Pauper to Partner in America: New Expectations and Solutions for Israel-Based Nonprofits

By Avrum Lapin

My colleagues and I work closely with many successful Israel-based organizations. We are framers and dedicated proponents of the emerging “Partnership Model” that is quickly changing attitudes and strategic thinking. It is driving emerging and even traditional Israel-based nonprofits positioning/re-positioning themselves for success in the American philanthropic marketplace.

No longer is the operative relationship the “traditional” funder/worker model. Rather, it is now a bond with a commonality of purpose and combined leadership, where both sides are invested in the success of the other, and geography no longer defines one’s role.

What is driving these changes? Why are they happening now? Allow me to put it into some perspective.

First, Israel is a success story. Despite the political tumult and the issues that pervade the Middle East, Israel is still the “start-up nation,” truly and metaphorically. It is a place where solutions are found to problems that are seemingly insurmountable in other settings. Whether it is water desalination, development of state of the art technologies designed for transfer from military to civilian applications, or innovative services for people with disabilities, Israel is seen as the “can do” country. It has something to offer to Jews and others, domestically and abroad, and it seeks the space to assert its accomplishments.

In the realm of nonprofits, many Israeli organizations are innovating and creating knowledge and capacity far quicker and more deeply than their North American counterparts. This enables them to demonstrate leadership and be the source of advancements on the North American side of the pond. In this dynamic environment, professional and volunteer leaders see each other and communicate from a position of equality and mutual respect.

Second, Israel today is different from the Israel that struggled for her day to day survival. Physical existence is no longer Israel’s challenge … rather she faces the internal battle for her soul. The destructive force of tribalism among sectors of Israeli society has created great consternation and forced people to take note. It has punctuated the importance of a broader and more respectful global Jewish community, steeped in meaning and connection in the global Jewish village. It has hopefully created the imperative for people to establish bonds and work together to heal divisions, recognize each other as assets like never before, and to achieve results.

Third, the dated model of “fundraisers and doers” was based on an agreement that each side would stay out of what the “other side” was doing. Historically, donors supported federations or other combined campaigns, as well as particular organizations that funded projects, solely because they were in Israel, not because they knew, or were inclined to know, much about specifics. It was not sought by the donor or encouraged by the Israeli nonprofit.

Today’s philanthropist doesn’t stand for that anymore. They are focused on organizational vision and strategic direction, commitment to organizational mission and purpose, demonstrable results, and transparency. They visit Israel more frequently and rely on agents and representatives to monitor and communicate activity when they are not present. This, together with Facetime, ubiquitous conference and Skype calls outside of traditional “working hours” have more than evened the playing field.

Further, funders and US-based leaders today insist on levels of sophistication on the part of their Israeli counterparts and an ability to instantly command and navigate the US charitable arena. With the growing presence of Giving Circles and Venture Philanthropy, donors drill down even further, focusing on shared agendas, priorities, and responsibilities for varies aspects of execution.

So what steps should leaders of successful Israeli nonprofits and their counterparts and stakeholders in the US take?

  1. Learn about each other, see them as partners and equals, and understand who your partners are and what motivates them. Define shared values and common purpose and find ways to share the organization’s work, each according to their capabilities and strengths. While these strengths may still be professional direction and/or philanthropy respectively, each side now will have an appreciation for the other and a clearer sense of organizational purpose and priority.
  2. Create combined leadership frameworks, where topics of timely concern and organizational priorities are discussed and determined. Animate everyone’s “skin in the game” and the results and advancement will naturally be greater.
  3. Expect more “tachles” from each other. Challenge dated notions and demand that partnership be true and real. Set strategic direction and implementation strategies that make partnership the imperative through working groups and advisory committees that reach both ways.

We know it works and we have helped it to happen. My colleagues and I welcome your comments and insights. Let us know what you think.

Avrum Lapin is President at The Lapin Group, LLC, a full service fundraising and management consulting firm for nonprofits in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, outside of Philadelphia. The Lapin Group inspires and leads US-based and international nonprofits seeking fund, organizational, leadership, and business development solutions, offering contemporary and leading edge approaches and strategies. Avrum is a frequent contributor to and speaker in the US and in Israel on opportunities and challenges in today’s nonprofit marketplace.

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