The Federation Team Giving Circle is all About Connection—to Community and to Each Other

Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “life’s persistent and most urgent question is –What are you doing for others?”

As we all search for ways to dig deeper and individually do more in support of our Jewish community through the COVID-19 crisis, tapping into our own networks of relationships and resources can be a powerful action. And with social distancing becoming a norm, nationally groups are reporting the threat of losing connection.

Coming together to do more collectively can amplify our personal impact.

This was the impetus for 26 employees uniting from different departments to form a Federation Team Giving Circle. “It was part of our grassroots planning to build an intentional culture for our Federation staff —all created on culture of belonging principles that are core to our work,” remarked Wendy Verba, Managing Director of Community Impact.

“A silver lining of sheltering in place is that we have all had many opportunities to develop new partnerships with colleagues, be innovative and experimental, and not be afraid to make mistakes in order to iterate for good,” remarked Danielle Meshorer, Manager of Venture Philanthropy and Giving Circles and one of the stewards of the circle. “All of this energy has led to a general breaking down of old work silos. Some of these new collaborative teams would be worth exploring as a model. Crises often accelerate innovation.”

The experience provided learnings that will also help design a roadmap for additional upcoming pilots.

Virtual giving circles meant adapting our approach in new and different ways to accelerate the process and help meet the needs of these extraordinary times.

The tactic was an extension of a “pop-up” giving circle, a standalone event that requires no pre- or post-work by participants. It is a quick and easy way for groups of people to magnify their impact by pooling their resources and deciding together how the money will be distributed. This model was popularized by Amplifier and Slingshot Fund, two organizations based out of New York, that has been used by many different kinds of Funds all over the country.

All decisions were reached within two 90-minute session meetings. The group used a combination of pre-polling, Zoom voting, breakout groups, yes/no checkmark options—all tools to help pare down grantees. “It was HARD! So many deserving organizations” noted Danielle. Ultimately, they went with over 50% vote in each round to make their selections.

Selected organizations met the group’s criteria of being focused on equity, serving multiple regions, assisting some of the most affected populations, and balancing between Jewish and non-Jewish institutions and programs.

The final result was a sped-up decision-making process amongst participants, awarding nearly $6,500 in pooled funds to 6 organizations aligned with the Giving Circle’s mission statement. Grantees include:

Each organization will be granted an equal amount from the grant pool, roughly totaling $1,056. And as a meaningful gesture, all grants will be made in honor of our late Federation colleague Kate Berenson, z”l, who espoused these Jewish values in both her professional and personal life.

One participant summed up her experience by stating” it really was an opportunity to practice what we preach.”


June 10, 2020


Angela Ingel