The changing world of Jewish philanthropy

The boom of independent philanthropy has generated a lot of fragmentation and duplication.

March 12, 2015 21:36
3 minute read.

Money. (photo credit: INGIMAGE / ASAP)

The field of private philanthropy has been undergoing a major transformation. The growth of the field has been exponential.

In the US, the number of private foundation has tripled in the last 20 years and the number of donor-advised funds has nearly quadrupled. A similar process is afoot in the Jewish community, where the growth of private philanthropy has, sometimes, come at the expense of the traditional avenues for communal giving.

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But the changes are not merely quantitative. Funders today are increasingly seeing themselves as investors rather than donors; they seek personal connection to the causes they support and they demand a greater say in how their funds are being used.

Changes in philanthropy are part of broader changes in society: We live in a time where each individual can make a big difference in the world. While this new society is highly individualistic, it also has an unprecedented degree of energy and entrepreneurship. The world of philanthropy is part of this zeitgeist of hyper-empowered individuals.

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Over the last couple of decades, both in the Jewish community and in Israel, independent philanthropists have spearheaded bold, innovative projects that have resulted in major social transformations.

In the Jewish world, the emergence of Israel philanthropy is also altering the traditional paradigm of giving. If in past decades, Diaspora philanthropists gave to Israel as part of a nation-building effort, now the focus has shifted to specific issues in Israeli society being tackled together by Israeli and Diaspora funders.

The boom of independent philanthropy has also, however, generated a lot of fragmentation and duplication.

We don’t always concentrate our power and we are not strategic in addressing an issue systematically; rather, we support our own ‘boutique’ initiative without necessarily looking at the big picture.

That is why, in this world of individual funders, collaboration, networking and partnership is essential.

It is important that we find a way to marry the energy and the entrepreneurial drive of the individual with the power of the collective.

For that, funders need to connect with one another and find avenues for cooperation. The issues we face – in both Israel and the Diaspora – are too complex, too intractable to be dealt with by each of us independently; we need to put not only resources, but most important, our different views and experiences into solving the pressing challenges of the 21st century.

Going back to old collective models as they were 100 years ago won’t help, rather, we need a new and dynamic way to work together on the issues that we care about.

Fortunately, the call for funders to collaborate and network isn’t falling on deaf ears. Next week, the Jewish Funders Network annual conference in Tel Aviv will gather a record number of philanthropists to learn from one another and to explore how they can work together as a global community of Jewish Funders. The conference will highlight the rapid development of Israeli philanthropy and its transformation into a dynamic force in the Jewish world. The conference will be a unique venue for the development of strategic partnerships among philanthropists.

In this new, complex world, nobody can pretend to have all the answers. As funders, we are stronger when we communicate and we are better when we collaborate. If we work together, no challenge is too big.

The writer is president and CEO of the Jewish Funders Network.

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