Guidance from JFN

Amidst the fog of war, navigating philanthropic support for Israel

In Short

The president of the Jewish Funders Network shares some guiding principles for philanthropic disaster relief efforts that are applicable to the situation in Israel, along with specific needs that are emerging on the ground during the present crisis.

Every day, when we think that nothing else could shock us, we discover more and more the depravity of our enemy. The Jewish Funders Network community has been personally affected, from loss of family members, to deaths and injury among members of our teen philanthropy program, to the kidnapping of partners in our work. This tragedy has touched — and continues touching — everybody.

And yet, even as Israel mourns, its resolve and determination grow. The army and civil society are rising up to this unprecedented challenge. None of us has any doubt that Israel will prevail; but the road ahead may be long and arduous. 

The needs on the ground are many, and what Jewish Funders Network members are doing to meet those needs gives me hope. Many of us are asking ourselves how we can help, and JFN is assisting funders and donors across the world, members of JFN or not, with answers. In that spirit, I want to share with the broader community some general principles of disaster relief that apply for this crisis, plus some specific needs that are emerging in real time:

  • Israel has a robust emergency response system that, although under strain, hasn’t collapsed. What funders need to do is find gaps in the systemic response and — this is critical — coordinate with the appropriate bodies. JFN is part of a roundtable that includes civil society, government, IDF and the business sector to vet and prioritize needs. 
  • Pace yourself. This is going to be a long and protracted crisis. While giving generously now, be aware that in the long term the rebuilding needs will be massive. Gifts to federation funds and well-established nonprofits offer the possibility of staggering contributions as needs become clearer. It’s useful to inquire about what their distribution plans are and how they’re considering longer-term needs. Also consider that the situation is very fluid and things change overnight. Many things – including the things I list here — may become obsolete tomorrow. 
  • Experience matters. In the first phase of the crisis, it’s important to work via organizations that have a track record in disaster relief, a re-deployable staff and a presence on the ground. Luckily, the Jewish world has such entities: the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, the Jewish Agency, federations, IsraAID and many others come to mind. 
  • Check with your grantees. Nonprofits in Israel are under enormous stress. Workers have been called up for military service, spouses need to juggle domestic tasks with an increased workload, etc.. See what they need and how you can support them. 
  • First responders are disproportionately represented among the victims, so professionals from EMS to trauma counselors need to be hastily trained. Organizations that do that (including Magen David Adom, United Hatzalah, Natal – the Israel Trauma and Resiliency Center, the Israel Trauma Coalition, etc.) need to be supported. 
  • In every crisis, vulnerable populations suffer the most. For example, there are elderly people stranded in the southern towns of Sderot and Ofakim who aren’t able to receive medical or social services. While government services are doing their utmost, many gaps remain. Organizations like the JDC and the Jewish Agency for Israel provide valuable services on the ground. 
  • This is the most traumatic event in Israel’s history. Dealing with the trauma, as individuals and communities, is and will be a vital aspect of the response. Israel has the best trauma organizations in the world — again, Natal and ITC come to mind — but they are under enormous stress and need help. 
  • As always in these cases, there is a “fog of war” that makes it difficult to assess needs. Many of us are hearing contradictory reports about the needs of the IDF, which will be clarified as the dust settles. In the meantime, there are organizations such as Latet, Friends of the IDF and The Lone Soldier Center that provide support to soldiers and reservists. There are also grassroots efforts. JFN and fellow funders can help you navigate. 
  • There are emerging needs around education, both informal and formal. As the country remains under the threat of rocket barrages, schools are back to COVID-era remote learning routines. Educational institutions may need support to get up to speed again, distributing laptops to students among other important needs. 
  • While public opinion remains uncharacteristically sympathetic to Israel, experts predict that will change soon. Organizations that advocate for Israel in the public square, especially on social media, are scrambling to respond. Connected to that, Jewish students in high schools and colleges are sharing the need for talking points to be able to counter anti-Israel propaganda, or simply to respond to questions from curious classmates. Employees and employers are also facing similar issues in the workplace, and organizations are now addressing that. In that same vein, many of us are struggling with how to talk to our children about the crisis, from explaining the situation to them to limiting the horror they see on social media. There are resources available for that as well. 
  • Israeli Arabs are fearful of incitement and retaliation against them, even though there were scores of Israeli Arabs among the victims. Organizations like the Inter-Agency Task Force on Israeli Arab Issues and the Social Venture Fund for Jewish-Arab Equality and Shared Society are working to help. 
  • Cannibalizing existing grantees to serve new needs is problematic and ultimately counterproductive. Funders support a variety of causes, and all are important, even if the emergency brings new urgent needs. While we all re-prioritize, those that are able to should consider their gifts as “above and beyond.” Foundations should remember that the 5% payout is not a maximum but a minimum. Many of us have reserves for a rainy day — well it’s pouring now. 
  • In times of crisis, it’s important to simplify the grantmaking process as much as possible (as many funders learned during the COVID pandemic). If you trust your grantee, there’s no need for extensive bureaucracy, proposals, paperwork, etc. Just ask them what they need. There will be time for paperwork later. Many organizations are unclear about what the mid- and long-term needs will be, so they need the flexibility to reallocate and move funds around. We need to give them that freedom. 
  • Finally: coordination and communication are important. Talk to trusted partners, and liaise with central communal institutions and major funders that can do extensive due diligence and fact finding. Rely on advisory services at the national or local level. Emotion and rationality need to go hand in hand. 

JFN has a list of vetted organizations, specifically and strictly related to the current crisis, and it is being updated frequently. We have a larger list that we use to advise funders as they call us. Of course, lists posted online are useful but limited, as they don’t tell the entire story. Please share your responses to the crisis and resources you find valuable by writing to israelcrisis@jfunders.org. Our team is available 24/7 to advise you. 

Having worked with funders and donors for many years, I have no doubt that while this is arguably the hardest hour for our community, it will also be our finest.

As it says in Psalms 29:11, “May God give strength to His people; may God bless His people with peace.”

Andrés Spokoiny is president and CEO of the Jewish Funders Network.