Post 12: On Vision: Build an Ethos

[eJP note: This post, by Gidi Grinstein, was originally published on May 13, 2008, as part of a series on Philanthropy in Israel. With this year’s Jewish Funders Network conference taking place in Israel, we thought it would be timely to rerun the series.]

This post deals with the basic dilemmas of Jewish philanthropy in Israel. It expands on the questions that every organization, foundation or individuals should consider in order to create their own philanthropic ethos. My assumption here is that a more focused philanthropy is a more effective one.

A philanthropic ethos is an outcome of an in-depth exploration of vision, mission, values and strategies. It should take the shape of a set of principles and guidelines for spending the philanthropic fortune.

In general, the question is: provide fish or build fishing rods? To what extent will you solve problems or create the knowledge and skills to provide self-sustaining resolutions? In particular, this general question takes a number of forms:

  • Will you supplement the national budgets or focus on market and government failures? – The heavy hitters of Jewish philanthropy are often called to effectively fill the empty coffers of government by financing activities that politicians refuse to budget. When called, will you respond positively? Or will you focus on the areas that are subject to market and government failures where neither the government nor the markets are able to make effective interventions? This is the fundamental question facing Jewish philanthropy in Israel (see post 14).
  • Today’s problems or tomorrow’s solutions? – To what extent will you deal with the challenges of the present or invest in the infrastructure, capacities, technology or legislation that will provide a sustainable solution in the future?
  • Covering for the government’s failures or restructuring? – Many of the problems that require philanthropic intervention are an outcome of failures and incompetence by government agencies of different levels. Will you spend your money on addressing needs that the government can and should address or focus your resources on lobbying to restructure the relevant government agency?
  • Do you have a regional focus? Perhaps, a topical focus? – Do you want to focus your resources in a certain geographic area: the Galilee, the Negev, Jerusalem or a specific neighborhood in Nahariya? Perhaps one would want to focus on education, early childhood, emergency healthcare or sports? The more focused the philanthropic work, the greater the prospect of leaving an imprint.
  • General constituency or agents of change? – Do you want to focus your resources on the few – the agents of change – that can make a difference for many? Or perhaps to address the needs of the general public?
  • Winners or losers? – Do you want to work with those that have proven their ability to effectively lead and manage or focus on those that have failed to do so and require support at the basic level of organizing, managing and leading?
  • Due process vs. getting it done? – Sometimes, the long haul of capacity building, management, transparency and accountability may come at the expense of immediate tangible results. Where do you stand on this dilemma?
  • Preplanning vs. crisis management? – In Israel, a sense of urgency and crisis is often prevalent. During these episodes philanthropists are called to expand their giving. Also, crises often create an environment of doing away with plans and expectations of due process in favor of immediacy and rapid-response. When the call comes to you, how do you plan to respond?
  • Seed money or resources for scaling? – To what extent do you want to be involved in the process of experimenting with and building new institutions as opposed to growing institutions that have proven their relevance and effectiveness?
  • Do it yourself, partner or outsource? – To what extent do you want to run your own programs, as opposed to outsourcing to other institutions or partnering with them?

This may not be an exhaustive list. But I believe that it captures some of the dilemmas that philanthropists have to address in order to develop its ethos and core.

Gidi Grinstein is the Founder and President of the Reut Institute.