Noble goals are not always enough to sustain a nonprofit, and ideas lose momentum when the realities of money and practicality come into play. The road to a failed nonprofit is paved with good intentions, to paraphrase the axiom.
Enter Jewish Jumpstart, a one-stop shop for Jewish social entrepreneurs, whose mission is to act as an incubator, catalyst, think tank and advocate for sustainable Jewish innovation.
The innovation begins with Joshua Avedon and Shawn Landres, co-founders of Jumpstart, who started the project in 2008 after their work with Synagogue 2000 — now Synagogue 3000 — brought to light the gap between Jewish entrepreneurs with benevolent ideas and those ideas actually coming to fruition. Since beginning this venture, Landres has been named one of The Forward 50, demonstrating that Jewish professionals are paying attention to Jumpstart’s initial vision.
Earlier this year Avedon and Landres released a report, based on the 2008 Survey of New Jewish Organizations, which demonstrates the importance of nurturing Jewish nonprofit startups. The Jumpstart report, “The Innovation Ecosystem: Emergence of a New Jewish Landscape,” published in partnership with The Natan Fund and The Samuel Bronfman Foundation, shows that more than 325 innovative nonprofit startups are not a fringe phenomenon, but are the leading edge of the American Jewish community’s transition into the 21st century.
“We have to raise the visibility of this sector,” Avedon said. “You can’t do that by just tinkering at the edges of it; you have to really be willing to change the conversation.”
Following this year’s shuttering due to financial problems of the Professional Leaders Project (PLP), an L.A.-based national nonprofit that recruited and trained future Jewish leaders, and a shrinking pool of funds — due in part to the recession and the impact of the Bernard Madoff $50 billion Ponzi scheme — Jewish nonprofit startups are facing greater hurdles than ever before.
The pressure is on Jumpstart, a startup in its own right, to move beyond rhetoric and into action.
Jumpstart’s daily operations are currently focused on offering strategic support to groups and getting the conversation rolling by holding forums.
Maital Guttman, co-founder of L.A. Moishe House, has attended several Jumpstart workshops and hopes to work with the organization in the future. But she says the burden is now on Avedon and Landres to take their vision to the next level and make it a reality.
“There’s a lot of potential, and for them to provide incubation and mentorship would be critical,” she said. “But they have to prove themselves now.”
Without PLP, Guttman says, there is added pressure on Jumpstart to fill the void.
“I think because they [the PLP] no longer exist, there’s an even greater need for support for young Jewish entrepreneurs and leaders,” she said.
Jumpstart believes there’s a need for Los Angeles to have a network of Jewish entrepreneurs and thinkers, the way San Francisco and New York do. Avedon and Landres are of the mind that Los Angeles has the potential to be an incubator for organizations that have yet to reach their full potential.
Although they admit the economic crisis came at an unfortunate time for their endeavor, the pair remains optimistic and asserts that poor economic conditions actually shed light on the importance of organizations like Jumpstart and the nonprofits they support.
“L.A. is the most creative place in the country,” Avedon said. “We’re sitting on top of a kind of oil well of innovation that just hasn’t been tapped yet.”
They believe that collaborations among different organizations and the potential for connections could help fill the gaps they see.
“I think we’ll be able to make L.A. … a destination for Jewish innovators,” Landres added.
Jumpstart’s founders said they will work with Jewish nonprofits, philanthropists and foundations that support innovation, and organizations that want to foster innovations and entrepreneurs. Avedon and Landres step in to help with problems that occur when there’s no clear direction post-startup.
“There’s a missing piece in this pipeline of innovation, and Jumpstart is looking to fill that hole,” Avedon said.
Jumpstart has raised more than $500,000, which includes funding from The Natan Fund and a three-year $250,000 Cutting Edge grant from the Jewish Community Foundation it received in October.
The men describe their day-to-day duties as threefold. The first part of their jobs consists of talking directly to individuals, helping them make business arrangements and decisions, and generally providing assistance to new start-ups.
The second facet of Jumpstart is conducting research on an organization’s area of expertise. By studying the inner workings of the businesses they advise and the relationships between them, Avedon and Landres say they are better equipped to offer quality assistance and sound suggestions. “This validates the work we’re doing,” Landres said.
The final piece of their work is making and hosting public presentations on the subject, which allow them to open up dialogue and inspire thought and action. These forums have included helping coordinate a meeting at the White House between Jewish social entrepreneurs and Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships representatives; two professional development workshops at the ROI Global Summit for Young Jewish Leaders in Israel this past summer; and a Nov. 19 forum in Los Angeles, “Transforming the Landscape: Social Entrepreneurship’s Impact on the Jewish Community.”
Although both Avedon and Landres are partners in this venture, they divide up duties as director of strategic initiatives and director of research, respectively. Jumpstart has also teamed up with Community Partners, a Southern California-based nonprofit incubator. Together they have launched The Project Partnership, “the first full-service fiscal sponsor for Jewish initiatives,” and through that collaboration Avedon and Landres are able to offer both their expertise and a well-established organization’s infrastructure to their clients.
“They had everything they needed in the way of effective outreach and the instincts themselves. What they lacked was a kind of infrastructure we spent 18 years building. [I thought] maybe there’s a way we can lend this infrastructure and [they] can do what [they] do so well and not have to invest right off,” Community Partners’ president and CEO Paul Vandeventer said.
While monetary and technical assistance tend to be more concrete sources of support for entrepreneurs, Vandeventer said Avedon and Landres are well beyond the average social entrepreneurs.
“Rarely do I see two people as oriented and grounded as they are, as intellectually adept at understanding the opportunities for innovation and as committed and credible in the community they keep,” he said.