A new paradigm for Israel-Diaspora philanthropic ventures

Given the current focus on giving to Israel, this will be the perfect opportunity to create and implement a new paradigm for the Jewish overseas communities’ philanthropic ventures.

August 20, 2014 12:15
Jewish philanthropy

PRIME MINISTER Binyamin Netanyahu, Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky, Chief Executive of Genesis Prize Foundation Stan Polovets and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg in Jerusalem.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

The fighting in Gaza has been accompanied by fundraising events in Jewish communities around the world. Once (or if) there is a sustained cease-fire, Diaspora Jewish communities will both continue to raise funds from self-generated local campaigns and will respond to the call for targeted campaigns initiated by national institutions – the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI), Keren Hayesod and the Jewish National Fund; other umbrella groups, including the Jewish Federations of North America; and individual nonprofit organizations throughout Israel.

The crucial questions are (1) Will these campaigns be different from all of the fundraising efforts in the past, and (2) If there is an interest in creating a different kind of philanthropic response, what could be the paradigm? In the present situation, as in the past, when Israel is in a crisis, the proverbial bell is rung, announcing an emergency. The immediate response is for Jewish communities around the world to go into overdrive. There is a call for parlor meetings and for face-to-face solicitations with donors. Simultaneously, as in the Second Lebanon War, individual Israelis, motivated by their own feelings and distress, adopt an expressive philanthropic approach – opening up their wallets and checkbooks and some responding by implementing their own service projects.

Over the past month individual Israelis have initiated programs to provide food to soldiers during their rest breaks at the Erez crossing that connects the Gaza Strip to the State of Israel.

Others put together care packages filled with toiletries and other needed items for soldiers, and they would have them distributed to the soldiers at a number of locations along the border. These initiatives demonstrate both the creativity and commitment of Israeli philanthropists and donors who are ready and willing to respond to the needs of those who defend the country.

However, all these efforts are like bandages on oozing wounds. One wound is the archaic philanthropic system that continues to be committed to sustaining itself and miraculously being able to do some good as it limps along. The other wound is the system’s inability to harness the creativity, skills and strength of the nascent philanthropic sector in Israel to make a substantive improvement in the quality of the third sector – the sector composed of nonprofit, nongovernmental organizations and agencies in Israel.

As the hostilities are ending, please God, and soldiers return home, people resume their normal lives, and tourists return to the country, the myriad of social, educational, health and economic challenges that continue to confront Israeli society will again come to attention. Given the current focus on giving to Israel, this will be the perfect opportunity to create and implement a new paradigm for the Jewish overseas communities’ philanthropic ventures. It is time that the traditional approach to identifying needs and providing funds is reengineered.

The present system of raising funds in the Diaspora and providing services through the Jewish Agency, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), and a small number of Israeli nonprofit organizations should be restructured or a new infrastructure created that would make possible a different approach to seeking philanthropic donations and implementing programs. Either approach would be satisfactory as long as it was based on a true partnership between Israeli philanthropists and Jewish and non-Jewish philanthropists around the world who have a commitment to rehabilitate, redevelop and strengthen Israel.

In global terms this means an approach that would involve all partners in the identification of needs, the development of relevant programs, the raising of the necessary financial resources, and the oversight and evaluation of funded programs. This approach would have the following five elements: 1. The hallmark of this new paradigm is its shared approach to every aspect of the process from identifying the needs to implementing and evaluating the programs. It means that Israelis and Jews from throughout the Jewish world are full partners and accept equal responsibility. The present system is not based on the principle of one person, one vote, and its traditional division of labor had the funds raised in the Diaspora and spent by the Israelis. In general Israeli involvement has been demonstrated by their serving on committees and participating in discussions around the implementation of programs, but not in securing the financial resources to enable those programs to be developed and implemented.

2. A structure would be developed to identify the most appropriate philanthropists from Jewish communities around the world and from Israel who would work together to implement the new system. JAFI or JDC or MATAN (“The United Way of Israel”) could be the organization to initiate this new approach. If that was not possible then a new organization would be created that was not encumbered with all the historical baggage and political dynamics of existing bodies.

3. The new paradigm would provide for needs identification, project development, and awarding of grants to existing nonprofit agencies that would implement the programs designed to strengthen resiliency in Israel and enable people to return to their normal lives.

4. In addition to reviewing proposals from existing organizations and implementing the funding, a structure would be put in place to provide for the evaluation of the programs to ensure that all funds were being used appropriately and effectively.

5. There would be a dual leadership development component that would enable philanthropists from the Jewish communities to learn about the reality of the Israel third sector so their experience could be interpolated to Israeli society, and the Israel philanthropic leadership could become more sophisticated about the workings of philanthropic ventures.

Together they would have an impact on the third sector in Israel.

The present situation provides all of us with an opportunity to develop a new approach that would strengthen the Israel-Diaspora relationship. JAFI has not succeeded in bringing Diaspora and Israeli philanthropists together so that they feel a true partnership in coordination and collaboration in fundraising projects and program development. JDC, as a solely-owned American nonprofit organization, has been successful in identifying Israeli philanthropists who fund JDC programs.

However, it is time the two groups are brought together in an authentic way that simultaneously strengthens Israeli society and their mutual relationship with each other.

I hope this is not another missed opportunity.

The author teaches in the Hebrew University’s Rotherberg International School’s MA Program in Nonprofit Management and Leadership.

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