Friends Doing Well & Doing Good in America

US_and_Israel_flagsBy Avrum Lapin and Benjamin Ginsberg

American Friends organizations are of vital importance to hundreds of Israeli nonprofits which provide critical services addressing education, health related needs, poverty, the environment, and housing, as well as essential services to children and adults with physical and intellectual disabilities, among others. We were thus taken aback that The Forward in its recent article would suggest that American Friends are “mystifying front groups.”

It seems that in its recent article on this topic, The Forward respectfully missed the point in dismissing the essential value of these organizations. Moreover, The Forward cherry picked only a few of the top American Friends groups, each of which represent tens of millions of dollars in annual gifts and support important and globally significant institutions.

For these institutions, and for the American Friends of smaller and medium size Israeli nonprofits, effectively accomplishing their core mission often depends on their ability to establish a sustainable presence within the American philanthropic marketplace, and to use that presence, in the form of the American Friends group, to identify, cultivate, broaden, and diversify their support. Successful American Friends organizations provide an essential connection between the organizations they support and US donors – many of whom are simply looking for the right Israeli cause to spark their imaginations and to truly invest in.

Our many decades of experience understanding and working with American Friends organizations has demonstrated the many benefits of many of these organizations, which serve meaningful and important Israel-based groups and institutions. These groups bring great value to the American Jewish community and the institutions they support.

For instance, the following five American Friends organizations, each of which raise between $1 million and $10 million annually, are, we believe, fundamental to the future of the State of Israel.

One supports Israel’s largest provider to people with intellectual disabilities, touching the lives of over 3,000 children and adults, their families and communities. It is an innovator in program design and implementation, and (yes!) a consultant to nonprofits in North America helping people with disabilities in effective and cutting edge service development and delivery.

A second raises funds to promote religious pluralism and teach Jewish content to tens of thousands of children and adults throughout Israel. It advances Jewish education and engagement in the Israeli school system through an accredited academic program of study and in outreach centers based in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and in towns and cities around the country. Without this organization, Israel would have one less leader blazing the path for a democratic, Jewishly educated, and more tolerant Israeli society.

A third helps to fund a regional medical center serving the north of the country and provides important access to medical and health related services to Israel’s periphery – Jews and Arabs alike. The medical center is a strong and secure presence in the region as well as a source of economic development, growth, and employment.

A fourth funds a nationally accredited university that uniquely offers open access to men and women of all ages and ethnic and religious backgrounds to a world class and competitive higher education and a stronger and more satisfying and productive future. Driven by a commitment to national advancement and growth, this institution enables its student to excel and make a difference in their lives, the lives of their community, and their country.

The fifth raises money for, among others, a bold and unapologetic defender of Israel against the emerging global BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) campaign attempting to delegitimize the State of Israel on the world stage. Through careful fact-based research, it confronts Israel’s critics and detractors, maintains Israel’s strength, and keeps the path open for peace and reconciliation.

Donors and leaders of these and other American Friends organizations typically exhibit a deep love and commitment to Israel; and Israel remains a central focus in the philanthropic support of many American Jews. American Friends organizations enable Israeli-based nonprofits to have friendly “boots on the ground” in the US to foster and cultivate relationships, expand their messaging, establish new leadership, and to raise funds. And make no mistake … in order to succeed in today’s philanthropic marketplace these groups need to be transparent and fully accountable.

American Friends organizations allow US donors to express their charitable intent in a targeted and demonstrable way, many times earmarking their philanthropy to specific initiatives or projects. Through carefully cultivated relationships, American Friends groups can determine the attitudes, expectations, and motivations of donors, enabling the organization to focus on meeting its needs, while donors can distinguish their gift and choose what to support.

My colleagues and I welcome your comments and insights. Let us know what you think.

Avrum Lapin is President and Benjamin Ginsberg is a Consultant at The Lapin Group, LLC, a full service fundraising and management consulting firm for nonprofits in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, outside of Philadelphia. The Lapin Group inspires and leads US-based and international nonprofits seeking fund, organizational, leadership, and business development solutions, offering contemporary and leading edge approaches and strategies. Avrum is a frequent contributor to and speaker in the US and in Israel on opportunities and challenges in today’s nonprofit marketplace.

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