Overcoming the Barriers for Israel Philanthropy

Private giving in Israel is still far from being a significant factor in social change. Still, things are rapidly changing and here are some recent stats that every organization should take notice of.

One of the major new directions in social funding is the formation of long-term partnerships between non-profits that aim to tackle a certain social issue and donors that seek to alleviate problems.

Historically, here in Israel we construct such partnerships, with Jews all over the world. When thinking of big foundations, the U.S. and Europe immediately spring to mind, and touring the Jewish diaspora in order to fundraise among wealthy Jews is common practice. Virtually every organization in Israel has learnt to understand the wishes and the approach of their overseas partners and throughout the years, this has set in motion significant changes in Israeli society.

However, the Jewish world is changing and does not quite see Israel as its poor relation in need of help, the way it used to. They invest more money in strengthening their local communities and eventually less money is being allocated to projects in Israel.

The most obvious thing to do, would be finding partnerships among Israelis that have the ability to give, however, Israel’s wealthy are less inclined to donate. We often don’t even really know how to identify who they would be: last year over 80 Israeli start-ups made lucrative exit deals, so there should be significant new donor potential, but where are they? Could it be that they care less about Israeli society than let’s say a Jew from Chicago, Illinois does?

This lack of a culture of giving is starting to change and it is important for those who seek financial partners, to understand how this is changing. But first I would like to go over some basic terminology in the field of philanthropy. People that have the ability to give substantially, can be divided into three groups:

  • Inherited Wealth – second or third generation money;
  • Accumulated Wealth – people that have amassed money throughout the years and are the first generation of substantial means;
  • Sudden Wealth – first generation money, often hi-tech entrepreneurs

Much research has been done about the different approaches of philanthropists in these three categories. About the different ways they approach wealth, the future of the economy and their commitment to give back to a society and a system that has enabled them to amass their fortunes.

We believe it is important to understand potential partners as much as we expect them to understand us. Maya Natan, the Jewish Funder’s Network CEO, published an interesting profile of the Israeli Donor, which is worth the read.

So it’s fair to say that the lack of giving isn’t static and that we are bearing witness to the development of the culture of giving and social action in Israel thanks to organizations such as JFN.

An example of the progress made in this field can be found in an interesting group of Israeli donors that decided to join forces in order to change the world of private giving in Israel, and they have booked some major achievements already. This group is called “Committed to Give” (CTG). It consists of a series of social investors that already donate and are heavily involved in significant social causes. The groups includes representatives from all three of the categories mentioned above.

CTG is not a “giving circle” or a grant-making fund, but rather, a group that aims to bring about a change in perception among Israel’s wealthy and minimize the abyss between the ability to give and actually giving. As such they strive to create a critical mass of substantial private philanthropy in Israel. Those who will join these ranks will naturally become potential for the non-profit sector.

After a joint learning process, the group concluded that there is a set of barriers that needs to be overcome, in order to change the culture of giving in Israel and transform the giving pattern from the odd one time donation, to effective and strategic giving. These barriers include personal, regulatory and cultural issues as well as cynicism and public sceptics. Also, the professionalism of the non-profit sector, and the way it is perceived by both the general public and the potential donors plays a role. If these barriers will be broken down, private giving in Israel can play a major role and as such will change our society for the better.

We were interested to hear personally from the members of this group and how they perceive the notion of “Israeli Giving” and how they see their own actions. Next week we will publish an interview we had with Ms. Raya Strauss who decided to become a full time donor.

CTG has already had some impressive achievements, most importantly an in-depth survey of Israeli philanthropy between the years 2009-2011 that was executed by Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics. The survey checked for the first time the characteristics and scope of Israeli philanthropy, including classifications according to sources and size. It gives a great overview of the current state of affairs of philanthropy in Israel, and with this link you can read its conclusions.

CTG has triggered a public discourse about Israeli giving on several fronts, through meetings with specific target audiences as well as through financial media outlets. Over the past two years, the group has reached over 6,500 people through meetings, events and conferences.

As part of its mission to create a climate that nurtures giving, CTG seeks to instill giving concepts in order to create a new language. They therefore decided to share their personal stories and experiences as donors, in order to create a positive atmosphere and present a personal example that can inspire others.

CTG understands the importance of moving to action, and they therefor connect between experienced and potential donors. In that way they can mentor them in their first steps in the social sector. While each one chooses his or her own area of interest and how much to give, they pool together a wealth of acquired tools and experience. These actions form a catalyst for growth in this field and hopefully we will be able to reap its fruits in the near future.

Aside from CTG’s success, it will be worthwhile to also focus on the way the non-profit sector is perceived among the average Israeli public who can naturally also be a potential donor.

The third sector often gets stigmatized and associated with corruption. We might know that these are exceptions that do not represent the bulk of what’s being done, but we can’t deny the fact that this influences the Israeli public’s perception.

How can this be changed? Bad behavior on the part of non-profits needs to be denounced and eradicated, while providing the utmost and highest standards of responsibility and transparency, both the individual organizations as well as the sector as a whole.

Another problem is overlap and saturation that creates confusion. Donors are uneasy with a sector that is overflowing with organizations, goals and visions that create a sense of superfluous action and lack of effectiveness.

How can this be changed? We can take inspiration from the growing global trend of organizational mergers and partnerships and we should encourage the organizations to meticulously clarify their added value and explain the way they address a pressing situation that only they know how to deal with.

We should also synchronize the expectations between non-profits and donors. The success of both long-term partnerships and significant one-time donations is the understanding that each donor will choose his or her own level of involvement. There are those that don’t feel the need to be active partners and for them a regular report suffices. An organization that doesn’t research the expectations of its Israeli donor will have a hard time getting significant renewal donations from that person.

Finally, directors and fundraisers need to understand that not only they, but also philanthropists have their own organizational and fundraising strategies, and it doesn’t matter if they are overseas or from Israel. Every organization must fully comprehend the social change a potential partner wants to bring about, and which goals he or she has set. Turning randomly to Israeli donors might strengthen their (often misinformed) view of the third sector being unprofessional.

We should take on these challenges and take responsibility. If we successfully face them, we will be better able to convince potential donors in Israel to join us in our mission. In this way we can ease the work of CTG and assist them in attaining their noble goals.

Originally published in Hebrew on http://philantrom.com/