Fostering a Culture of Philanthropic Giving in Israel Part II: Micro-Donations

[This is the second segment of an article on fostering a culture of philanthropic giving in Israel. Part one of the article, which focuses on organizations and initiatives that promote organized and strategic giving by Israeli philanthropists, can be found here. These articles are part of an overview of Israeli philanthropy today.]

by Frayda Leibtag

In 2006, Sammy and Aviva Ofer withdrew a proposed $20 million donation to the Tel Aviv Museum of Art after other donors and many members of the Israeli public vociferously objected to renaming the museum for them. Following the public campaign against renaming the museum, the couple placed advertisements in local Israeli newspapers with the headline, “Excuse us for wanting to make a donation.”

Seven years later, public perceptions and expectations of philanthropy seem to be changing. Part of this transformation may be attributed to efforts to extend the world of giving beyond the purview of Israeli’s affluent elite. Organizations such as Keren Baktana, Takdim, IsraelGives and Igul Letova (“Round-Up Israel”) offer different models of micro-donation that share the common objective of promoting a national culture and ethos of giving and making philanthropy accessible to the Israeli public at large.

On December 31, 2013, IsraelGives will be launching GivingTuesday Israel, a national campaign that aims to set the record for the biggest day of online donations in Israeli history. The campaign is part of a larger effort taking place across Israel to encourage the Israeli public to open up their wallets and give. Initially conceptualized by New York’s 92nd Street Y in 2012, GivingTuesday has evolved into an international campaign to encourage philanthropy on a small scale. Recognizing that the cultures of giving in the United States and Israel are very different, the organizers of GivingTuesday Israel are partnering with companies and philanthropists to create incentives that will encourage Israelis to contribute. They are also promoting awareness about the donation tax-credit in Israel that only 10 percent of Israelis are currently taking advantage of. In 2009, Israelis donated NIS 10.5 billion to nonprofits, but only NIS 1 billion was reported for tax-deduction purposes (about 10 percent of all donations). Nearly 50 percent of the claims came from companies and businesses. According to GivingTuesday Israel, 95 percent of Israelis that make donations to recognized public charitable institutions are not taking advantage of the deduction that they are eligible for, a loss that adds up to billions of shekels every year.

This lack of awareness and discourse surrounding the topic of giving in Israel was one of the factors that motivated Emily Friedman-Novak, Orly Shafir and Kate Rosenberg to found Keren Baktana (the “Little Foundation”). Keren Baktana is a network of micro-giving circles for young professionals. Each chapter is a group of 10-15 young Israelis who are pooling monthly NIS 200 donations and granting NIS 3,000 to worthy social projects. Since the organization was founded 15 months ago, the giving circles have donated NIS 50,000 to small community-based projects with great social impact.

“A lot of young people are intimidated by the idea of philanthropy. By removing the barriers of bureaucracy and red tape usually associated with the foundation world, we are trying to create informed discussion around the subject of giving,” explained co-founder Friedman-Novak. Members of the giving circles are called “trustees” and the organization aims to help provide them with a guided entry into the world of larger giving and social involvement. “We adopted philanthropic language so people will feel that they are involved in something serious. We are aiming to modestly revolutionize philanthropy in Israel by encouraging people to give in a thoughtful way, to think about where their money is going and what is important to them,” said Friedman-Novak.

In Ramat Hasharon, lay leaders and volunteers, in collaboration with the local municipality and community centers, have started a little revolution of their own. Takdim – the Community Foundation of Ramat Hasharon was officially launched in May 2011 by a group of local activists who sought to create an Israeli model for community-wide philanthropy that would invest in projects to improve the quality of life of all residents. They have already raised NIS 2.1 million for an accessible playground, a social entrepreneurship program for teens and the revitalization of a local youth club. Takdim (which means “precedent” in Hebrew) is the first Israeli organization modeled after a North American Jewish Federation, raising money from its own community to address local and national needs. They have been in close contact with federations in Chicago, Baltimore, San Francisco and New York, and leading figures from these federations serve on Takdim’s International Advisory Committee.

The model Takdim has introduced in Ramat Hasharon has already attracted the attention of other communities in Israel. According to Arik Rosenblum, General Director of Takdim, “There are several cities that have come to learn about our model and there will apparently be a few who will establish their own version of Takdim in the next year. Our work is like throwing a stone into water that creates wider and wider circles of awareness. We have seen great interest and support from the community. When we approach people individually, the response is overwhelmingly positive: they are very excited to be part of this social innovation.”

Takdim is not the only organization making waves. Founded on the creed that little drops of water make the mighty ocean, Igul Letova (“Round-Up Israel”) enables routine micro-donations through rounding up of credit card transactions. The donations are then allocated to social activities that have been vetted for their effectiveness. The organization was founded in 2008 by Orni Petruschka, Jacob Burak and Yehoshua Agassi with the goals of expanding the circles of philanthropy in Israel and encouraging the general public to make small donations to public charities a part of their daily routines. As of October 2013, there were over 100,000 registered subscribers to Igul Letova.

Part of an international initiative, Igul Letova is the first organization in the world to implement this micro-donation model. Based on the experience and successes of Igul Letova, countries including Brazil, the Netherlands, South Africa, France, Australia and the United States are working to duplicate the Israeli prototype.

In the world of Israeli philanthropy, Israelis are learning from and adapting models from abroad as well as introducing new and innovative ideas to the field. “We are helping to build a grassroots sense of philanthropy,” asserted Takdim’s Rosenblum. The combination of traditional and original approaches is engendering a change in how Israelis relate to and practice the concept of giving.