Bringing Women Into the Fundraising, Grant-Making Folds

by Elana Maryles Sztokman

A recent article about evolving trends in Jewish philanthropy offered a fleeting yet stinging portrait of women and money in the Jewish community. An article entitled, “For the Perplexed: A Guide to Jewish Giving” in a recent issue of The Jewish Week opened with the following:

A middle-aged professional in the Jewish communal world, Ari H. deals with a dilemma of Jewish life…. Collectors for various Jewish charities, domestic and from Israel, show up at his synagogue on a regular basis. Sometimes men – it’s always men, usually bearded men – show up at his door, driven around the area from Jewish house to Jewish house by a hired driver who has a chart of donors that is the Jewish equivalent of “a map of stars in Hollywood.”

I would like to focus on the “it’s always men” part of this narrative. Because in fact, there are plenty of women in the field of non-profit – women who are fundraising, who are doing outstanding work and who, incidentally, don’t usually have beards. Apparently none of them are being treated to a Hollywood tour of American Jewish money.

Yesterday, I had a conversation with a client of mine, a brilliant, visionary social entrepreneur who runs a not-for-profit organization in Israel. I was helping her prepare for a lecture tour in the United States, during which she is arranging some fundraising meetings with potential donors. “If I were a man”, she said, “these doors would have been open to me long ago.” I fully agree.

Despite women’s incredible achievements over the past generation, the nexus of power in most Jewish communal organizations remains male. Gender bias, according to Steven Cohen and Shaul Kelner, is “a fact of Jewish communal life.” Last year’s study by The Forward found that one in six Jewish organizations are run by women, and that those women are paid 61 cents to every dollar earned by male leaders. In fact, the study found that women occupy a flimsy 14.3% of the top positions in Jewish federations.

Women are often invisible as professionals, as lay leaders and as donors. Money passes hands between men, who have a disproportionate say in policy decisions, and the work is carried out by an overwhelmingly female workforce. Women are the quintessential communal enablers, fulfilling men’s visions while left powerless to fulfill their own.

Well, I’ve pretty much had enough of this. So I’ve decided to do something about it. Inspired by the funding pool model of women’s foundations in New York, Washington, Chicago, Seattle and elsewhere, I’m creating a women’s fund here in Modi’in.

No, I did not suddenly win the lottery. Rather, I’m asking women in Modi’in, Israel, to starting pooling funds in order to create a foundation of women for women. Each woman will donate a minimum 500 NIS ($140) per month for a year, and at the end of the year, with 20-30 participating donors, we will distribute the funds in several $5,000 grants to organizations run by women social entrepreneurs. It is time for women to start supporting the passions, dreams, and work of other women.

This initiative is a big deal for many reasons. First of all, the philanthropic culture in Israel needs development – not surprising where the average monthly salary is in the $2,500 range. Second of all, I do not know of any such women’s fund in Israel (though I’d be delighted to be corrected here). I’m happy for this to become a model in other communities. That’s why I’m calling it the Modi’in Women’s Fund, so that other groups can form in Rechovot, Raanana, Be’er Sheva, and elsewhere.

Third of all, and perhaps most importantly, this is a way of helping women find their own power. In a country where women are earning 58 cents to dollar compared to men, and where women have less than a 5% chance of becoming business leaders, according to the recently released report of the World Economic Forum, the idea of women having real economic power seems far-fetched to many women. But by pooling our modest resources, we gain significant collective strength. We need that strength for ourselves, and the women leaders among us need our strength for their own support. This strength, used to enable other women, will have significant ripples for women’s lives around Israel.

To my skeptical and ambivalent women friends reading this, I would like to say: I know that everyone struggles with money. The sum of 500 NIS a month sounds like a lot. Indeed, I cannot think of one woman whom I know here in Modi’in who is not constantly worried about finances. Yet, when we think about it, I know that we also all manage to pay for the things that are important to us — from schools to clothes to gym memberships to manicures to coffee with friends. All of these things we pay for because they are priorities in our lives. I am suggesting – insisting, really – that in the scheme of things, empowering women’s visions, enabling female social entrepreneurs who are working tirelessly for a better Israel and a better world, must be a priority as well. It is time for us to prioritize women’s power, women’s passions and women’s visions.

Our first meeting is November 8th. Additional details are available on Facebook.

This article originally appeared on The Sisterhood Blog; reprinted with permission.