by Abigail Pickus
Six years ago, the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) and the Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher Foundation of Detroit put their heads together. What was the best way to reach young, high-net individuals who were not necessarily focused on Jewish philanthropic giving? The answer was Fisher FLIGHT, a nine-month initiative that brings together people between the ages of 40 to 55 with a net worth of over $10 million. Likened to a Jewish “YPO” (Young Presidents’ Organization), which connects young chief executives from across the globe, Fisher FLIGHT brings together young, successful couples from across North America for two domestic seminars and one overseas mission – Israel is always included in the equation – to really “hone in on their philanthropic message and who they want to be as philanthropists,” said Danyelle Neuman, who led this initiative for six years as JFNA’s Senior Director of NextGen Initiatives.
“This program goes so much deeper than just philanthropy,” continued Neuman. “All of these people have the social philanthropic capital to change the face of the Jewish world. What does that look like to them? What does that mean to them? It’s pretty special and doesn’t exist anywhere else.”
Fisher FLIGHT was created in the memory and in the spirit of the late Max Fisher, a businessman and philanthropist whose titles include honorary chair of United Jewish Communities, national chairman of UJC’s predecessor organization, the United Jewish Appeal, president of the Council of Jewish Federation, founding chairman of the Board of the Jewish Agency, and more.
It is his daughter, Jane Sherman, a trustee of the Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher Foundation, who helped launch Fisher FLIGHT. She is also the former chairperson of the United Israel Appeal, Inc. (UIA), the founding chair of UJA’s young leadership cabinet and former co-chair of the Jewish Agency for Israel Committee on Israel herself, among other leadership roles.
“Max Fisher was probably one of the greatest philanthropic leaders of the Jewish community. Every time there was a situation in Jewish life, he was the first person to step up in the room with his gift and with his leadership. With his passing, his daughter, Jane Sherman and the Max and Marjorie Fisher Foundation of Detroit really felt this was an opportunity to make a difference – that there was a missing piece in Jewish life that together we could fill,” said Neuman.
Barry Sobel of Atlanta was tapped to be part of one of the early Fisher FLIGHT cohorts when he was just 39-years-old. A financial advisor for Deutsche Bank, he and his wife, Jodie, supported Jewish causes, but he admits that before he became part of the program, his giving “wasn’t particularly focused.”
But that first overseas mission to Odessa and Israel was a real catalyst for him.
“I had been to Israel and my wife had not, but seeing it from a social services perspectives – seeing the Ethiopian centers and the way they are being integrated into society, visiting an army base – it really gave us an understanding of what the Jewish Agency and the JDC (American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee) do on the ground. We went from being focused and concerned about what was going on in our city to what was going on globally and we then became advocates for giving overseas,” said Sobel.
Sobel calls this “tangible versus intangible giving.”
“I’ve always described FLIGHT as a way to skip a lot of steps to take you from being a young philanthropist to actually being treated as an adult; from being a bright-eyed person to seeing things from a perspective of a major donor,” said Sobel, who is now 45.
One powerful component has been meeting and becoming friendly with the other Fisher FLIGHT members.
“One thing that has impacted me is spending time with people who, no matter what corner of the country they are from, actually have a lot in common with you. Here are people from similar situations. We’re in the same socio-economic group, most of us have come to success early in life and very few of us have inherited a foundation – most people are giving their own money,” said Sobel. “It’s been helpful just talking to other people about why they give and where they give and how they have managed to stay focused and sharing your own personal situation of where you would like to go. I think it demonstrates that you have a power to affect change. Here you know you can actually go and have an impact.”
According to Neuman, “every single Fisher FLIGHT participant has gone on philanthropically to everything from Federation presidents to campaign chairs. After this experience they are able to really focus their philanthropy.”
For Sobel, who now serves on the Jewish Agency’s Board of Governors, Jewish philanthropy is an essential part of his life.
“A lot of people from the last generations saw giving to the Jewish Federation as part of their responsibility. This generation does not. FLIGHT gives you a connection to the program so that it becomes something you want to do instead of something pushed upon you,” said Sobel. “You are a lot happier signing that check and knowing where it is going and the difference it will make.”