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JCF Blog

Year of the Philanthropic Journey Part 3 of 12: Defining Success

Posted by: Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Hartford on 11/28/2018
Success is a funny thing. There are all sorts of way to define success. In baseball, the most successful hitter of all-time is Ty Cobb. His lifetime batting average was .366. In fact, any player who hits over .300 for the season is considered not just a success, but a star. But put that same .300 average into a typical classroom setting and the student is not just failing, but is not even close to success. It’s all perspective. What lens do we look through to determine (dare I say judge) that someone, or  something, is successful? 

Success isn’t always a numbers game. Yes, I’ve been married almost 26 years and most would deem that a “successful marriage.” But to me, it’s not the number of years, but the life Anna and I have built together. We have great kids, a warm Jewish home and common values that instruct our lives. And while we have our disagreements, our family unit is strong; filled with unconditional love. There’s no real way or need to measure this……it just is. 

But the reality is, while success can mean different things in different situations, we still need to define it in order for us, as individuals and a community, to move forward. I see this every day in the Foundation’s grantmaking activities. We award grants both large and small. Their impact varies. In our Community Grants program, a logic model is submitted to the Grants Committee so that we have a benchmark by which they can determine a program’s success. This same logic model provides the grantee with a map to follow as well as a means for course correction if certain goals are not achieved. I work with grant recipients during the course of the grant to help evaluate progress and assist as needed in determining a new path. We have created a thoughtful process that enables some flexibility. In the end, success may look very different from what was first envisioned. 

If a program makes a small ripple rather than a large wave, it does not mean lack of success. Quite the contrary, I am often told by recipients about a small grant that really made a difference in someone’s life. And sometimes the real outcomes occur long after the grant is complete. Obvious and instant gratification aren’t always part of the equation. Sometimes a program that is transformational is needed. Other times it’s simple incremental steps that lead us to success. 

Expanding these thoughts a little further, we can also fail successfully. Occasionally we need to take risks and those risks don’t pan out as planned. Does this mean we failed? To a certain extent, yes. But what do we learn from the failure? If we take lessons from past mistakes and apply them to future endeavors, then we have failed successfully! Not every grant the Foundation awards achieves the desired result, but this doesn’t mean we don’t use this lack of success to inform other decisions. We must be willing to risk failure if we want to find programs that will ultimately strengthen our community. 

We continually strive to find programs and projects of all sizes that have a positive impact on our community. It’s not always about the numbers. It’s not always about understanding the outcomes anecdotally. But it is about understanding that how we define success can lead us to even more.   

In the meantime, here’s to your success (whatever that means!). 


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Denis Geary
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Well said. Thank you Michael for all you and your colleagues do on behalf of JCL and our sister agencies, organizations, schools and synagogues.
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