On Public Giving and Inspiring Lives of Volunteerism

[This post is part of a series from the Ruderman Family Foundation designed to introduce you to the evolving world of Israeli philanthropy.]

by Merav Mandelbaum

I still remember my first donation to a nonprofit organization.

I had been a volunteer at the Reuth Medical Center, the largest rehabilitation and chronic care facility in Tel Aviv, for ten years. Every week, I sat at the bedsides of numerous chronically ill patients, many of them Holocaust survivors, keeping them company and doing what I could to ease their pain. I began to notice that small stimulations made a huge difference to the patients, who spent most of their lives trapped in their beds, plagued with loneliness.

After many years of saving up, my husband and I realized that we were finally financially stable and decided to set aside some money to buy a television for one of the hospital rooms. After the television was installed, I was so proud of our donation that I would stop by that room often just to see the patients enjoying it. At that stage in my life, I could never have imagined that decades later I would be advising others on how to give.

It’s important to reiterate that I did not begin my 35-year relationship with Reuth as a donor. I was drawn to the organization as a 22 year old volunteer, recently married and pregnant. A seventh generation Jerusalemite, I was trying to find my place after my new husband had whisked me away to the bustling city of Tel Aviv. Reuth became my second home, the staff and patients became my family.

At the beginning, I wasn’t sure how much I could really do for the patients. So many of them were European Holocaust survivors, and I quite literally did not speak their language. But my mentor, Reuth’s volunteer chairwoman at the time, realigned my thinking, instructing me to focus on giving of myself – “Just sit with the survivors in the hospital and be with them,” she instructed. My experiences at Reuth drove home the importance of volunteerism – the donation of one’s time, talents, attention and heart.

So many years later, I continue to volunteer for Reuth. As the volunteer chairperson of the board, I work full-time to ensure that Israel’s chronically ill, rehab patients and elderly are afforded the best possible care and given the attention and support they deserve. I have also transitioned into a new role: public philanthropist.

At first, being in the spotlight made me feel uncomfortable and exposed. But I soon realized how much the organization needed me to fill the role. Only by becoming a spokesperson and a “public giver” could I share my unique expertise and encourage others to learn more about the plight of the indigent elderly in Israel. So I began to speak openly about giving, promoting partnerships, volunteerism and philanthropy.

Regarding giving, my feelings have always been that we should not give to make ourselves feel better, but rather to create social change. These days, I spend much of my free time counseling people on giving. This is my way of promoting social change beyond my personal financial contributions.

When I coach potential donors, I always suggest that they find a way to become actively involved in the organizations that they support financially, making it clear that giving should never be seen as an “out.” Rather, giving should be viewed as an extension of volunteerism, as a natural part of the process. In this way, the giver will forge a deeper relationship with the cause and gain a greater appreciation for the very act of giving.

When done correctly, giving is a selfless act that connects the giver to a cause and contributes to the overall “health” of our society. It follows that when we give publicly, the act of giving takes on an added dimension, inspiring others to connect with a cause and exponentially increasing the well-being of our society.

While it’s true that we can’t all give at the same financial level, we can all give of ourselves in equal measure. As such, it’s important that philanthropists stay grounded, balancing their financial gifts with volunteerism so that the masses can relate to their actions and find inspiration in them.

It is clear to me that a life of philanthropy begins as simple volunteerism early on. Today’s young volunteers may only be able to give their time, energy and creativity, but if we lead by example and keep them inspired, these young volunteers will contribute a great deal to our nonprofit organizations year after year and will perfect the act of giving later in life.

If we are lucky, they, too, will remember their first donations to a nonprofit organization as the beginning of their life’s work.

A professional organizational counselor and a devoted philanthropist, Merav Mandelbaum has been a volunteer for Reuth, Israel’s leading nonprofit healthcare and social welfare organization, for over 35 years and now
serves as the Volunteer Chairperson of the Board of Directors. She is also a member of Committed to Give – The Initiative for Promoting Philanthropy in Israel, which studies philanthropy in Israel and abroad as a basis for articulating a long-term process to change the culture of giving among the country’s affluent. Most importantly, Merav is an energetic mother of 5 and grandmother of 7.