We share the process of creating Slingshot to ensure all readers, whether you read the guide at your kitchen table or in a foundation board room, that the organizations in this guide have been vetted by professionals. Over the course of nearly a full year, the Slingshot staff solicits nominations, reviews evaluation forms, and conducts due diligence. The process centers on a community of professionals across the country who generously volunteers their time and expertise to review hundreds of applications. While this community was critical in the creation of Slingshot 2017, Slingshot takes full responsibility for its content.
Step 1 – Solicit Nominations
The process of developing the book started in September of 2016, when we released the 2017 application form here on our website. Slingshot staff encouraged anyone and everyone to apply, or to nominate the organizations or projects that inspire them. In particular, we asked people to think about projects and organizations that best reflected our four criteria: innovation, impact, strong leadership and organizational effectiveness. Organizations were instructed to apply based on one of three broad life stages: start-up, mezzanine, and legacy. They are defined as:
- Start-up: “A start-up organization is in its earliest stages of development. It typically has a founder with a vision or idea and has just begun to establish a funding stream, employee structure, business model, and practices and approaches. Its programming is highly experimental.”1 Start-up organizational challenges are mostly foundational and focused on survival, specifically around: funding, staff/ volunteer expertise; sustaining enthusiasm; refining mission/vision; absence of administrative and evaluation systems.
- Mezzanine: “An organization is in the mezzanine phase following its start-up phase. By this point, the organization may have pilot tested its organizational idea, documented outcomes, and developed a written plan for growth, but it has not yet achieved large geographic scale or wide adoption. Sometimes known as post-start-up, [these organizations] have established a track record of funding, engaged a set of people in defined roles, formed a board, written a set of policies, and defined its business model.”2 Mezzanine organizational challenges deal mostly with sustainability, building capacity, and obtaining funding to support that work. Specific issues include: funding for capacity, rather than programmatic efforts; board transition from working/ volunteer focused to governance/ policy focused; onboarding staff with expertise and merging with the long- standing generalist staff; maintaining innovative culture; creating a theory of change/strategic plan around data.
- Legacy: Legacy organizations are “marked by greater brand awareness—of the organization and its programs and services. The nonprofit is larger and has more hierarchy, with clearly defined management roles. In this stage, the fundraising program has become more sophisticated, perhaps including an endowment or planned giving. The nonprofit has established a strategic plan and is governed by a more diverse board of directors.”3 Legacy organization challenges are mostly focused on reducing stagnation, encouraging risk-taking, and creating a culture of innovation, specifically around resistance to change; need for new leadership (staff/lay); less touch points with the core “client” demographic, which creates misunderstandings about what the community is/may be looking for; and rigid systems.
Step 2 – Evaluation
When the application process closed in November, we gathered a national committee of 92 volunteer evaluators to review the nominations forms.The evaluators are next-gen funders, grant making professionals, Federation executives, funders of innovation, and Jewish community professionals, who spend at least part of their time funding and/or supporting innovative Jewish nonprofits. Evaluators live all over the country, span the age spectrum, and represent the diversity of the Jewish community.
Each nominee was reviewed by a minimum of four evaluators. Whenever possible, we assigned each nominee to at least one evaluator who would have insight into the particular organization due to geographic proximity or specific programmatic experience. We also assigned each nominee to an evaluator who had no prior knowledge of the organization. The mix of the insider’s point of view with a first-timer’s opinion gave us a well-balanced final picture. For the first time ever, evaluators were asked to review each application not just against Slingshot’s four selection criteria (see below), but with respect to their chosen life-stage: start-up, mezzanine, or legacy.
- Innovation is a mode of operating, of finding new ways to create impact. Innovative organizations and programs are ones that are able to act efficiently, adapt to current demands in the community, and create new models for achieving positive outcomes. The drive for relevancy and impact is built into their DNA.5 Innovative organizations have a culture of perpetual improvement, where calculated risk is in service of always trying to do better. Innovation can be seen through what the organization does (i.e., the programmatic tactics used to address an unmet need) or how it is done (i.e., the approach used to work with or on behalf of its constituents).
