Lindsay Bressman is a community leader who currently serves as the Director of Communications and Strategic Partnerships at Civic Spirit, an organization she helped launch to foster civil discourse in faith-based schools. She has an MSW from Columbia University and an MPH in Healthcare Management from UCLA.
An active volunteer and philanthropist, Lindsay is a board member of the Hannah Senesh Community Day School and has been a UJA voting committee member for the past four years. In this exclusive interview, the JCF Fundholder talks with JCF about her love of giving circles, why she is passionate about interest-free loans, and how to develop a philanthropic philosophy.
JCF: What values drive your involvement in charitable giving?
Lindsay Bressman: This is a question that I think can be
intimidating, but I have spent time trying to really identify what values I use
as an anchor for my giving strategy. Over the past year, I have identified
three values that represent the reasoning behind my giving: 1. B’tzelem elokim, that every human being
is made in the image of God, and is of equal value and holy in his or her own
way. That concept informs the organizations I give to. 2. Areyvut [responsibility], the importance of being part of a
community—be it the local, Jewish, American, or global community. 3. Hakarat hatov [gratitude]– much of my
giving is recognizing that I’ve been deeply blessed, and giving is my way of
saying thank you.
JCF: Who inspired your love of giving to others?
LB: My parents were really committed to being generous people. My father is a physician and has spent his whole career caring for others, treating countless patients around the clock and often without pay. My mom is one of those people who is very selfless and is always there to help others. Through my husband’s parents, I have learned about UJA-Federation of NY and the power of institutional giving. My husband’s parents sit on several boards and dedicate their time and financial support to the community.
A few other key experiences have contributed to my passion for giving. At my Jewish day school, Sinai Academy, where I attended as a kid in Los Angeles, every Friday we would bring a can of food for the local kosher food pantry. I volunteered there on Sundays, and even worked there part-time while in college. This really set the stage for viewing giving to the community as central to my life.
Lastly, I credit Amplifier, the network for Jewish giving circles. They introduced
me to the language for articulating a giving philosophy and also showing other
people how to do it for themselves. I learned about Amplifier when I
participated in a giving circle at my childrens’ school, Hannah Senesh, and I
later attended a three-day Amplifier training for giving circles facilitators.
JCF: Professionally, you’re very involved in civic education. What inspired you to launch Civic Spirit? Tell us more about the organization, and its mission.
LB: An opportunity fell into my lap that combines all things I love: relationship building, interfaith community, and civic engagement. Along with a dear friend of mine, Tamara Tweel, we launched Civic Spirit in May 2018 to address this need—schools were yearning for support to address the polarization in their communities, particularly in religious-based communities. Our goal is to adequately prepare students to inherit democracy, and become the future leaders of this country. We partner with schools to provide training and professional development for fostering civil discourse. Jewish faith-based schools are experts at teaching the Torah and gleaning modern-day meaning from ancient texts—we do something similar with the Constitution. We currently work with seven Orthodox Jewish day schools and six Catholic schools.
On days when the news is all bad, I feel quite hopeful. The young people I meet inspire me in so many ways.
JCF: Can you share with us some other charitable causes that are meaningful to you?
LB: It’s really important to me to give to small, innovative startups and local organizations as well as legacy organizations. We have given to the Harmony Program, which provides free instruments and music lessons to low-income students in New York who wouldn’t otherwise have access to music education. My husband, Will, and I are also big supporters of UJA—the organization has always played a really important role in understanding historical trends, and is mindful of how these needs are changing. UJA serves as an important partner for many smaller organizations, and plays a leadership role in shaping community and programs.
We are getting more involved in supporting organizations that provide financial relief and dignity. Hebrew Free Loan Society (HFLS) helps people in crisis mode by providing interest-free loans and respects that they will be able to pay the loan back. This model creates a dynamic of both support and empowerment. We are proud to participate in the JCF Social Impact Loan Program, in which we make two-year, interest-free loans to HFLS borrowers from our fund at JCF. When people undergo a hardship, if they are in a position of financial stability, they can typically bounce back and get through it. But for someone who isn’t on sturdy financial ground, a layoff, for example, could really cause a downward spiral. An interest-free loan is about providing help in a dignified way. The loan says that we believe you will find strength and be able to pay it back.
JCF: Any advice for those first getting started with philanthropy?
LB: Ask yourself what concerns you about the world, and also what inspires you. Your feelings about the world, your community, and your life can inform your giving strategy. Challenge yourself to come up with a vision for what the world could be, through a solutions-focused lens. Then find out who is addressing those issues in a thoughtful way. If you have a partner, sit down together and come up with a shared vision.
JCF: How did you hear about JCF?
LB: A few years ago, my husband and I decided that we wanted to have a more thoughtful giving strategy. The best way to accomplish that was to open a donor advised fund—we could set aside the money and then spend time exploring which charities to support. We did a lot of research and it was clear to us that JCF was the best fit for our family.
JCF has emerged extremely valuable for three reasons:
First, when we first opened our JCF fund, the staff provided us with resources, including prompts with specific questions to ask ourselves, such as, What causes are most enduring to you? How risk averse are you? What type of interventions resonate? It was really helpful for us.
Second, I am a giving nerd so I love the reports JCF produces, including the annual JCF Giving Report. I find it so interesting to see where people give and how this changes each year.
Lastly, I’ve been able to participate in a handful of JCF’s educational webinars, including the recent webinar on “Tips for Giving Smarter,” which have really opened my mind to new concepts around philanthropy.