useful guides and website that curate the country’s best restaurants? Now, meet Slingshot. Since 2005, this philanthropic foundation has published annual guides of the most exciting and impactful organizations working within the Jewish communal world. Have a favorite Jewish organization? Chances are they are featured in Slingshot. (Repair the World was featured in the 2011-2012 guide.)
Slingshot also works to engage the next generation of Jewish funders with their peer giving network, The Slingshot Fund. Together through the guides and Fund, they have become a leading voice in the field of Jewish innovation. Repair the World recently chatted with Associate Director, Julie Finkelstein about how service and social change organizations are consistently at the forefront of the Jewish community, and why – despite our tendency to worry! – we can feel confident about the future of Jewish life.
When did you first start at Slingshot, and what drew you to their work?
I have been at Slingshot for two years. Before that I worked in the direct service world as a Hillel professional and for Jewish camps. After I went to business school, I wanted to continue to work in the area of Jewish communal service, while integrating my new business knowledge. Philanthropy felt like a great fit. I was specifically drawn to Slingshot’s mission to help people and organizations do what they do even better. That may mean helping them get access to philanthropic resources, shedding a spotlight on their work, or connecting them to one another. I was excited by the possibility of being a nucleus for that.
How does service and social change fit in to Slingshot’s larger mission?
On the one hand, Slingshot is program-area agnostic. We promote organizations doing innovative work across Jewish communal life. But when we talk about innovation, we often define it as projects that are relevant to today’s Jewish community. We work with organizations that have identified a gap or need and are meeting it in a ground breaking way. Since the beginning, there has been a significant presence within Slingshot of organizations doing social justice or service work because those two areas are extremely relevant and engaging within Jewish life. It is clear that for many people in the Jewish community, volunteering or being a part of a campaign is one important expression of their Judaism, so we support that trend.
Have you seen the trend change or grow in any significant ways?
Social justice and service organizations have been consistently strong over time, and we have a strong representation of advocacy organizations working both nationally, like Bend the Arc, and locally like Jews United for Justice in DC, Jewish Community Action in Minnesota, and Jews for Racial and Economic Justice in New York.
We have definitely seen the rise of organizations doing food and environmental work. And we have also seen an influx of traditional direct service organizations doing great work – so organizations like City Harvest, which has a new kosher initiative, or organizations working on issues of domestic violence or disabilities. These organizations have always provided vital services, but now they are beginning to trickle over into our world by becoming hotbeds of innovation too.
Any other changes?
Another interesting trend we’re seeing is localization. The philanthropic world talks a lot about scaling up a project and going national. That is still a focus, but we are also seeing organizations take great ideas, bring them to their home communities, and put their local flair on them. Funders are also increasingly compelled by what is happening in their own back yards. In response to this, we are piloting two geographic supplements to the Slingshot book, one in DC and one in the Midwest.
Your work provides you a unique bird’s eye view of the Jewish community. What do you see?
Too often, a lot of the conversations that happen about the Jewish community are very alarmist or worrisome about the next generation. But working with all the amazing organizations we support, I feel very confident that we will have a thriving, strong, and open community for a long time to come. The work I see happening all across the country is amazing and is led by amazing people. It’s a breath of fresh air.
Learn more about Slingshot’s work on their website.