Sustainability Analysis

This Sustainability Study was designed to enable The Covenant Foundation to reflect on the question: “What factors support or hinder the success and sustainability of existing programs and innovations in Jewish education?” Through the research process, a number of factors were identified that contribute to the sustainability of existing programs, including: adaptability, engagement in reflective processes, ability to make and utilize connections, employment of varied approaches, and achievement of financial stability.

As the mini-case studies illustrate, enduring projects have the ability to adapt to changing social trends. In the past decade, the use of technology among projects funded has been transformed: what was once exceptional has become mainstream. Now, projects are creatively and effectively using technology, both within and outside of the learning environment, as well as in efforts to train and develop educators. With the ever-increasing use of listserves, social networking sites, and online meetings, technology is now commonly used as a mode of networking and as a communication device.

A significant number of educational tools, events, and products were created as a result of The Covenant Foundation funding, many of which incorporated the use of emerging technologies. These include: 32 curricula; 22 museum and gallery shows; 18 books, workbooks, and manuals; 11 study guides; 16 newsletters; 10 websites; 14 conferences and events; 16 performances, and two CDs.

Programs benefited from the ability to learn from challenges. Foundation-sponsored external evaluation helped many grantees learn valuable lessons that contributed to projects’ improvement and development: some projects have now incorporated evaluation into their broader organizational culture.

Many projects have thrived in part because of dynamic connections made with a wide range of individuals and organizations. Numerous synergies among Covenant Foundation grantees were fostered as a result of participation in the annual Project Directors’ Meeting, and through connections made by Covenant Foundation program officers.

Some projects funded by the Foundation were in the initial start-up phase of efforts that emerged as groundbreaking for their innovative content and approach. In some cases, the Foundation was the first major funder to support projects focusing on issues that have since garnered significant communal attention. As a result of recognition and support from The Covenant Foundation, numerous populations that were previously on the margins have gained visibility, which has contributed to projects’ viability.

The Foundation has funded multiple projects that use different means to address a similar goal. For example, a significant number of projects funded by the Foundation have focused on teacher training. Variety in terms of methods and target population emerged as a key to successfully supporting Jewish educators. National and local efforts have focused on training educators across the field, including: early childhood, day school, camp counselors, and synagogue schools, as well as training for avocational and substitute teachers. Efforts include: mentoring programs, communities of practice, professional development, and Master’s degree programs.

Financial sustainability is an essential factor in the process of adapting and disseminating successful programs. Although funding from The Covenant Foundation enabled many Project Directors to secure additional funding, there was significant variability especially for those Project Directors who had never before received a major foundation grant. In addition, the Foundation observed that many grantees were unacquainted with the funding relationship in general and were unsure of how to best utilize the Foundation as a resource. Finally, the economic climate also contributed to the challenge of fiscal stability across projects, and many grantees had limited success replacing the grant revenue they received from The Covenant Foundation.

In response to these and other observations, the Foundation began convening an annual three-day conference bringing together current Project Directors in order to encourage their own learning and networking. These Projects Directors’ convenings provide hands-on opportunities for professional development, enabling current grantees to discuss issues related to project sustainability and communications. An environment is created that allows grantees to appreciate the importance and potential of big ideas while learning how to develop the necessary capacity to make those ideas a reality. The meeting format motivates those present to take risks and embrace change. The meetings continue to serve as an incubator where participants’ conversations generate ideas that have resulted in programmatic collaborations across regions and institutions. Educators from every stage of professional life benefit from interactions with colleagues as well as with noted experts in a range of aligned disciplines. The dynamic of engaging the Project Directors in meaningful conversation with accomplished thought leaders inevitably results in personal growth and valuable professional development.

In addition to providing an opportunity to begin to speak to some of the Foundation’s learning interests, the findings of the current study corroborated findings from the 2002 study. The Foundation has consistently recognized, nurtured, and provided critical early support for incipient innovations and trends in Jewish education. The Foundation has continued to effectively identify promising educators and organizations, support the development of skills and programs, and fund projects that have demonstrably improved the quality of Jewish education. Finally, the Foundation’s work continues to contribute to the process of professionalizing the field and giving Jewish education greater prominence within the larger Jewish community.

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