- Start-up organizations are innovative in why they were created. They are groundbreaking, inventive, pioneering, or creative in their response to the changing needs of the Jewish community and the world around it.
- Mezzanine organizations are innovative because of their culture of constant improvement. As they grow, they continue to find new ways of doing business and maintaining a thrust toward risk-taking.
- Legacy organizations express innovation through projects derived from established structures and a willingness to try operating in new or different ways to best address the changing needs of the Jewish community.
Impact considers how the organization/ project affects the attitudes and behaviors of its constituents and the Jewish community.
Start-up organizations have identified a need and developed a compelling mission/ vision around addressing that need. They have rudimentary systems to identify if their programs/services are working but may not have a formal evaluation process.
Mezzanine organizations have shown proof of concept in addressing a specific need and have a theory of change or logic model that is guiding their work. Evaluation systems are more mature, and data is used to infuse growth plans.
Legacy organizations are implementing, working through, or creating a strategic plan around the program, with a specific focus on target goals and measures for evaluating impact. They are evaluating the viability of the project for best practices and scalability.
Strong Leadership in the Field: An organization with strong leadership is a model for the field. It may possess a strategy, an approach, or programmatic content that could be replicable elsewhere and/or that is elevating the work of its peer organizations. Examples of strong leadership are: The organization/project may share resources, knowledge, or best practices with the community; may strategically partner with other organizations; and/or serve to network or convene similar organizations/projects.
Start-up organizations with strong leadership have significant buzz around them. Articles are written about them, staff/lay leaders are asked to present on the organization. Momentum is beginning to build around their work, and partners are beginning to come to the table.
Mezzanine organizations are regarded as having expertise in the field and have begun building brand recognition among their peers. Marketing plans begin to formalize.
Legacy organizations use their brand recognition to help provide leadership in the field around particular issues. They have formal marketing plans and structures in place.
- Organizational Effectiveness: Otherwise known as a sound operation, an effective organization is strategic in the way it conducts business. It is financially efficient and responsible and has the appropriate infrastructure (staff, board, volunteers) in order to effectively serve its mission.
- Start-up organizations have a small board whose primary role is to work and is often but not always personally connected to the founder; a small, nimble, and multifunctional staff; and a budget that is sufficient to cover the operating costs of the organization.
- Mezzanine organizations have grown their board, which has more governance responsibilities and professional expertise within it; a staff with more differentiated and specific roles; a larger budget; and a diversified and increased funding base.
- Legacy organizations have an established board with formal committees and roles and is primarily responsible for ensure longevity and well-being of the organization; staff is diversified and hired for their programmatic expertise and staff structures are more hierarchical; and funding is stable and includes an operating reserve or an endowment
Step 3 – Final List
After evaluations have been completed, Slingshot staff compiles all the evaluator data. Slingshot staff review qualitative and quantitative evaluation data for each organization and conducts due diligence. This data determines the final list of 50 organizations to be featured in the guide. Auditors review the data to ensure fairness and accountability to the process.
Step 4 – Profiles
For each finalist, we have sought to summarize the mission, impact, and innovations that are new this year and put a significant amount of effort into capturing the unique character of each organization. This guide, which is organized alphabetically, also includes information about each organization such as Board Chair, budget size, life stage, and contact information. If you prefer, the Index sorts the finalists by program area, population served, life stage, and budget size.
Our hope is that you find the final list of organizations to be a valuable resource. If you are interested in learning more about an individual organization, please feel free to reach out to its professionals directly. And if you are interested in investing in the group as a whole, or learning more about Slingshot’s methodology, please email Rachel Hodes at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1 Much of the information about the stage descriptions is from From First Fruits to Abundant Harvest: Maximizing the Potential of Innovative Jewish Start-Ups. Bikkurim, Wellspring Consulting.14 March 2012: http://www.bjpa.org/Publications/details.cfm?PublicationID=13781
3 Thriving Throughout the Stages of a Nonprofit Organization. Pacific Continental Bank, 2011. https://www.therightbank.com/sites/www.therightbank.com/files/files/Business%20Resources/White%20Papers/Nonprofit/white-paper-thriving-through-stages-of-nonprofits.pdf