Launching a Life of Philanthropy

From Jewish Teen Foundations to YCore

Exactly a decade ago, I received a postcard from the Federation with the word “philanthropy” on it. I wasn’t sure what the word meant, but I knew it had something to do with giving back, and, as an eager high school freshman in Palo Alto with some spare time on my hands, I thought I’d give it a try.

After two years serving as a Jewish Teen Foundation board member – a program of the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund – and granting over $100,000, I knew I had stumbled upon something powerful. I spent the next two years interning and assisting the program's founder, and this opened my eyes to the world of philanthropy – its incredible potential, but also the big challenges it was facing.

With some very important JTF notes in 2006

Through the Jewish Teen Foundations (JTF), we learn that tzedakah is much more than a Judaic piggybank on your mantelpiece – it’s a mindset, a way of approaching the world that seeks to correct systems, build institutions, and stand for what’s right. Philanthropy, similarly, is not about the dollars you give to charity – it’s about applying the full suite of resources you have as an individual and as a community member to create systemic, lasting social impact.

This message stayed with me through my classes at Stanford, my research projects on the social sector, my job at Hewlett Foundation, and my work at the Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen Foundation. It changed how I live my life, and shifted how I think about the incredible privilege I have of education, time, faith, family, friends, and growing up in the culturally-rich Bay Area. It made me take action, notice issues, and go out and solve them.

People my age, 24, tend to stumble their way through life after college as we figure out our passions, interests, and goals. However, one constant theme across my generation is that we want improve the world. That’s an inspiring sentiment, but when I saw how my peers approach social action, it felt delayed, self-serving, and lacking critical thought. It was not philanthropy or tzedakah. This wasn’t intentional, but came with the adjustment to the intimidating, exciting new world away from the ivory towers of higher education and the protected walls of our childhood.

My generation’s adjustment is difficult, but the adjustment of our nonprofit sector in engaging our generation has also been delayed and uncommitted. Yet, we know that Millennials are going to be the recipients of the largest transfer of wealth in history. They make half of the consumer decisions in the U.S. and will be a majority of the workforce by 2020. To ensure an effective social sector and to pursue our missions, we need to engage these people today, or risk losing them for the rest of their lives.

JTF taught me not to underestimate young people and not to underestimate what I, personally, could do. Gathering the resources I had, I created an organization called YCore. We teach young professionals how to dedicate their lives to philanthropy and be proactive and intelligent as they approach social impact for the rest of their lives. With team projects, like building a curriculum with Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center, creating a marketing plan for Code2040, or conducting outreach to KivaZip borrowers, we engage young people the way they want to learn and create the impact they want to have. At the same time, we give them the education and community to do even more.

JTF taught me critical thinking. It taught me that social change is complicated and demands your greatest skills with your deepest emotions. I built YCore to teach people how to use all their skills to create social impact, and to use introspection to understand what moves them and motivates them to improve our world.

JTF taught me Im ein ani li, mi li? (Hillel’s timeless wisdom) – the importance of protecting and understating our own communities, while also balancing those acts with selflessness. YCore’s fellows work on local social impact projects while learning about the holistic challenges our communities face. We push our fellows to understand the self-interest and altruism inherent in all of our philanthropic acts, and how to balance them to effectively create change.

JTF taught me about Maimonides and his levels of giving, which culminate in helping others to help themselves. I built YCore to ensure that the projects we do are not just short-term assistance, but help our nonprofit partners do more, reach more people, and better fulfill their missions years after our work. We teach our fellows the social change frameworks, the fundraising tools, and the analytical strategy to go out into the world after the fellowship, create their own missions, and work on the issues where they can have the most impact.

JTF taught me many things, and I don’t have the space to list them all, but most importantly, it has shaped my path and the decisions, both small and large, that I have made since. It has turned me into a lifelong philanthropist and pushed me to try to create a movement where people of my generation can learn how to use their resources and passions to become effective philanthropists.

Far left, with the YCore team at a Fall Retreat in 2015

Simon Shachter served as a board member on JTF from 2006-2007 and was a member of their Leadership Council from 2007-2008. He is a graduate of Stanford University and founded YCore in 2011. Simon is currently working at the Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen Foundation.

Categories: Teens, Philanthropy


October 21, 2016


Simon Shachter