Read our interview
with Seth Ullman, and learn about his experience
with Faiths Initiative in San Francisco.
Seth Ullman, age 17, participated in an 8-week
philanthropy program this past summer, The San
Francisco Foundation ďFaiths InitiativeĒ.† Seth
is the son of Scott Ullman, the Training Coordinator
of Foundation Center-San Francisco.† This interview
took place on August 13, 2002 with Scott Ullman
interviewing Seth Ullman.
So, Seth, what is the purpose of the Faiths Initiative and how did you get
Seth:† It has a variety of purposes. The program was created to educate,
empower, and train High School age youth in leadership
skills and teach them about philanthropy and nonprofits
in the San Francisco Bay Area. The participants in
the program had to come from a faith-based nonprofit
organization that focused on youth.
Iíve been working with a social justice youth program from a Jewish perspective,
JYCA, Jewish Youth for Community Action for the past three years.† You had to
be nominated to participate in the Faiths Initiative and JYCA nominated and
sponsored me. We had to write a long essay and I was interviewed. I was the
only Jewish kid. Most of the† youth came from Christian backgrounds but I believe
there were one or two teenagers that came from a Buddhist and Islamic background.
We were a group of fourteen.
What type of activities did you do in the course of the
summer? What was your favorite part?
Seth: In truth, the best part was getting the $2,000 award for participating
in the program.† Itís the first time Iíve ever earned†
a large amount of money. In terms of what we learned,
I thought going through the process of researching
and then giving $15,000 in grants was both fun and
informative, if at times difficult.
Before we talk more about your experience as a grantmaker,
could you give a sense of what other activities were
involved during the program.
Seth: About two-thirds of the time we interned
with a youth-oriented nonprofit. I worked with Youth
Services California. Iím not sure I got a whole lot
out of that time. I was primarily doing data-entry
work. I did help organize and participate in a three-day
conference on youth organizing, which was worthwhile.
I got a sense of what it takes to organize an event
The other times we were at the San Francisco Foundation. We had a lot of presentations
on the difference types of nonprofit and how they do their organizing: their
programs, services, who theyíre trying to help in the community. We also heard
many outside speakers talk about philanthropy, what it means, how foundations
work with the nonprofits and other similar topics. Most of the presentations
were well done and kept us engaged. A big piece of our time was also spent in
researching youth programs in the Bay Area and then giving them grants.
What was that experience like in being a grantmaker?
Seth: In the end it was rewarding, but the process we went through was
often stressful and sometimes frustrating. Making
decisions was hard. We had to narrow down a large
number of groups into a† final grantís list of seven
organizations. We researched the groups ourselves
-- they did not apply to us. There was no proposal,
only our research, interviews, and then speaking on
behalf of the organization in front of the group.
It was particularly hard finding groups that qualified under the Faiths Initiativeís
guidelines. We were looking for Bay-Area nonprofits that operate on religious
principles or out of a religious congregation with secular services provided
to youth.† In most cases, the nonprofits we found were really small and had
little fundraising experience. Most of these groups had never prepared a proposal
and when we talked with them about their projects, they had a hard time providing
us with the information we needed.† If they had actually written a proposal
instead of just being interviewed by us, they would have been better prepared
in answering our questions. For most of these groups this was their first grant.
We did telephone calls, site visits, and a lot of research. What pleased me
is that most of the grants went to programs that were too small to get money
from traditional sources.† Our grants were risky, and I liked that.
Describe the decision-making process.
Seth: Once we found organizations that met our guidelines, we had the
power to make decisions. Faiths Initiativeís staff
had little say. We used many different group processes
to come to our decision, through group discussion
and a great deal of negotiation at the end.
There were a lot of factors that went into our final decisions. I was surprised
that often the most enthusiastic, well-spoken presenter
received the grants. Those groups may not have† met
our other criteria such as how large an impact a few
grant dollars would have on their organizations, but
the ability to communicate well overshadowed other
factors we would consider, such as† how well the mission
fit with our funding goals. One of the most important
things I learned is that our grantmaking group worked
well together because we knew each other and we got
along. If these things hadnít been true, making the
decisions would have been much more difficult.
What skills are you going to take back to JYCA from this experience?
Seth:† I have a much better idea of what it takes to apply for a grant.
I can also now have a better sense of the type of
groups that are providing youth services in our area.†
Certainly my group decision-making skills improved
-- and Iíll use that throughout my work with JYCA
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