Jewish Philanthropy and Corporate Social Responsibility: A Missing Link?

by Shari L. Edelstein

Jews are leaders in the philanthropic world. The Jewish Virtual Library, a division of the American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise, describes American Jewish philanthropy as a combination of religious and democratic traditions; “the American Jewish way of giving is influenced by a strong religious imperative for individualized tzedakah and by the development of modern American legal mechanisms that encourage private philanthropy.” In the North American Jewish community we have local, regional and national foundations, public charities and family foundations, individual donors and group giving circles, not to mention an extensive network of Jewish federations with a long history of philanthropy. As a community, we are evolving. Federations are re-contextualizing their roles, donors want more direct relationships with grantees and the there is an increasing demand for innovation.

Simultaneously, Generous Giving notes that the prominence philanthropy plays in the Jewish community, is losing “its distinctively Jewish characteristics and concerns [as] American Jews increasingly are giving to secular, or non-Jewish, organizations.” While giving to Jewish causes may be decreasing, Jewish donors are still giving within the broader vision of tikkun olam (repairing the world). As these trends transition, we have seen a plethora of articles asking “what is Jewish giving?” Whether you believe that Jewish giving should focus on meeting the needs of the Jewish community, are a proponent of the broader vision of our role in tikkun olam or support both approaches, evidence of Jewish giving is visible on a daily basis. You will hear it through a sponsorship on your local NPR station and see Jewish responses to a wide range of secular issues, including education, health and international disaster relief. While the Jewish community is immersed in philanthropy, is it possible that there is a missing link in our philanthropic strategy?

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), though not new, is a growing concept, both in traditional companies and with the newer generation of entrepreneurs. Responsibility to stockholders is expanding to include stakeholders: employees, customers, community (where a company does business or its supply chain) and the environment. Social enterprise is about “profit and purpose.” The new entrepreneur doesn’t just want to make money so that she can donate to causes close to her heart; there is an increasing desire to find social value in long days at the office. For the purposes of this article, I am referring to CSR as a catchall for this trend towards corporate philanthropy and ‘The Business of Changing the World.’ (by Marc Benioff and Caryle Adler)

Where and what is the Jewish philanthropic community doing to tap into the incredible resources available through the corporate world? As funders, we may be using our wealth gained through successful business to promote good. But, where is an organized Jewish voice to support this trend of creating responsible business? Could deliberate support of CSR meet the needs of this growing generation that wants to contribute in a way that is consistent with Jewish values, but not solely focused on Jewish causes? If support for CSR was more prevalent in the Jewish philanthropic community, might we see:

  • More businesses that encourage and support employees to ‘do good’ in their communities?
  • Manufacturing and product development that support individuals and communities in the supply chain, whether it is cotton growers in Asia or factory workers in South America?
  • Increasing attention to the corporate carbon footprint and impact on the environment?

Marcella Kanfer Rolnick, Vice Chair of GOJO, a professional skin health and hygiene solutions company and inventor of PURELL®, champions sustainability and serves as the Chair of the Lippman Kanfer Family Foundation. According to Marcella, “Jews are widely and deeply involved in social enterprise as entrepreneurs, corporate leaders, investors, consumer activists, and consumers. But that hasn’t translated into a coming together as representatives of the broader Jewish community to advocate for faster growth and impact of sustainable businesses and business practices.”

This is not just about Jewish entrepreneurs promoting CSR values in their businesses. Nor is it just about Jewish philanthropists supporting broader issues of tikkun olam. It is about bridging these worlds to promote a united front towards addressing challenges that we are facing as a community and as members of a growing global society. Possible ideas for connecting the link might include: (1) grants to nonprofits that promote corporate and business responsibility; (2) technical support to nonprofits to create alternative revenue sources through social enterprise; (3) support of CSR practices that are aligned with Jewish values, such as employee empowerment, volunteerism, community based philanthropy and environmentalism; and (4) education for future philanthropists about CSR practices, whether focusing on college students or teens.

One exciting development is the creation of Camp Inc., a new overnight Jewish camp funded by the Jim Joseph and AVI CHAI foundations, in partnership with the Foundation for Jewish Camp. Opening in the summer of 2014 in Boulder, Colorado, Camp Inc. will expose teens to entrepreneurship. The camp aims to provide a Jewish experience where teens “develop community, confidence, leadership, and Jewish identity through hands-on experience in entrepreneurship and business. Camp Inc. campers receive the skills to become leaders and innovators in business, philanthropy, and the Jewish community.” Another recent development is the establishment of JLens, an organization aiming to “promote Jewish values-aligned investing and to introduce the Jewish community to the growing field of ‘Impact Investing.’”

There are also relevant efforts underway in Israel. Maala, an Israeli nonprofit promoting CSR, has been advocating for “integrating social, ethical and environmental considerations into the core workings of the Israeli business world” for the past ten years. In addition, the Fishman Group, a private investment group in Israel, runs a social change program entitled ‘Bring Disabled and Disadvantaged People into the Mainstream’ in order “to harnesses the resources of its employees, suppliers and business associates to help these minority sectors of Israeli society.”

Perhaps it is time for the American Jewish Philanthropic community to start a conversation about what we can be doing. While we are having “courageous conversations” about the future of the Jewish community in the 21st century, I challenge us to think more proactively about what role we can be playing in the development of CSR as a part of our philanthropic strategy.

According to Aron Cramer, CEO and President of Business for Social Responsibility, “Too often philanthropists overlook the importance of CSR and social enterprise. For those who are looking to catalyze social, economic and environmental progress, catalytic philanthropy for CSR can be a very useful tool, for two reasons. First is that this can achieve change in the way business is done. Second, support for CSR/social enterprises is likely to have longer lasting impact, since it can create models that are sustainable, rather than models that will rely on philanthropic support forever.”

What do you think?

Shari L. Edelstein is a philanthropic consultant based in Boulder, Colorado.