An old-new phenomenon

Philanthropy in Israel must adapt to a changing environment.

checkbook 88 (photo credit: )
checkbook 88
(photo credit: )
Philanthropy plays a vital role in Israeli society, but many feel there is room to enlarge the scope and generosity of philanthropists. Whereas until the last decade the main players in the field were the federations of the various communities, in the past few years we have seen new trends. Jewish donors are turning to additional channels. And they are no longer satisfied by merely writing checks but are asking to be more involved in fixing the goals and the utilization of the funds. The targets of the donations are also changing. A large part of the money raised is aimed at causes not identified with Israel, such as support for Jewish institutions in the US; strengthening Jewish communities around the world; and contributions to universal goals such as culture, the arts and higher education. What's more, Jewish philanthropists are demanding that Israelis get more involved, especially due to the growth of the number of wealthy Israelis. At the same time, over the past decade the Israeli government has attempted to promote a philanthropy-furthering policy. This includes round tables; reassessing taxation benefits; and regulating, transparency and the setting up of philanthropic funds. In addition, the business sector, organizations, wealthy individuals and the general public are working to promote philanthropy as well. A survey by The Center for the Study of Philanthropy in Israel at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem revealed that the Israeli public understands the importance of such activity. However, Israelis are concerned by the reduction in governmental responsibility in the social spheres. They believe that programs to benefit Israeli society should be the government's responsibility. Philanthropy should be a complementary factor but not a substitute for the government. However, for that to take place, there are several important issues that must be dealt with. First of all, there is a lack of a clear government policy regarding philanthropy. Furthermore, individual initiatives by Israeli and foreign funds and foundations create a situation in which there is no information as to the extent of philanthropic interventions, strategies of collaboration, division of labor with the government and the outcomes of these activities and interventions. Secondly, the absence of laws and regulations in the area of philanthropy creates an uncertain environment in which the boundaries between the government's activities and philanthropy are blurred. At the same time, this creates the potential for problematic relations between wealthy individuals and the governing body. Thirdly, new sources of funding for nonprofit organizations (NPOs) should be developed. High dependence on government resources results in conformist behavior on the part of NPOs. On the other hand, the shrinking capital of the philanthropists might jeopardize their activities and programs. Therefore, NPOs should think more carefully when developing new programs and new clients in order to diversify their revenues and income. Fourthly, at a time of diminishing resources and accelerated privatization, the government must decide which values it wants to promote, what is its responsibility, and the types of relationships it should develop with the new philanthropists. Philanthropy does not fulfill the government's responsibility. The existence of philanthropy must come from the existence of a strong state that takes full responsibility for the needs of its citizens.