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JCF Blog

This is a Blog Post on Innovation

Posted by: Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Hartford on 6/10/2014

This is a blog post on innovation.

There. I said it. You don’t believe me? Okay, let’s try again. 

This is an innovative blog post.

Still don’t buy it? But it takes guts to claim that something is innovative and new. And I’ve said it in two ways now…Are you really going to make me prove it to you?

The truth is, this post may not be “innovative,” but I hope it makes you think differently about innovation, and that it encourages you to seek out some of the wonderful innovators in our midst.

A purple cake can be delicious and beautiful, but that doesn't make it innovativeIt’s an easy trap for us as nonprofits, funders or community members to fall into: Call something “innovative” – whether a program, an idea, or even a recipe – and therefore it is, by definition, innovative.

Unfortunately, innovation is not that easy.  If I make a great cake, and add some extra decorations, I’ve still got a really great cake. But it’s not innovative just because I say it is (even if I turn it purple, still doesn’t count as innovative). Believe me, I’ve tried.

This idea was on my mind a few weeks ago when I attended Slingshot Day, presented by the Slingshot Fund,  creators of Slingshot, a guide that highlights the most innovative programs in Jewish nonprofits. Slingshot Day is where all the people involved in making the guide get together to share ideas and talk shop – from the innovators, to the energizer bunnies that run Slingshot, to the evaluators (that’s how I snuck in).

It was a room of hundreds of people – people who had had the guts to be the first of their kind. People who have said, “You know, we can do this. We can make this happen.”  I wish you could have been there with me, as I soaked in this amazing, powerful “yes, and” energy.

Sarah Lefton, Executive Director and Producer at, shared with humor and irreverence about experiments she’s tried online that have spoken to people in new and significant ways.  For example, eScapegoat, an app that acts as a place for atonement, launched last fall before Rosh Hashanah and took off, despite the critics wondering if an online goat could really grab people’s attention.

At my table, Jakir Manela, Executive Director at The Pearlstone Center, shared his journey - deepening his connection to his Jewish identity through environmental camping, and how he works to bring that to young people today. Many in the room also work on similar projects.

It was a day of “Do you mind if we try that?” and “Wow, you did that?!?” and “I had this idea…” One of the most productive – in every sense of the word – days in which I’ve participated.  As Slingshot Associate Director Julie Finkelstein said, “At Slingshot Day, we celebrate what works and work to make it even better.” Truly.

I’m feeling similarly excited about the Aim Chai Endowment Campaign taking place here in Hartford. Have you felt the new energy in the air?  People are thinking positively and creatively in our own community. 

What will the final outcome be?  We have no idea, but we know that it already looks and feels different than anything we as a community have ever done. That’s a great start.

What great ideas of yours need sharing? How could we, in Greater Hartford, learn from others and ourselves? If we had our own local Slingshot Day, what would that look like? I don’t know exactly, but I bet we would generate a lot of innovative ideas.  And when we did, it wouldn't matter if we called them innovative or not – we would know them when we saw them.

Kathryn Gonnerman is the Director of Communications at the Jewish Community Foundation. Kathryn hails from Newton, Massachusetts and previously resided in Los Angeles, California where she worked for the California Community Foundation. She lives in Avon with her husband Darell and her perfect pug Picasso.

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Elliott Tertes
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Innovation, what a concept. There's a woman at the Jewish Federation in San Francisco who has created an outreach program doing Torah Yoga in the JCC's throughout the Bay Area. Yoga to attract people then a Torah study afterwards. A private funder was so impressed with the concept that she funded the entire project.
Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Hartford
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Great example! Innovative ideas inspire other ideas - love learning about others around the country
Judith Zachs
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Bees do birds do it--We can do it. Cross pollination, sharing ideas,
Changing ideas into action and then altering and changing again.
All ages, all sexes all ideas. I need others to stimulate me. Get me going.
Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Hartford
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So true! We are working hard to create spaces for experimenting and cross-pollination, through the Foundation and the Aim Chai Campaign.
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