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Reimagining Jewish Philanthropy in the Age of #MeToo

December 19, 2018

[This article appears as part of a series presented by the SafetyRespectEquity Coalition about the work of Jewish organizations to prevent and address sexual harassment and gender discrimination. By pulling back the curtain on works in progress, the Coalition hopes to inspire others to begin their own crucial reform efforts. You can read the framing piece here.]

Earlier this year, the Jewish Women’s Foundation of New York hosted an event called “Revealing #metoo as #wetoo.” It was a powerful evening that featured anonymous, first-hand accounts of sexual harassment in Jewish life. We were struck by how many stories recounted the ways that young women – including rabbis, fundraisers, and CEOs – endured abuses of power from their donors. Yet, we also noticed that few major funders attended the event to learn about the toll of this abuse.

As leaders of Slingshot, an organization that engages young Jewish philanthropists in supporting Jewish life, and as members of the SafetyRespectEquity Coalition, we believe that the future of Jewish philanthropy requires us to reimagine the relationships between funders and organizations. In particular, we feel a core responsibility to help end the violations of human dignity that result from misuses of power.

We find ourselves asking, what would it mean for funders to adopt formal, public policies of ethical conduct? Can we promote safety for Jewish professionals and strengthen organizations by garnering commitments from each of their funders?

Over the past year, as Slingshot developed a new strategic plan, we have sought to intentionally create the beginnings of a new culture and structure of philanthropy within Slingshot. This work should help to preemptively ensure that funders and board members engage safely and respectfully with the staff of the organizations they support. Our goal is to act as a model for change in an effort to influence the Jewish community as a whole.

With this in mind, we are offering two crucial, replicable steps to strengthen the health and impact of Jewish philanthropy in the #MeToo era:

1. Create Policies of Ethical Conduct for Board Leaders

At our fall board meeting, Slingshot board members will vote to adopt a new policy for respectful behavior. Guided by Fran Sepler*, an expert in preventing harassment in the workplace, and created by Slingshot’s staff and board, our policy puts forth clear expectations and values for board and lay leadership. We do not believe that a policy is a panacea for addressing all incidents of harassment and abuse. But we do believe it is a necessary step to change how philanthropic leadership is imagined, exercised, and held to account.

Once we have officially adopted our policy, we would be happy to share it in the hopes that these guidelines will proliferate among funders themselves.

2. Encourage Funders to Apply a Gender Lens

We are working with Tuti Scott and Nancy Schwartz Sternoff, a team of feminist philanthropic advisors, to develop a resource for donors who may not be funding causes specifically related to gender or women, but who are beginning to recognize gender inequities and are seeking to leverage their resources in meaningful ways. We want to help philanthropists integrate a gender lens into all of their work, regardless of whether they have experience in funding women’s equality, combating sexual harassment, or advocating for gender justice.

For example, we are encouraging philanthropists to make grants that will close the gender pay gap at the organizations they support, regardless of whether those organizations focus on women’s issues. The Wall Street Journal reported in a recent article, “What #MeToo Has to Do With the Workplace Gender Gap,” that “management experts and executives say harassment can be a direct side effect of a workplace that slights women on everything from pay to promotions, especially when the perception is that men run the show and women can’t speak up.” We are also urging funders to think seriously about gender equity in search committees (see Leading Edge’s new CEO Search Committee Guide) and to make sure that women are intentionally recruited for executive director and CEO positions.

We know that policies and recommendations are not enough to uproot abuses of power. And we have no illusions that we can entirely eliminate the power differential between funders and organizational leaders. Money has historically dictated who has power. But we are committed to building a culture of Jewish philanthropy that is transparent about this dynamic and rooted in accountability. Together, we can address issues of power with honesty, integrity, and a shared commitment to a more just future.

Jenna Weinberg is a member of Slingshot’s Board of Directors.
Stefanie Rhodes is the Executive Director of Slingshot.

* And with thanks to Joseph Nierenberg of Nierenberg Employment Law

This article was originally published in eJewishPhilanthropy. You can view it here