Jenerator: From the Basement to the Boardroom

The great sage, Maimonides, tells us that the highest level of tzedakah occurs when our giving enables the recipient to become self-reliant. It is in that tradition that one of the Federation’s newest endeavors, Jenerator, was born.

It was also born in the Federation’s basement…  Really.

And yet, from those rather humble beginnings (and perhaps because of them), Jenerator has emerged as one of the Federation’s most innovative and useful new initiatives. It could also be a game-changing new model for partnership: an extension of the Pro Bono Consulting Practice that seeks to build earned income capacity – and, therefore, financial health – for nonprofit organizations in our community.

“The ultimate goal with Jenerator is to help our partners build capacity and become financially sustainable over the long run,” said the Federation’s Director of Strategic Consulting, Bab Freiberg. “Everybody knows how hard it is to fundraise. So we are looking for creative ideas on how to actually generate income. And if a nonprofit has the will and the capacity to explore them, then we want to explore those ideas along with them.”

Wilderness Torah, a nonprofit founded in 2009, provides transformative, back-to-nature, Jewish experiences in order to build community and strengthen Jewish identity. They have been selected as one of two recipients of a groundbreaking $150,000 Innovation Grant designed to help organizations generate revenue and long-term viability while increasing impact. The grants include financial support as well as business start-up advice designed to help organizations test and launch earned-income ventures.

Photo via Wilderness Torah

“The idea of a revenue-generating project within this innovative space really resonated for us,” said Wilderness Torah founding director, Zelig Golden. “In fact, we’d already been envisioning a for-profit plan to train other people to do what we do here, but in their own communities. So when this opportunity presented itself, it was just perfect timing.”

Indeed, the opportunity for our nonprofit partners is to receive not only funding, but also the pro bono expertise of lawyers, IT experts, accountants, real estate professionals, marketing gurus, HR people and other relevant industry leaders.

“They are just extraordinarily talented and creative people,” said the Federation’s Director of Grants, Julie Golde. “And they have been able to create something, in Jenerator, that’s not just about giving grants. Let’s face it, if we are only about grants, then we are really just a bank. But we’re much more than that. A grant is just one piece of the impact pie. And the Innovation Committee gets that.”

The Federation’s Director of Strategic Change, David Katznelson, agrees: “The conversations we’ve had in that basement are so robust and so good because we are in a room with these amazing people: entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and completely outside the box thinkers who all care deeply about the Jewish community.  And they are all dedicated to figuring out how our Federation can try new ways of bringing new people and organizations into the fold with these new ideas. It’s awesome!”

Global Citizen Year, the second Innovation Grant recipient, is another thriving example of a partner that is addressing revenue generation in new and exciting ways. An Oakland based nonprofit, Global Citizen Year builds global leaders through international bridge-year missions designed to give recent high school graduates “perspective, confidence and purpose prior to college.” It is also implementing a revenue structure designed to attract more participants to its Jewish initiative while generating budget-offsetting income.

“It is amazing to have such a strong organization with a game-changing goal to develop a Jewish-focused program,” said Katznelson.

Global Citizen Year. Photo: Florin Langer (Ecuador '14)

The enthusiasm through the Federation over the work of the Innovation Committee and Jenerator is palpable, and it is matched by our community partners:  “I feel really blessed to have this kind of attentiveness and connectivity going forward,” said Zelig Golden. “I feel like we are actually in a partnership. And that to me speaks volumes in terms of where the Federation is at with its funding strategy. And it also feels really good from this end knowing that if we have challenges or opportunities, we can just go right to that Committee and say: ‘Hey, this is what’s emerging. Let’s explore it together.’ And that’s just really exciting!”

For more information on the Federation's Jenerator program or its Pro Bono Consulting Practice, contact Bab Freiberg, Director of Strategic Consulting, or call 415.512.6295.


November 09, 2015


Jon Moskin