Philanthropy – All in the Family

family-iconBy Shira Ruderman

Even though the Ruderman Family Foundation is a US foundation, due to our personal background and our work in Israel for so many years, we’ve been able to witness the gradual professionalization of philanthropy in Israel. The family foundation is still a rather new phenomenon on this changing philanthropic landscape – few Israeli quite know how it works or what its advantages may be. So in the spirit of sharing best practices, I’d like to kick off this Philanthropy from an Israeli Perspective series with encouraging families thinking of philanthropy to consider the family foundation as their model.

While there are many challenges in creating a private family foundation, one of its chief advantages is that it can harness family loyalty. You create a structure that is based on a group of people who have shared values and arguably a greater loyalty to each other, their collective legacy and their mission than a non-family organization. I can say from experience that starting a family foundation brings with it a valuable discussion about family values and creates a unique multi-generational dynamic of collaboration. With this strong starting point, there are a few more key elements that will ensure your foundation becomes an effective change agent.

Whatever issue you choose to champion, it is important that you live and breathe your cause at all times. As Gandhi said, “be the change that you wish to see in the world.” If you do not practice what you preach, your community will quickly identify you as a fake and you will lose their support. You may wonder why this should matter, but keep in mind, a leader with no followers is not a leader. The work of a family foundation concerns the lives of the people in their community.

With that in mind, one of the most important things a foundation should do is talk to the people on the ground. Keep a finger on the pulse of your community, identify the community’s needs in relation to your mission and go from there. A family foundation has the ability to really limit, if not entirely eliminate, bureaucracy and that makes us a fast responder to the needs of our community. And once you’ve done the work of talking to the people on the ground, keep doing it. It’s crucial to never lose touch with the needs your programs are meeting, and more importantly, with the results they are having. In the same time do not fall in love with every initiate you start, it’s important to be able to stop, change and to initiate new ideas all the time.

But even while it’s necessary for a family foundation to stay responsive, it is equally necessary for it to have clear, strategic goals. In our foundation, we have built a team of professionals and created a system of checks and balances to ensure that we are using our funds wisely and generating the greatest impact. Beyond that, we have built coalitions, networks and partnerships with various organizations to better leverage our resources in the interest of our strategic vision.

Of course not everything we’ve touched has turned into a success, but the important thing is that we have learned from both, our hits and misses and have continued to grow and improve. This approach of learning together as a family is invaluable, personally and professionally. I argue that this form of philanthropy is an especially effective tool in a country the size of Israel, where the results of a responsive, strategically-driven family foundation can be seen even more quickly than they can be here in the US. Above all, it allows families not just to change society, but to build a legacy for generations to come.

Shira Ruderman is an Israeli philanthropist who serves as the Israel Director of the Ruderman Family Foundation. Through her activism, she represents a new approach to Israeli philanthropy, which espouses strategic and involved giving and social entrepreneurship.

This post is first in a series in partnership with the Ruderman Family Foundation designed to introduce you to philanthropy from an Israeli perspective.