A Little Philanthropy Can Go a Long Way

NISBy Sharon Levite-Vaknin

“Philanthropy is a learnt art” says Shula Mozes in her article, “How to take Israeli philanthropy to the next level.” We agree, and believe that “learning” philanthropy – understanding how to engage in it and do it effectively – is the key to growing philanthropy in Israel, especially among young people.

From where we stand, it is very clear that there are major barriers to engaging in philanthropy in Israel. First, there is a traditional misconception regarding philanthropy: it is perceived as mostly for “older people” and only for wealthier populations. “If I can’t put my name on a building or sponsor a table at a gala then philanthropy is not for me” is a common sentiment.

Second, there is no culture of giving money on a regular basis and systematically. Giving in Israel usually supports a one-off, time-bound campaign run by one’s school or workplace.

The third and final issue: messaging. Parents and educators often signal to children and teens that occasional volunteering is a sufficient expression of social involvement. Volunteering is indeed important and influential. However, with young people, it is rarely a long-term commitment, nor it is sustainable in the long run. Also, it is only a part of the solution – money is also needed to run a professional, impactful social organization.

At Keren Baktana (the “little foundation”), we believe that the idea of what it means to be “socially involved” in Israel needs to evolve, especially for the younger generation. Philanthropy, strategic social giving, needs to be a major piece of this puzzle.

This will only happen if philanthropy becomes more accessible so that anyone, at any giving level, can get involved. It’s also critical that citizens understand the importance of giving, their ability to make a difference (even with small amounts of money, if given strategically), and their responsibility to do so. They need to choose their personal social agenda and contribute to it.

This is why we’re focused on giving the younger generation an easy, fun and meaningful experience of giving while providing them knowledge and tools that will help them become not just strategic givers, but more engaged citizens in Israel’s civil society. We use the well-established model of a giving circle to educate young people about the fundamental concepts and values of philanthropy while providing a hands-on experience of giving. We now see how effective giving circles are at enabling people to work together, pool their limited resources, and make a meaningful donation that results in significant social change.

Our giving circles allocate grants that are usually between one to three thousand dollars. This may not seem like a lot of money, but in most cases, these grants are enough to launch brand-new projects and initiatives. In April, one of our circles made a grant of $1,300 that now helps feed 30 students in one school everyday for a whole year. In January, a circle’s $1,800 launched a music festival in which 1,500 people participated and donated 2.5 tons of winter clothes for homeless people.

Our experience (and research) shows that most people who join a giving circle and go through an educated, empowered giving process become more involved in philanthropy, contribute larger sums of money (than before becoming engaged with the giving circle) and are overall more conscious about social issues.

Luckily, we are not alone in this field in Israel. The Gandyr Foundation, Jewish Funders Network Israel, the “Committed to Give” initiative and many others are trying to change the culture of philanthropy as well. We also work together with Amplifier, Natan and Jewish Teen Funders Network as strategic partners and share best practices to perfect the model and increase the flow of knowledge.

The philanthropy revolution in Israel is already happening. The amount of money donated by Israeli households is constantly rising and the idea of giving is becoming a larger part of the conversation. But there is still a long way to go.

Strategic giving is a path every Israeli should walk in. Our vision is that philanthropy will be a practice that every Israeli understands and adopts. We are working tirelessly to bring to this to as many younger Israelis as possible and create major social change in Israel—one microgrant at a time.

Sharon Levite-Vaknin is the executive director of Keren Baktana. Keren Baktana focuses on philanthropy education, and is a network of giving circles – young people pooling their funds and giving them away together to create large-scale social change.