How to Take Israeli Philanthropy to the Next Level

Image courtesy Jewish Funders Network
Image courtesy Jewish Funders Network

While independent Israeli philanthropy is increasing at an impressive rate, to maximize efficiency and success in our long-term vision, we must operate as a collaborative force.

By Shula Mozes

The trend of Israeli philanthropy has gained significant momentum in recent years and has seen an emerging culture toward giving within Israel, far greater than what is commonly thought. Many have the perception that Israelis don’t engage in charitable giving for a variety of reasons, however, the trend has grown at a rate of 10% annually, with as much as 50% of all philanthropic activity in Israel – around $4 billion – provided by Israelis.

Giving in Israel has increased for a few reasons. Israel’s economy has undergone rapid growth over the past decade, leading to the emergence of a booming corporate sector. Furthermore, its economy has remained relatively steady even amongst global economic turmoil. Its natural for the corporate sector to feel the need to give, and an increased corporate social responsibility has certainly had an impact. What’s more interesting, however, is the private sector and how an emergence of private philanthropic giving has developed in the country. The booming high-tech industry in Israel has resulted in a drastic increase of wealth among Israelis, particularly the younger generation, who begin to donate to passionate projects with their newfound wealth.

However, there is still some way to go, with only around 15% of Israelis that are able to give $25,000 or more annually doing so, and philanthropy representing just 0.74% of the country’s GDP in comparison to 2.1% in the United States. Israel is a young country that doesn’t have a developed culture of giving, with a tax structure that is unfavorable for doing so and many feeling like they have have paid their service to their country through the military and high taxes. Furthermore, while recognition and respect is often the outcome that accompanies philanthropic giving in the U.S., in Israel it is viewed with a skepticism and distrust.

For me, philanthropy is ‘the love for another’ and ‘the need to give’ is something that was instilled within me from my parents at a young age. To change the ideology and culture of giving in Israel we must invest in education, and this education has to start from a young age. Children must be taught the importance and values of giving, even just by giving tzedakah each week at school and simply putting a coin in a box. It’s also education on how to give, not just what to give. Research must be done into where our money is going to ensure the one who receives a donation is worthy of it and this must be aligned with personal passion. If you feel good about what you’re giving to, then you’re more likely to continue doing so.

Philanthropists in Israel also need to be more vocal and open about their giving. It is through discussing our motives and connecting with the public that we remove obstacles and become more approachable. Additionally, an environment of transparency and open communication is critical as well. The Israeli government doesn’t demand the same level of financial reporting from Philanthropic foundations as the U.S. does, so it’s on NGOs and philanthropists to once again come across as approachable and transparent.

Philanthropy is a learnt art, and in a young country with a younger generation of wealthy individuals, it’s something that is taking Israel time to become as efficient in as the U.S. I have been an Israeli philanthropist for over 15 years now and to say that I haven’t made mistakes along the way would be utterly false. In 2001, through the Mozes Wolfowitz Foundation, we set up Lamerhav, our primary activity which acts as the only program in Israel that focuses support on underprivileged young adults within the ages of 18-25. At the beginning I wanted to help every young adult I could; there was no selection process and everyone was accepted into the program. However, I soon learned a very important lesson – not everything suits everyone, and in its first year Lamerhav had a 75% dropout rate. In order to succeed expectations, we needed to ensure the money invested was helping those involved from the beginning of the process, through to the end.

Philanthropy also needs to be strategic and committed to the long-term. At Lamerhav, we did things our own way, the way we thought they should be done. We financed the program ourselves to prove we had a model that worked, making adjustments along the way of course. Deep social change takes time and is not a one- or two-year process. At Lamerhav we first built the model, seeing that it works, adapting it if not, and only then tried to market it to other people on a national scale. Over the past two years I’ve reached out to other philanthropists, in Israel and abroad, and invited them to join us, and we are in the process of growing the partnership that is changing the world for young adults without family support

Which brings us to the next and most important step – collaboration. While independent Israeli philanthropy is increasing at an impressive rate, to maximize efficiency and success in our long-term vision, we must operate as a collaborative force. After we implemented a successful model at Lamerhav, we realized we had a structure that could be adapted to help all young adults at risk and that through partnerships with like-minded organizations we could, as a network, increase our reach. The vast majority understand this and through organizations such as Committed to Give, that strive to promote philanthropic effectiveness in Israel, we are taking Israeli philanthropy to the next level as a united, collaborative force.

Shula Mozes is Founder of Lamerhav and Chair of The Mozes Wolfowitz Foundation.