Venture Philanthropy and the Creation of National Initiatives

Venture Philanthropy and the Creation of National Initiatives

From Agenda: Jewish Education, Spring 2004 In my day job, I am a venture capitalist in Silicon Valley. If nothing else, I’m used to taking risks. Big risks. Venture capitalists look for great people to execute great ideas — finding gaps in the market to fill, or creating new needs. We know that the key to making a lot of money is finding the right people to run with a great idea. Real estate moguls will tell you success is defined by Location, Location, Timing and Location. In the world of funding start-up companies, it’s about People, People, Idea, Timing, and People. I am trying to spend more time learning to be a Venture Philanthropist. I steal techniques from my day job to inform my effectiveness at giving away money. As a Wexner Heritage Fellow, my interest and commitment to improving the Jewish day school education world grew exponentially. I felt there was a big opportunity for making a significant difference in this fast-growing area. I could leverage my contacts, my passion and my dollars by leading a consortium of funders to help these hundreds of progressive Jewish families searching for great secular and values-based education for their kids. And yet, even in the relatively small niche of philanthropy defined by Jewish day schools, there was such a broad landscape, I didn’t know where to focus. Where could my business experience, expertise (if any) and my desire to fill a compelling gap be best used? How could I help inform the field and yet still produce tangible, measurable outcomes? How could we create a national model that would help...
On Philanthropy: The Number of Zeroes Doesn’t Matter

On Philanthropy: The Number of Zeroes Doesn’t Matter

From Jewish Family & Life (JFL Media), October 2001 Laura Lauder, venture capitalist turned venture philanthropist, says that the transition from investment to philanthropy was surprisingly simple. With years of experience under her belt, she knew that the ability to scale an organization and strong leadership were key. “Translating that in to the philanthropy sector is actually not that hard if you really look at those specific issues,” says Lauder who, along with her husband Gary, created the Lauder Foundation in 1995 to pursue the mitzvah of tzedakah, or righteous giving. “When it comes to venture philanthropy you’re looking for ways to find gaps, trying to find an excellent leader who can help catalyze a group of people, and then scale that as long as you have measurable outcomes,” Lauder adds. But philanthropy, she says, is much more than simply donating money. Watch genConnect chat with venture philanthropist Laura Lauder about her commitment to supporting Jewish education, the Franklin Project and importance of national service, and how anyone can effect change, no matter how much money they make. In the world of philanthropy, measurable outcomes come in the form of social returns on investment (SROI), which Lauder admits can be difficult to measure and considerably more difficult than regular ROI. There is a considerable amount of planning that goes in to the allocation of funds in charitable organizations, Lauder says. “Eighty percent of the budget is focused on things that we’re involved with, hands on. Twenty percent, we actually write checks. Frankly, those are our taxes.” By donating to organizations they are not directly involved with, like the Red Cross and United Way, the Lauder Foundation is contributing...

Venture Philanthropy and Jewish Education

From Sh’ma: A Journal of Jewish Ideas, October 2001 When I was initially invited to respond to Jeremy Burton’s thoughtful essay, I was delighted, flattered, and worried. I am not a “mega-donor,” but I aspire to transform an area of Jewish life about which I am passionate -Jewish day school education, specifically teacher recruitment, training, and retention. I was worried that I couldn’t properly respond to all of Mr. Burton’s probing questions, but I offer my story as an initial attempt. Professionally my husband and I manage a family venture capital (VC) fund in Silicon Valley. We have learned to invest in management that has creative and exciting ideas. We invest mostly in startups – not because we think that public equities will not provide a good return but because seeding new ideas executed by highly capable management transforms industries and markets. We co-invest with other VC firms and investors to spread risk, knowing that a quality company will grow and need on-going managerial and financial support. We serve on the boards of some of the companies, guiding and advising them on strategy and direction. We invest in our philanthropy quite analogously.  We make relatively small but substantial investments  in United Jewish Communities, which we know will  provide ”solid returns” much like the blue-chip public  equities. When we invest in start-ups, we look for a high bang-for-the-buck quotient. As in the VC model, we co-invest with other philanthropists (so  as to leverage our funds and spread risk) and we look for outstanding social entrepreneurs and compelling  issues that speak to our passion. When evaluating my investment in Jewish philanthropy...
NFTY Inspires a Venture Philanthropist

NFTY Inspires a Venture Philanthropist

From e-Jewish Philanthropy, September 2004 It was a scorching, humid summer night in 1978 at NFTY Kutz Camp in Warwick, NY – even Debbie Friedman’s guitar strings were soaked in beads of moisture. Nonetheless, everyone in camp swayed and rocked to sounds of her magical guitar in the heavy night air. I was among them, side by side hundreds of teens like me, singing and clapping, and brimming with an overwhelming feeling of pride in my Jewish identity. As a 16-year-old tennis-playing girl from Canton, Ohio, it’s safe to say, NFTY was full of “my peeps.” I became active in our Temple Youth Group, and attended many NELFTY weekends – the original name for NFTY in the Northeast Lakes region – now known as NFTY-NEL. One thing about NFTY that continues to amaze me, is its commitment to excellence in programming – especially tikkun olam. It was the spirit of NFTY’s tikkun olam efforts that helped shape my passion for building philanthropy in Jewish life for the next 35 years. NFTY reemerged in my life when my children entered Jewish day school in 2001. I realized that the small, 70-student school in our community needed significant resources to grow and thrive, and achieve the excellence I had experienced in Jewish life. Since the camp counselors and leaders of NFTY were among the most qualified in the country, I was determined to attract the best and brightest young teachers to our Jewish Day Schools. In partnership with Brandeis University and Hebrew Union College, I launched DeLet – Day School Leadership through Training – a Jewish Teach-for-America program for Day School teachers. Today, DeLeT, has...