Amuta21c Conference Gives Israeli Third Sector Chance to Network and Hone Skills

by Abigail Pickus

Over 200 people gathered in Jerusalem on Sunday to participate in Amuta21c, a day-long conference aimed at giving Israel’s third sector (amuta in Hebrew) recognition as a valuable entity, and the tools and shared space to further their goals and work together.

“We’re doing something very meaningful here,” said Jonny Cline, who co-organized the conference with Shoshanna Jaskoll, from Reach3k. A nonprofit strategist, Jaskoll launched the conference for he first time last year under the name, Future of Nonprofit Summit – Israel (FONSI).

“There was a vacuum in this arena,” Cline, the Director of UK Toremet, later told eJP. “As opposed to other professional groups, the nonprofit sector has never really shown a tendency to cooperate and share knowledge.”

The conference featured over 15 presenters, and included panels on everything from “meet the investor” and “Tech-in, Tech-out” to hands-on workshops on marketing, IT management, best practices, and more.

“There is no point to strategic philanthropy in the absence of effective implementation,” cautioned keynote speaker Dame Stephanie (Steve) Shirley, an entrepreneur and philanthropist who served as the first UK Ambassador of Philanthropy. (A Dame is the female equivalent of a Knight and is appointed by Order of the British Empire.)

Shirley, 78, escaped the Holocaust at the age of 5 when her parents sent her on the rescue mission later dubbed the kindertransport in which 10,000 Jewish children from Nazi-occupied countries were sent to England just before the start of the war. She originally made her fortune by establishing a software company in the 60s that only employed stay-at-home mothers. When she retired at the age of 60 she devoted herself entirely to philanthropy and has since reportedly donated most of her £150m wealth to charity. Her family foundation, the Shirley Foundation, primarily focuses on autism, which afflicted her late son, Giles.

In addition to sharing her personal story, Shirley gave advice and counsel as a businesswoman and philanthropist. Her suggestions included sharing a service center with other organizations to save radically on back-office costs and partnering with for-profit organizations as a potential solution that “can be hugely rewarding.”

“Make the change, be the change, and the change will be seen,” said Shirley, “and those who can will take their place by your side and together you will create a culture of philanthropy … to become the guarantors of the future.”

The panel called, “Meet the Investors,” featured Sandy Cardin, President of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, P.J. Weil, a businessman and philanthropist based in Zurich, Vered Raz, who is responsible for the corporate giving of the Fishman Group in Israel, and Dame Shirley. It was moderated by Aryeh Green, Director of MediaCentral.

“What is it we can do to be better fundraisers for our nonprofits so that we have raised the funds to function and do good work?” asked Green.

His answer paid homage to the bestselling self-help classic, How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie (originally published in 1936).

“To quote Dale Carnegie, ‘You want to influence someone. You need to be friends first.’ You need to have a relationship with a potential donor, which will end up leading to an interest on the part of the donor for the project,” said Green.

Cardin elaborated on the concept, saying that it is important to “know your donor.”

Raz stressed the importance of knowing a funder’s interests and areas of focus before approaching them.

Beyond that, Cardin also emphasized “being able to provide evidence of the impact [of your nonprofit or project.] … If you are not articulating a particular strategy that has evidence of results it is going to be difficult to raise the money.”

At the same time, Cardin allayed fears by reminding those in the third sector that funders are in essence their partners.

“The foundation professional with whom you interact is not just someone who represents the foundation or the gatekeeper, but is a partner to help you raise your objective to fulfill your important mission,” he said.

“While you may think of us as donors and investors, I am still very much a fundraiser,” continued Cardin, referring to his previous profession before he joined Schusterman. “There are activities and projects about which we care deeply and we want to co-partner. So in that sense, I’m your partner when we are approaching the Schusterman family. If I do my job well then I help craft your message in a way that is most compelling to the Schustermans. I have to help them give [their money] away in a way that is the most effective as possible.”

On another topic, Weil, the Swiss businessman, wondered out loud whether many of the amutot – nonprofits – in Israel would benefit from joining forces instead of working independently.

“We are confused,” he said. “There are 30,000 amutot in Israel. If I have a donor coming from France who would like to give $100,000 for poor people in Israel, how shall I advise him? Which amuta is helping the poor? Let’s say we narrow it down to food for poor. That still leaves about 3,000, so which one do we give to? Do we narrow it down by geography? If it helps children?”

Weil’s point is that the sheer number of nonprofits whose missions often overlap can be “paralyzing” from the perspective of the donor. He wonders whether there is a way to streamline what seems to be a lot of replication in the field.

“Why don’t amutot collaborate?” he asked. “There are lots of donors. Let’s share everything. Let’s try to join forces.”

He also recommended some kind of Zagat’s for nonprofits in Israel.

“Is there some rating system?” asked Weil. “How can a donor investor be sure and certain that his dollar arrives at the end to the user? I haven’t found the tool yet.”

For participant Dana Talmi, the Founder and Director of the nonprofit Yahel, the conference was an eye-opener.

“I’ve been very focused on getting Yahel up and running,” said Talmi of the service-learning organization she established just last year. Its goal is to engage young adults (non-Israelis) through volunteerism and social action in Israel.

After getting her start-up off the ground, Amuta21c gave Talmi the opportunity to network and mingle with her peers.

She also found comfort in Cardin’s words about viewing the funder as a partner.

“That’s good to keep in mind because the funding world is intimidating,” said Talmi. “So to think of us as a team is important to remember.”

Talmi also found it helpful to consider things from the point of view of the funders who “don’t want to fund a forest of little mushrooms,” meaning, they don’t want to fund many nonprofits doing the exact same thing.

Another participant, Linda Olmert, Executive Director of Eretz Nehederet, a “Birthright” program for Israelis, understands why so many nonprofits are afraid to join forces.

“Many nonprofits are afraid they’ll be swallowed up or their jobs will be made redundant,” she said. “But we need to look at what we have in common first – besides what separates us – and then look at how we can work together.”