Misperceptions and Consequences: The Case for Giving at a Time of Social Change

Many American Jews are rethinking and re-directing their giving to Israel, to the right and to the left, as a response to changing dynamics, both religious and social, that the country is currently experiencing.

american-israel flagsby Avrum D. Lapin

In EHL Consulting’s recent presentation with Dan Brown in Jerusalem, I tried to give an overview of how the current social and political environment in the State of Israel and the accompanying realities feed misperceptions and impact upon giving here in the United States. Through an interactive presentation, the event attendees and I discussed the view from the U.S. marketplace, and potential consequences, and worked through EHL Consulting’s recommended strategies for Israel-based nonprofits to successfully navigate the evolving environment, to communicate their missions effectively, and to succeed in their fundraising activities.

Perceptions Versus Realities

As we’ve noted in previous eJP articles, fundraising for Israel-based organizations in the United States is not as straightforward as it once was. Generational shifts in approaches to Israel-focused giving have created a new environment where many groups compete on the “open market” for the gifts of major donor prospects, many of whom no longer consider philanthropic support of Israel to be a “given.” Israel giving is not the stand alone it once was, and donors are looking hard at what organizations are doing, and how donor dollars are enabling activities to happen in specific ways.

The reality is that new tax changes in the American tax code could result in fewer, more focused major gifts from U.S.-based Jewish philanthropists in the next few years. These donors who may now make fewer “high impact” gifts will most certainly want to be confident that they fully understand which specific goals the NGOs they are supporting are trying to achieve. There is also heightened scrutiny around the financials of international, as well as domestic, nonprofits as donors become savvier, asking for business plans and projections, and becoming literate in reading specialized nonprofit tax documents.

The New Jewish Donor

Emerging major donors tend to be highly engaged with their philanthropy and will closely align their giving with both their personal beliefs as well as their Jewish values. Those who are more conservative and view Israel as the target of a global strategy of de-legitimization tend to connect to the more “establishmentarian” organizations. Conversely, many liberal, secular American Jews feel at odds with these “legacy” organizations and feel as though Israel as a political entity no longer reflects their personal beliefs.

Many American Jews are rethinking and re-directing their giving to Israel, to the right and to the left, as a response to changing dynamics, both religious and social, that the country is currently experiencing. Jewish communities in the U.S. may be at a crossroads – while many Jews still feel the impending existential threat to Israel’s survival, others have “assimilated” within American culture and may not strongly affiliate with Israel or their local Jewish community as much as they identify with other affinity groups and charitable causes.

The former group of donors tends to stay with the core Jewish community stalwarts and fund those organizations that make the case for Israel’s security and protection. The latter set of donors that have “assimilated” in the U.S. may see a wide range of causes and affinity groups as their primary affiliation, with supporting Israel as a secondary benefit.

The challenge to the Jewish community and to Israel-based NGOs is to not lose connection to this expanding circle of constituents and to find new ways to draw in these “persuadables.” Therefore, NGOs that want to connect with these donors must discover and employ new communication methods and giving vehicles that allow American Jews to express their Israel identities while also expressing additional values that matter to them as well.

The Charitable Marketplace

One thing remains constant and clear: donors of all persuasions, ages, and regions are looking for places to make tangible impacts with their gifts. At EHL Consulting, we contend that changes – real and perceived – within Israel, and globally around Israel, are an opportunity for U.S.-based donors to “make their voices heard” with gifts that support NGOs that represent their personal interests. These donors are able to “vote with their dollars” by contributing financial support to NGOs that give action to their personal beliefs on the ground in Israel.

With the increase in numbers of NGOs in Israel seeking U.S. representation and donors, it can seem as though the market is getting too crowded. However, we feel that the more NGOs are represented in the U.S., the stronger Israel’s reputation as a vibrant ecosystem for nonprofit innovation will be. The increased number of reputable nonprofits will help to build a strong reputation for Israel, and showcase the wide spectrum of Israel’s diversity.

These NGOs can help to inform the American Jewish perception of Israel. Jewish donors in the U.S. want to find “safe and important spaces for giving” where they can donate their gifts and “transcend politics,” and many new NGOs give donors more options, especially for causes related to non-partisan and non-political objectives. Where those successful nonprofits are making their impact transparent and clear, you see conservative donors funding social change and liberal donors funding causes relating to security and hasbarah, crossing traditional boundaries.

Communicating Impact

Successful NGOs must demonstrate their connection across these dual communities in Israel and the U.S., linking the work that they do with the location that they do it in. They also must seek out overlapping communities for support. For example, if an NGO works on environmental justice advocacy in the Arava, that organization would be smart to seek out major Jewish donors who are first financially committed to supporting the environment, and also have an affinity for Israel.

In this way, the paradigm for seeking U.S.-based funding is in the process of shifting. Instead of seeking out Jewish philanthropists who make large gifts first on the traditional basis of support for Israel and then because of the cause itself, NGOs are smart to instead focus on discovering new supporters in their primary mission-area first, with the donors’ connectedness to Israel being a secondary factor.

NGOs can build credibility for their priorities with new donors by demonstrating impact and clearly distinguishing the “unique value proposition” that sets them apart from others. All NGOs, large and small alike, must have a unique product and communicate its value well. Remember, many things can get “lost in translation” so NGOs must be diligent in reviewing their mission and vision statements and ensuring that that they speak well to an American audience that may be unfamiliar with the finer details of Israeli culture, politics, or social issues.

Success Strategies for Israel-Based Nonprofits

By investing in building relationships with new individuals, from the ground up, Israeli NGOs will find new ways to involve these donors in their organization’s growth and health. Working with the “next generation” of Jewish philanthropists ensures that NGOs will be able to leverage their existing connections and build expanded “circles of influence.”

Effective online communication is essential and makes reaching these unique, complex communities of support more possible than ever before, but NGOs must be consistent with their outreach. These new donors have many options, and NGOs must “keep in front of them” to ensure that they remember to give!

All nonprofit organizations have a huge opportunity to reach these new constituents with new messages on these active channels by proactively using social media, commenting on blogs, and increasing their digital engagement. Those NGOs that clarify their values, broadcast their mission and vision online, and convey transparency in their process are likely to make a compelling Case for Giving that all donors will find hard to refuse.

Avrum D. Lapin is senior Partner and Director at The EHL Consulting Group, a fundraising consulting firm located in suburban Philadelphia. He is a frequent contributor to eJewishPhilanthropy.com. The EHL Consulting Group is one of only 38 member firms of The Giving Institute. EHL Consulting works with dozens of nonprofits on fundraising, strategic planning, and nonprofit business practices and strategies. Learn more at ehlconsulting.com

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