Evan Mendelson has worked most of her life in Jewish philanthropy, including as the founding executive director of the Jewish Funders Network in New York. In January 2013 in Tucson, she was named the first non-family member executive director of the David C. and Lura M. Lovell Foundation. Previously, she was a vice president at the Community Foundation of Southern Arizona and a senior program officer at Diamond Family Philanthropies.
Striving for social justice in the 1960s got Mendelson started in the field of Jewish philanthropy. “I was actively involved in the civil rights movement,” she says. In her hometown of Pittsburgh, she helped organize her teen youth group at Temple Rodef Shalom to work at a day camp in the African-American neighborhood center, which had previously been a Jewish community center.
Mendelson first attended American University, and in 1973, received a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of Pittsburgh. She also completed graduate studies in nonprofit administration at the University of San Francisco and in organizational development from the University of Pittsburgh. With stints at the American Jewish Congress, American Jewish Committee, and National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council, she immersed herself in Jewish community service.
In retrospect, she says, “I don’t think we lived up to our hopes as young, Jewish, progressive, professional leaders of the ’60s and ’70s who intended to change the world, much like those in the general community, but who, instead, carried on the organizational models of their parents’ generation.”
Insularity in the Jewish communal bureaucracy was a problem. “If all the conferences professionals attend are within [their own] community, no one is exposed to the best new ideas in the broader nonprofit community,” she says.
By the 1980s, budgets were tighter and fewer people went to annual conventions, says Mendelson. “We didn’t get the cross-fertilization of networking. The Jewish nonprofit world fits into the larger nonprofit community. We needed to keep up more with best practices,” which means “separating the Jewish community into separate buckets,” such as local Jewish, local secular, Israel and overseas.
Currently, Mendelson serves as a volunteer member of the professional advisory group of the Jewish Community Foundation of Southern Arizona. Of her newest position in the secular nonprofit world, she says, “I feel very blessed to be with a foundation that shares some of the values that are fundamental to my life.” The Lovell Foundation has been a catalyst for increasing community dialogue to promote more understanding and reduce the stigma of mental illness and to encourage programs about the intersection of physical, mental and spiritual health.
The foundation was a presenting sponsor of the recent Interfaith Community Services” “Faith Communities and Mental Illness” conference. Mendelson is at the forefront of change at the Lovell Foundation, which, she says, will triple its funding of grants to $1.5 million in the next year. The foundation was formed in 1993 after the sale of the Coulton Chemical Corporation, started by David Lovell in 1967 in Toledo and Cairo, Ohio. The Lovells retired in Tucson. The foundation’s four areas of funding relate to mental illness, integrative medicine, cultural/spiritual enrichment and philanthropic education.
“I’m passionate about best practices,” Mendelson says. “Funders and those who implement programs are two sides of the same coin. A piece of every foundation’s work should be in building the field, teaching people to become philanthropists.”
When Lura Lovell died in September 2013, her daughter, Ann Lovell, took the helm. “She’s very involved in women and girls’ leadership,” says Mendelson. “We’re looking at systematic change.” Nonprofits can’t work on a single segment of change such as education for women and girls, says Mendelson, but must integrate other fields, such as the business and health sectors, for lasting change. “We’re looking at the collective impact of our work.”