No More Relying on ‘The Rich Uncle From America’

by Stacey Shaham and Itzik Platek

Over the last several months, three new schools in Israel have sprouted that are of particular interest. All were established by businessmen and wealthy individuals. They are The Hamama, a school for children at risk in Or Yehuda; A School in Nature, for children with learning difficulties in Rehovot; and Hevruta, a private school for leadership development and excellence, located on the Ruppin Campus, in the Sharon region.

In recent years. 140 foundations and nonprofit organizations have been established by affluent persons who wish to give back to society.

“If there is something close to my heart I don’t say, ‘Here is a check with five figures.’ That’s not me. If there is something close to my heart I want it to happen and I want to be a part of it, to see it develop and grow, and maintain its quality,” stated Anat Agmon, in an interview with Ma’ariv. Agmon, the wife of Marius Necht, owner of Checkpoint, the successful security software company, initiated and established the Diada Center in Tel Aviv to help new mothers ease into their new role.

Currently there are 20,000 nonprofit organizations in the country. The government is consistently ridding itself of traditional functions that pertain to education, welfare and culture, and passing on the responsibility to nonprofit organizations. Although these organizations tend to be very professional, the operation of their programs is dependent on raising money for their activities.

Recently the government established a special fund with NIS 200 million to support these organizations during a difficult year. Yet, surprisingly only 600 of them have applied to the fund for support, which shows that many succeeded in surviving by raising funds from their own sources.

The culture of giving in Israel is growing and accelerating at a rapid rate. Today, more and more wealthy people, some of whom have made successful “exits” from hi-tech, establish organizations based on issues close to their hearts. They are usually very involved in the daily operations of the organizations, serve as members of the board, and assist in fund-raising from their friends and other sources. Yet it is difficult to estimate the amount of funds that are invested in the country by these wealthy individuals because there are no official statistics nor is there a registered authority that records this.

Some of them initiated organizations following a personal experience they encountered; others after difficulties they experienced while trying to reach their own personal goals.

Yair Greenberg couldn’t find extracurricular activities for his children so he founded the Science First Organization that provides interactive science activities for kindergarten-age children.

Ya’acov Gershoni experienced high-quality education for his children abroad and wished to replicate the model in Israel. This was the basis for the establishment of the Nirim organization which founded a boarding school in Acre for at-risk children. Gershoni brought with him a cadre of educators who are mainly graduates of prestigious navy combat units, and together they started the school, which educates boys for meaningful army service.

In another area, Avigdor Vilnitz established the Galileo Foundation to support Israel’s Arab population. He resides in the North and believes that advancing the Arab sector is an important task for the future of the country. Likewise, Dov Lautman is another established businessman who shares a similar view; he established the organization Kav Hamashveh to advance employment in the Arab sector.

Many other initiatives are directed towards children and at-risk youth, those who come from broken homes, mostly from the periphery and who need some solid support in order to break out of the cycle of poverty and the negative environment that surrounds them.

Another favored subject is education. There is an understanding that investing in education is an investment in the future of the country and the future of the children of Israel.

In Israel today, there are 15,000 people who are defined as “millionaires.” Many of them even have over $100 million in liquid assets.

The state understands that it is in everyone’s interests to persuade these individuals to establish family foundations and is currently creating a committee to examine how to best legally define a foundation and encourage those with the means to contribute.

For the long term, to further increase philanthropy a few steps should be taken:

  • The tax exemption should be raised to at least 50% so that more people will have a financial incentive to give.
  • Education toward philanthropy must start at an early age, even in kindergarten, and school curriculums should teach children the meaning and importance of philanthropy and volunteerism.
  • The government should create a legal framework encouraging wealthy people to establish foundations for the benefit of the country.
  • Government ministries should establish more government-based foundations that help the organizations, such as the newly established Assistance Fund, and also increase the number of government bids offered to nonprofits; these applications should be made simple so that the organizations aren’t discouraged from applying.

Overall, during the last few years a revolution has started taking place in which thousands of Israelis have begun to contribute meaningful sums of money to various organizations. According to one estimate, the total sum of charitable contributions amounts to more than a billion dollars. Thus, today the world of philanthropy has changed dramatically – Israeli nonprofit organizations don’t rely anymore solely on “their rich uncle in America” but rather on local philanthropy.

The writers are founders of Gius Mashabim,
a fundraising company based in Herzliya which helps organizations find funding for their activities.