A New Paradigm for Israeli-Diaspora NPO Collaboration

by David B. Marcu

The relationship between Jewish communities overseas and Non Profit Organizations (NPO’s) is evolving. It must continue to change … to reflect a new paradigm that will more accurately represent “facts on the ground.” Historically, and for too long, Jews overseas have viewed Israel and Israelis as “poor cousins,” recipients of support, in an old fashioned and patriarchal relationship. The fact is that Israeli NPO’s very much need the support of their friends in Israel and overseas, but that is only a small part of the story.

Today, many Jews in the Diaspora see a bifurcated picture of Israel. On the one hand, Israelis are seen as requiring our support and philanthropy. At the same time, as many of us have read in Start Up Nation, we see Israel as cutting-edge, and capable in many areas, leading the world in many hi-tech disciplines. How does that perception contribute to traditional fundraising … probably not very well.

So how does that relate to the philanthropic sector? Today, many Israeli NPO’s provide innovative and top quality human and social services on a par with excellent service providers in most of the world. At the same time, there are Jewish communities in the Diaspora which may have excellent services in the general community but may not be able to meet this standard locally. Funding difficulties, lack of economies of scale, and often antiquated models, can lead to this situation. In short, Israeli NPO’s can often and easily bring a broad spectrum of proven programmatic and technical know-how to their partners in Jewish communities overseas.

So we all, Israel and Diaspora based providers, must broaden our thinking to take advantage of this available natural resource and develop real and genuine partnerships between Israel NPO’s and their partner agencies overseas. There may be those who believe that acknowledging the competitive caliber of NPO’s will harm fundraising … not so.

Today’s generation already recognizes that Israel’s place in Jewish community life is changing.

For those who at least care about Israel, selling it on the basis of “traditional” models won’t work. So let’s use this fact to advantage, and begin to fund – and showcase – professional relationships between Jewish communal agencies and their Israeli counterparts. There is a proven adage in fundraising that people give to success, not failure. For that reason, why not acknowledge that just as Jewish communal agencies in the Diaspora already provide, and wish to continue to provide, excellent services, so do Israeli NPO’s? This quest for excellence, in my opinion, is far more deserving of funding than any attempts to emphasize neediness.

We encourage emerging major donors to see their funds as “venture philanthropy.” Therefore, why not encourage donors to give where their funds will provide the greatest “return on investment” in the form of satisfaction to them and benefit to the end user? And where is that … among organizations of excellence with reputations for results. And Israeli-Diaspora professional cooperation and mutual learning can only raise the effectiveness and competence of NPO’s on both sides of the ocean. That is a paradigm that should engage many of us.

David B. Marcu is the CEO of Israel Elwyn, an organization that provides support services for children and adults with disabilities and their families. He is the immediate past president of the International Association of Jewish Vocational Services, and is a member of the board of directors of the Israel Council for Social Welfare and the professional advisory committee for youth and disabilities of “Tevet”, the employment subsidiary of the JDC.