It’s time to take a new look at philanthropy in Israel.
It’s fair to say that this country owes its very existence to large-scale international fundraising efforts. From its outset, international donors provided capital for basic infrastructure and development. As Israel gained a foothold, the same pool of donors supported various nonprofits through umbrella organizations like the Jewish Agency and the Federations.
Donations came overwhelmingly from North American Jews whose charity was a primarily emotional response to the miracle of the State of Israel following the destruction of the Jewish people in Europe.
Today, however, international support for Israel is moving from an immediate, emotional base to a more rational and longer-term approach. Put differently, donors are moving away from “charity” and toward “philanthropy.” While these terms are often used interchangeably, understanding the differences between the two is crucial for donors who want to have an impact and for organizations looking to maximize their donations.
Rather than donating to the amorphous “State of Israel,” donors are becoming increasingly focused, specific and businesslike: they know where and why they want to donate, and they have a vision for what their money will achieve. Donations require a business plan that consists of a vision, careful planning, steps for implementation and – critically – a clear description of their return on investment in the form of what their money will create. Donors seek partnership, transparency and, most of all, efficiency.
At the same time, though, Israelis face considerable barriers to philanthropy. A comprehensive survey performed by the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics shows that Israeli corporations do little to support NGOs and nonprofits: 70 percent of Israeli donations are small sums from individual households and families, while only 27% of donations come from businesses. What’s more, 6.7% of income at NGOs and nonprofits comes from abroad – probably from Jews in Canada and the US – compared to only 4.7% from Israeli sources. According to OECD data, Israeli philanthropic donations in relation to GDP are 0.6%, compared to 1.7% in the US.
Clearly, we need to break down these barriers, not only within Israel but between potential Israeli philanthropists and business leaders and those from abroad.
And the best way to do that is to create partnerships and joint projects between the two of them. As an Israeli fundraising professional, with decades of experience promoting Israeli causes in North America, I firmly believe that Israeli donors and their North American counterparts are much more likely to give – and likely to give more – if they perceive their contributions as part of a joint venture.
As an example, take the success story of the Institute for Medical Research Israel-Canada (IMRIC) at the Hebrew University. Six years ago, the Canadian Friends of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (CFHU) developed a clear business plan with the goal of raising $50 million for the institute. To do so, we aligned with Canadian universities, provincial governments, and medical institutions to create innovative scientific and academic partnerships between Israeli and Canadian researchers. To date, we have developed 17 research partnerships, with donors passionate about medical issues such as cancer, fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, Alzheimer’s disease or vision impairment acting as strong champions to enable joint work.
There’s no reason this approach can’t be broadened to include Israeli partners. I work with dozens of Canadian philanthropists, the majority of whom would welcome collaborating with Israeli businesses and philanthropists – some are actively seeking partners to help realize their dreams for the country and its citizens, and to reduce reliance on government aid. In fact, I’d argue that this approach is the future of Israel’s philanthropic future. To thrive, Israel-based nonprofits will need to look beyond charity to building national and international partnerships between donors and organizations with similar goals.
And what are those goals? Today’s donors are not only interested in tax breaks or perpetuating a legacy – although these are still important. The true reason that donors support Israel is because they want to bring about social change and realize a particular vision for the country’s future. And they are willing to invest when they can partner in a specific and targeted project with clearly delineated goals and results.
Israeli nonprofits and NGOs would benefit from understanding and acting on the changing face of giving, not only to attract and retain investment from abroad, but to tap into a underdeveloped resource source with enormous potential – its own citizens and corporations.
The writer is president and CEO of The Canadian Friends of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.