Fostering a Culture of Philanthropic Giving in Israel

[This is the second article in an overview of Israeli philanthropy today. This segment of the series includes two parts. Part one focuses on organizations and initiatives that promote organized and strategic giving by Israeli philanthropists. Part two features organizations and initiatives that encourage micro-donations from the Israeli public.]

Part I: Promoting Strategic Philanthropy
by Frayda Leibtag

Tzedakah, charity, is a core Jewish value and a significant amount of giving takes place in Israel every day. The food donation boxes in Israeli supermarkets are always overflowing with products. Free-loan funds, for money as well as household items, clothing, books, equipment and services, abound in the ultra-Orthodox communities in Israel. Israeli passersby frequently give their small change to beggars on the street. According to a May 2013 Fact Sheet produced by the Myers-Brookdale Institute, 68% of Israelis age 20 or older donate, and in an international comparative survey conducted by the 2012 World Giving Index, Israel ranked in the 19th place among 146 countries included in the index (U.K. is ranked 4 and the U.S. 13). Israelis give, but not in the organized and controlled fashion that is formally termed philanthropy. Organizations and initiatives such as Committed to Give, Sheatufim, Jewish Funders Network (JFN) Israel, Keren Baktana and Takdim are working to promote and support a culture of philanthropy and giving in Israel.

With a network of 80 member groups (approximately 320 individual and professional funders), JFN Israel endeavors to strengthen Israel’s philanthropic sector by supporting Israel-based funders. The organization provides a full schedule of programs, workshops, and networking opportunities that are tailored to Israel’s emerging culture of giving. JFN Israel also works to generate a moral discussion around the subject of philanthropy. “The heroes of Israel cannot just be army generals. Individuals such as Dov Lautman need to become important persona in the life of the Israeli nation,” said Maya Natan, Director of JFN Israel. She further explained, “Israelis are fascinated by philanthropy. They know of fantastic things taking place in the United States and there is also a glow around these issues. Israelis know that in the U.S. to be a philanthropist is an honor.”

JFN Israel offers educational and networking opportunities and access in many forms, including general conferences and gatherings on specific fields of interest. Recent events include lectures by Tal Ben-Shahar on the happiness of giving and by Stanley Fischer on the Israeli economy and what Israeli philanthropy can help support from an economic perspective. As part of its peer network programming, JFN Israel takes Israeli CEOs of foundations to overseas seminars to expose them to new strategies and methodologies that they can implement in their foundations. Seminars have already taken place in New York, Washington DC and Baltimore and London; the next one will be in Boston.

While JFN Israel focuses its efforts on facilitating collaborations and creating networks between philanthropists and organizations, Sheatufim – The Israel Center for Civil Society concentrates on infrastructures. “We are an Israeli organization that targets Israeli philanthropy as a field, specifically dealing with private Israeli philanthropy,” explained Debra London, Professional Director of Sheatufim. The organization was founded in 2006 as a philanthropic partnership between Zionism 2000, the Rashi Foundation, the Jewish Federations of North America, and the Gandyr Foundation. The Center for Philanthropy at Sheatufim works on expanding circles of Israeli philanthropists and on professionalizing the field of philanthropy. They also facilitate tri-sector round tables to promote philanthropy. In 2012, the contribution ceiling for tax credits on donations to recognized public charitable institutions was raised from NIS 4 million to NIS 9 million. This change was the outcome of a process that began with the Prime Minister’s Round Table, which included Orni Petrushka, Leon Recanati and the Ministry of Justice.

“Israeli philanthropists are looking for ways to be more effective and strategic in their giving. Sheatufim’s programs for directors and program directors of foundations create a hub for shared learning, solving dilemmas and developing tools for philanthropists,” said London. In an effort to avoid duplicating efforts, JFN Israel and Sheatufim have collaborated on several successful projects.

One example of such a collaboration is Committed to Give (CTG), an initiative that launched its activities at the March 2012 JFN Conference in Tel Aviv with the goals of significantly increasing the level of private philanthropy in Israel and improving philanthropy’s effectiveness.

“CTG is not just about tzedakah. We are trying to change the culture of giving among wealthy Israelis by asking them to commit personally and financially to meaningful and significant long-term giving. We encourage philanthropists to choose a cause that they care about and feel connected to and to devote their mind and their heart to the cause. It is not just about giving money, but about giving time, involvement and leveraging personal network capabilities,” said CTG Initiative Director, Maya Lapid Edut. Today, CTG is an impact group of 18 longstanding Israeli philanthropists with a diverse range of worldviews and interests. The common thread that unites the group is a belief in social change for citizens from all socioeconomic backgrounds in Israel.

“Philanthropy is often associated with fundraising, which has a negative connotation in Hebrew. CTG has chosen to use new, positive terms such as social investor and private giving. Our main focus over the past year has been creating a new discourse and putting social action on the agenda of Israeli givers. CTG aims to create a paradigm shift among affluent Israelis and to promote awareness of the importance of private philanthropy in Israel by inviting people to be a part of this discourse,” continued Lapid Edut.

CTG is also preparing Israel’s first database on private philanthropy, in collaboration with the Central Bureau of Statistics and Yad Hanadiv. The database will include a mapping of donations by households and companies in Israel and abroad to not-for-profit organizations, as well as information on philanthropic sources (private, corporate, foreign, government, etc.), the scope of giving, and the target areas (education, welfare, health, etc.) on an ongoing basis. The first data are expected to be received in the upcoming months. “By creating a benchmark for measuring giving, we hope to create a more precise picture of private philanthropy in Israel,” explained Lapid Edut.

The directors of all three organizations and initiatives are optimistic that positive change is taking place. “With a bit of encouragement, a culture of philanthropic giving is rapidly evolving in Israel,” said Natan.

“We are creating philanthropic leadership – something we could not speak about four to five years ago, and creating a setting for Israelis to feel more comfortable about their giving,” concluded London.

The first post in this series, “The Emerging Identity of Israeli Philanthropy” can be found here.