Giving Away Millions

“It’s not the money, it is the purposes to which it is put.”
Baroness Ariane de Rothschild

an interview with Baroness Ariane de Rothschild, from Haaretz magazine:

The game of the name

q: To what extent can a non-Jew like yourself be committed to Israel?

a: “Israel is very precious to me. It is totally ingrained in the family, part of the legacy, part of the DNA. We are all particularly committed to Israel.”

That commitment takes the form of contributions, of course, given annually for various projects. The official sum allocated for philanthropy worldwide is $20 million, distributed through 12 family-owned funds. In Israel most of the money is disbursed through the Caesarea Edmond Benjamin de Rothschild Foundation, which was established in a rather odd agreement with the State of Israel and made headlines over claims of significant surplus capital in its account.

The official sum is frequently augmented by funds drawn from the family’s private account, the baroness notes. The Rothschilds have always given mainly to institutions, though recently this has changed and there is now a clear preference for private individuals. There has also been a change in the manner of disbursement. “We are restructuring the foundation,” the baroness says. In the past, benefactors cut fat checks and received the public’s adulation in return. Her approach is far more considered. She applies business tools to the donation process, such as due diligence, setting long-term goals and monitoring the results carefully.

“We have quite a few arguments with government institutions in Israel. They want us to diversify the donations more but we prefer to be focused,” she says, giving as an example the awarding of scholarships to female doctoral candidates at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. For the second successive year, four women have been awarded scholarships worth tens of thousands of shekels so that they can complete their Ph.D.s without money worries.

“It doesn’t sound like a lot, four. Here is where our new philanthropy concept enters. Obviously, instead of giving NIS 40,000 to each woman we could give a small amount to 100 women. But our research showed that a true scholarship will make a true difference. Last year I met one of the women, a 26-year-old from a very religious background. She is tiny, thin and frail but already has five children and is a mathematical genius. It was very exciting. That is how one makes a difference in people’s lives.”

The new philanthropic concept turns out to cost the donor quite a bit. The overhead for all the funds has increased, she says, because the selection, decision and follow-up processes require more staff and closer attention, but they feel the improved outcome justifies the additional expense. “The Rothschild family,” she tells critics, “thinks long-term. We know that it is far easier to give many millions and disappear. It is harder to give $10 million each time and do so for 100 years.”

Excerpted from The game of the name, Haaretz magazine; an excerpted interview with Baron Benjamin de Rothschild can be found here.