OLAM, which conducted the study, hopes data will spur increased volunteerism and funding
By Maayan Jaffe-Hoffman
Jewish and Israeli organizations are spending around $125 million annually to serve 3 million vulnerable individuals around the world, according to a study presented Monday, June 12, at OLAM’s Focal Point conference in New York. They survey – the first of its kind – takes an in-depth look at the field of global Jewish service, its funding and the current state of overseas volunteers.
Olam polled 47 of its coalition partners – Jewish and Israeli organizations working in developing countries – in March 2017 about their efforts in 2016, with a 66 percent response rate. The survey revealed a young and developing field, with more than two-thirds of global impact organizations formed after 2000. It also found a geographically and programmatically diverse field, with volunteers serving in 69 countries and doing work ranging from empowering women and youth and community and peacebuilding to cleaning water, stopping hunger or offering other forms of disaster/humanitarian aid.
“While we should be proud of our community’s investment in this field, we are but a drop in the bucket” of the $3.5 trillion necessary to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals, a set of targets focused on ending poverty that UN member states have agreed upon until 2030, said OLAM executive director Dyonna Ginsburg. “To create greater impact, we need to work with other non-sectarian organizations and faith communities, and be strategic about supporting organizations in which the Jewish community and/or Israel has specific areas of expertise emanating from our own historical or geographic experience.”
The study found that the majority of aid organizations are operating on shoestring budgets of under $1 million a year; five organizations with budges of more than $5 million reach 92 percent of vulnerable people.
Most (56%) of funding comes through private Jewish or non-sectarian philanthropists in the United States or United Kingdom.
While 10 out of 18 organizations that send volunteers abroad are headquartered in Israel, constituting more than one-third of 1,850 overseas volunteers in 2016, Israeli philanthropy contributes very little compared to other Jewish communities. In fact, only 3 percent of Israeli global impact organizations are funded by Israelis.
Ginsburg explained that until recently, Israeli law prevented Israeli nonprofits working abroad from receiving tax deductible status, which severely limited their ability to raise money at home. The law was changed in 2015.
“Philanthropic giving has been slow to respond to this new reality, both because it takes time for the Israeli organizations to file the necessary paperwork to become tax deductible, and because it takes time to shift the mindset of Israeli donors, who up until now had not supported the field,” said Ginsburg. “I see this data point as a call to action. In other words, now that the legal impediments have been removed, Israeli philanthropy has an opportunity to bridge the gap and begin funding this field.”
David Kramer, author of “United Nation,” a new book designed to combat the typical perceptions conveyed about Israel in the international community by displaying the nation’s commitment to welfare and charitable efforts on behalf of its citizens and those around the world, said despite the numbers, he thinks volunteerism and a desire to do good “are an integral part of the Israeli fabric.”
“Israelis see themselves as part of the global community,” said Kramer. “Israel is always among the first countries to offer international aid. The volunteers all speak about being motivated by Jewish values – secular or religious – and wanting to represent the country and the Jewish people.”
Kramer tries to prove his thesis through a series of 40 short stories about Israelis who are doing tikkun olam in Israel and around the world. For example, Kramer tells how in 1953, 450 Israeli naval men worked alongside the Americans and British to offer medical assistance and other relief to the residents of the Greek islands, after a devastating earthquake shook the area. He also writes about the work of the ALEH Negev-based rehabilitative village, which provides a continuum of residential care for more than 200 children with severe physical and cognitive disabilities.
Kramer cites 32,000 charities in Israel, more than anywhere else in the world, per capita. The majority of charities are local, focused on Israeli society and population.
“Although we are the Start-up Nation, I think Israeli society still has many, many issues and is faced with social challenges,” said Kramer. “The majority of the money Israelis are giving is going toward Israel, just based on immediate needs.”
Ginsburg said the purpose of Focal Point, which brings together more than 100 practitioners in the field of global Jewish services, funders, Jewish communal leaders and young adults, is to “sift through this data and brainstorm concrete interventions to move the needle when it comes to Jewish volunteers and funding in this realm.”
After the conference, OLAM will incorporate some of these ideas into its work-plan and set up working groups of coalition members and others interested in working with OLAM to implement these ideas.