The Natan Fund, a giving circle based in New York City, celebrates a milestone anniversary tonight with an event marking 15 years of engaging young Jewish philanthropists in collaborative giving to support Jewish and Israeli social innovation.
Natan began in the fall of 2002 as a group of about 20 people who wanted to have a more hands-on, collaborative, inspiring experience of giving. Incubated for its first three years at the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies and supported by a small group of foundations that believed in the importance of empowering young people to give thoughtfully and collaboratively, Natan became independent in 2005. Many of its original members are still involved – in fact, more than a quarter of current Natan members have been involved for over a decade. Over the years, more than 200 members in their mid-20s to mid-50s have come together to allocate over $12.5 million to 244 innovative, grassroots initiatives in Israel and in Jewish communities around the world.
Natan’s core strategy has been to provide early-stage funding to nascent initiatives and visionary social entrepreneurs, usually through open calls for proposals that elicit responses from hundreds of applicants each year. Natan has thus occupied a unique space in the Jewish philanthropic landscape, in many cases providing grantees with their first institutional support.
In North America, Natan’s grantees over the past 15 years have represented the cream of the crop of the Jewish innovation ecosystem, fundamentally transforming the ways that people connect to Jewish life in the 21st century. Organizations like Sefaria, Hazon, BimBam (formerly G-dcast), Moishe House, Keshet, most of the members of the Jewish Emergent Network (and the JEN itself), InterfaithFamily, Footsteps, JDub Records, and many, many more have blazed new trails and upended traditional notions of who can be part of Jewish communities and what Jewish expression can look like in a new era.
In Israel, Natan’s grantees have focused on creating new models of economic development for all of Israel’s citizens, revitalizing Jerusalem, and developing innovative approaches to telling Israel’s story and combating its delegitimization. About a third of Natan’s funding over the years has gone to Israeli organizations like Olim BeYachad, Tsofen, Israel Story, Unistream, Leket Israel, Gvahim, Innovation: Africa, Toldot Yisrael, Jewgether, Jindas, Noa Tanua, c.a.t.a.m.on., and The Jerusalem Parliament.
And in Jewish communities around the world, especially in Europe, grantees such as Paideia, Limmud International, Centropa, Gefiltefest, The Jewish Salons, Muslim Jewish Conference, Fuente Latina, and many grassroots initiatives created by members of the ROI Community have helped to build resilient Jewish communities, connect Jews to each other and to their neighbors, and empower young Jews to create new access points to Jewish life.
While funding innovation has been at the core of Natan throughout its history, its focus areas, events, and programs have always evolved to reflect its members’ developing interests, to meet the changing needs of the fields in which it invests, and to identify emerging trends that have the potential to make systemic change.
Natan has benefited tremendously from the expertise of many partners over the years, working closely with funders and networks like the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies, the Shahaf Foundation, the ROI Community, the Leichtag Foundation, the Samuel Bronfman Foundation, the AVI CHAI Foundation, the Genesis Philanthropy Group, and Birthright Israel NEXT. Additional partners have provided core support to Natan and its activities, including the Einhorn Family Charitable Trust, the Pershing Square Foundation, the Joyce and Irving Goldman Foundation, the Samberg Family Foundation, and the Nathan Cummings Foundation. Foundation partnerships have helped to build Natan’s capacity to expand the breadth and depth of its offerings for members, connect with exceptional speakers and grant applicants, and become a thought leader in the Jewish innovation ecosystem.
Most notably, in 2014, Natan partnered with the Schusterman Foundation to create Amplifier, a network of giving circles inspired by Jewish values, which became independent of Natan in 2017. The first network of its kind in the Jewish community, Amplifier now boasts106 giving circles in its network, engaging over 3,700 members who collectively gave away almost $6.5 million in 2016. Amplifier recently received a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to convene all of the American giving circle networks, to scale the giving circle model nationally as a powerful form of civic engagement.