Thirty thousand dollars in local grant funds are currently available to support innovative projects that will engage teens and young adults, thanks to the vision of three young leaders aiming to foster Jewish continuity in Pittsburgh.
The SteelTree Fund, launched about four months ago, is an initiative of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh that gives young adults the opportunity to be more hands-on in their philanthropy while promoting novel programs to strengthen the Jewish community.
Scott Tobe, Drew Goldstein and Ben Moravitz, all members of the Jewish Federation of North America’s National Young Leadership Cabinet, call their new fund a “giving circle.”
“It’s a social venture capital fund,” explained Goldstein, 37, a real estate developer and nonprofit consultant.
SteelTree is managed by 14 young Jewish leaders here, who see the fund as a “way to give back more directly,” Goldstein said.
The group will meet at least quarterly to review grant applications for new programs and mete out individual grants of up to $5,000.
The sums are sizable enough to “help push the needles to get some ideas off the ground,” Goldstein said.
The 14 members of the fund — who are mostly in the 30- to 45-year-old range — each have made a two-year commitment to participate. The first year obligates each member to increase his or her gift to the Federation’s annual fund by $500; gifts of at least $1,000 are required the second year.
The Federation’s Jewish Community Foundation and an anonymous donor match the contributions, creating a larger pool of funds that the members then direct to local programs, based on their own passions and interests.
“Our goal is to have a focus on Jewish continuity,” Goldstein said, and the fund members will consider making grants to “any social entrepreneurial idea focused on great Jewish folks doing things for the Jewish community.”
Proposed programs must be connected to a 501(c)(3) organization in order to be considered, he said.
So far, the fund members have been presented with six grant proposals and have funded two: the “Chutz-Pow! Superheroes of the Holocaust” comic book launch party; and a Mommy and Me class sponsored by the Agency for Jewish Learning. Other applications are still being considered.
“But we want to get the word out that we have funds,” Goldstein said.
The intent is for the SteelTree membership to grow beyond its 14 members, he noted, adding that it will have open enrollment each year.
The idea for the fund was born at the National Young Leadership Cabinet Retreat, according to Moravitz, 37, a Pittsburgh native and senior pricing analyst at Thermo Fisher Scientific who has been involved with the Federation for several years.
At the retreat, the young leaders were exposed to “the most successful practices in other cities,” Moravitz said, and they were inspired by the Slingshot Fund, a giving circle run by young Jews in New York City. That fund, as well as SteelTree, speaks to a new paradigm of Jewish involvement, he said, where organizational affiliation is no longer a given.
“I think that being an American Jew just two generations ago meant having a tighter bond with the Jewish community,” he observed.
He noted that while the current trend of increased assimilation in the United States has the positive effect of the larger society being more accepting of Jews, a negative outcome of that acceptance is that “we kind of lose that bond to Judaism.”
The projects that SteelTree hopes to fund are intended to foster Jewish continuity.
“Now, the pressure is on getting good projects to fund,” Moravitz said. “We’re trying to get existing organizations to think differently regarding how they connect with young Jewish adults. Anything we can do to ignite the flame and improve the connection between young adults and the community.”
SteelTree provides an entry point for young Jews to get involved in communal giving, according to Tobe, 36, a financial adviser who runs his own firm and who has been active in Federation since 2003.
He said he was “amazed” at how quickly those invited to join the fund were willing to contribute financially, and he is anxious to see SteelTree grow.
“We are looking for more applications,” Tobe said. “We really want people to participate and to apply for funding.”
For the Federation, the fund is a new way to engage young adults and to encourage them to contribute communally, according to Rachael Speck, the Federation’s young adult division director.
“Young people don’t want to give out of obligation,” she said. “They want to know they’re having an impact and to be hands-on.”
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.