Reflections on a summer interning, grantmaking

Exploring social justice and repairing the world from a foundation perspective

Teen grantmakers at work in a Genesis program at Brandeis this summer.

In the fall of 2011, I took a class at Brandeis called Social Justice and Philanthropy (SOC 143a) in which we were given $10,000 to make grants to nonprofits. For the semester, our class became a foundation, focused on learning alongside our giving and trying to allocate the funds in the most responsible way possible.

I was captivated, and this summer I have had the incredible opportunity to work as an intern with the Jewish Teen Funders Network (JTFN), where I've gotten to see the grantmaking process practiced by over 100 Jewish Teen foundations across the country.

There’s so much to learn about tzedakah and giving, and this kind of hands-on experience is an incredible way to begin. So, after 10 weeks, what have I learned about youth philanthropy, and what has made this experience so spectacular?

  • Values and beliefs matter: Teen foundations provide resources that acknowledge teens as leaders. They focus on education and development, helping provide teens with a learning experience that focuses on the importance of the grant-making process rather than the amount of money allocated. The value these programs place on education and development carried through to my internship. I listened to webinars, attended a conference and participated in a workshop, all in just a short summer. Like the programs themselves, each of these experiences has given me skills that will be useful long after I’ve left JTFN.
  • Mentors are important: Mentoring is integral to the teen foundation model. Teen foundation program leaders facilitate groups in a way that cultivates the participants as leaders. My supervisors, Stefanie Zelkind and Naomi Skop Richter ‘05,  facilitated my internship in this way. We focused on the process of getting the work done, rather than just the final products, and this contributed to my learning.  I am lucky to have had mentors to support and guide me throughout this experience into the future.
  • It’s not “fake” or “make-believe.” These are real projects: The Jewish teen philanthropy field is growing rapidly: JTFN launched 20 new teen foundations at Jewish camps this summer, and this fall it is rolling out 11 new teen foundations throughout Long Island, N.Y. Through my internship, I’ve been part of the team developing curricular materials and have already seen the camp programs’ impact, both on the camps and on their grantees. 
  • Teen philanthropy programs develop future leaders — research proves it — and JTFN has played a huge role in supporting them, providing resources and networking: With more than 100 Jewish teen foundations now operating across the country, I know the work I’ve been a part of will have long-lasting impact on the Jewish community and the world at large.
  • Networking is critical: JTFN is the pioneer in connecting Jewish teen foundations, and helping create these connections has been a central part of my experience. My mentors brought me to events, introduced me to colleagues, and, throughout, encouraged them to share experiences from their work in philanthropy and the nonprofit sector. Hearing the stories and experience of experts in the field has shown me the value that connections have in creating great programs.

I have learned so much throughout my internship at JTFN and look forward to my senior year at Brandeis, where I’ll be TAing that same class that got me started in this direction last fall. I know the lessons I have learned at JTFN will be incredibly valuable not just in class, but in my future career. I am lucky to have had such a positive internship experience with so many incredible people. JTFN has a niche in the field, and it has been a spectacular internship because they brought those same lessons to my experience. Every intern should be so lucky.

Rebecca Bachman is pursuing a double major in sociology and education studies with a minor in social justice and social policy. A version of this article previously appeared in the on-line publication eJewish Philanthropy.

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