Paul Kane, prolific fundraiser who led campaigns that brought in billions for Jewish causes, dies at 77

Friends, colleagues remember Paul Kane as a gifted fundraiser, dedicated to the Jewish people and Israel

Paul Kane, a prominent Jewish fundraiser who steered communal giving through good times and bad, and who helped raise billions of dollars for Jewish needs over a career that spanned decades, was remembered on Monday for his fundraising prowess, his guidance in mentoring “a generation of fundraisers in the Jewish community” and his “deep commitment to Israel.” Kane died suddenly on Friday in Westport, Conn. He was 77. The cause of death has not been disclosed.

Kane, who was born in Boston and later resided in Chicago and the New York area, remained passionate about the Jewish community throughout his career, which included more than four decades in the Jewish federation movement, including head of fundraising at the UJA-Federation of New York and senior adviser to the president and CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America. 

“Paul was a mentor, leader and guide to hundreds of Jewish professionals all over the country today who learned [from him] the art of relationship building and donor stewardship,” Mark Medin, who succeeded Kane as head of fundraising at UJA, told eJewishPhilanthropy. “Nobody was better than Paul in deepening relationships and understanding how to connect the donor to the work of the Jewish community. Billions of dollars have been raised by Jewish professionals around the country utilizing the sensitivity and skill-set people learned watching and being mentored by Paul.” 

Medin continued: “Paul was deeply caring about young professionals and took so much time to coach and advise people to be the best they could be. He really trained a generation of fundraisers in the Jewish community.” 

In a statement released Monday, UJA said Kane was “a revered professional leader at UJA, whose passion for strengthening Jewish life around the world left an indelible mark on our community.”

“In his capacity as head of fundraising for UJA, Paul helped lead the UJA team in raising over $3 billion during his two decades of leadership and played a key role in shepherding the organization through the 2008 financial crisis, ensuring UJA’s continuous support for its network of partners during that critical time,” the statement continued. “Paul was a mentor to hundreds of fundraising professionals throughout the Jewish world, had an abiding love for Israel, and up until his death was working on a range of projects to ensure the health and safety of all Israelis.”

As senior vice president of the financial resource division of the New York federation, North America’s largest Jewish federation in terms of money raised, Kane oversaw a community-wide effort that raised billions of dollars for Jewish needs worldwide. Before joining UJA, Kane worked with the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago/Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago, which is also among the largest Jewish federations.

Kane was undeterred as he led Jewish communal fundraising through turbulence during the financial crisis of 2007-2008, known as the Great Recession. “A crisis can also be a gift,” he wrote in 2010, referring to the economic downturn. “Can the economic shockwave, which continues to create pain for all but the most fortunate in our communities, become the kind of crisis that is truly a gift to federations and other Jewish philanthropic efforts? Can it push us to change the way we ask members of our communities to partner with us?” Kane wrote. “At UJA-Federation of New York, the economic climate has already pushed us to expand and intensify techniques and formats for engagement and solicitation that we began experimenting with a few years ago. These experiments are now the basis for an organization-wide approach to resource development in which the donor’s interests, life stage, family transitions and philanthropic objectives factor into the conversation about communal needs and the hoped-for gift.” 

Several Jewish leaders — Kane’s close friends and colleagues — took to social media to express their condolences. “Saddened by the passing of my former Jewish Federations of North America colleague Paul Kane z”l,” William Daroff, CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, wrote on Facebook. “Paul literally raised billions of dollars for the Jewish people [and] will be remembered for his deep commitment to Israel. May his memory forever be for a blessing.” 

“We lost a legend, Paul Kane, z”l,” Elliot Karp, director of philanthropy at Temple Emanu-El of Westfield, N.J., wrote on Facebook. “A devoted son, brother, husband, father and grandfather. A respected professional colleague who was a tremendous leader, teacher, mentor and friend. A passionate and dedicated leader for Amcha, the Jewish community and Israel… May Paul’s life, deeds and memory be an eternal source of Brachot and Mitzvot for Paul, Rebecca, Molly and the entire Kane Mishpocha; as well as all his friends and colleagues.” 

Kane was a graduate of Salem State College and the University of Connecticut Hartford, where he obtained a Master of Social Work degree — and became a lifelong UConn Huskies fan — in addition to a devoted Red Sox fan.  

Kane is survived by his wife Pearl Lerner Kane, who also worked in fundraising for decades, as a consultant for a variety of nonprofit organizations including 75 Jewish day schools; and two daughters — Molly, who is the director of youth and family programs at Congregation Beth Elohim in Park Slope Brooklyn and a stand-up comedian, and Rebecca, senior director of development at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, in addition to their partners, Michelle and Neil. Kane is also survived by four grandchildren: Miriam, James, Avishai and Benny.