Post 7: The Response Has To Be Qualitative

[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.]

The theme of this blog series is that Jewish philanthropy in Israel is being marginalized and needs an overhaul in order to preserve a central role in Israeli society. In this post I suggest that the response has to be qualitative and focus on leveraging greater impact from the existing dollars.

In previous posts of this series (posts 3-6) I have discussed the most powerful trends that are sidelining world Jewry in Israel. They are: the decline in the will and ability of the Government of Israel to provide services to the Israeli public (post 3); the diminishing size of total philanthropic relative to the Israeli economy (post 4); the disconnect between world Jewry and its philanthropic activities, on the one hand, and the Israeli middle class, on the other hand (post 5); and the rise of a new class of Israeli philanthropists (post 6).

Together, these trends represent a challenge of relevance to world Jewry. Their persistence will sideline its role in Israeli society from an existential role in the early days of the state to marginality.

A quantitative response – raising more dollars – would be insufficient. Diaspora Jewry does not seem to have the capacity to preserve its place in Israeli society by raising more dollars to offset these trends. Furthermore, if Israel will continue to grow and perhaps even realize the ISRAEL 15 Vision that calls for a massive socioeconomic growth, any such effort will prove to be frustrating at best.

Hence, the answer would have to be qualitative. In other words, it is not about doing more-of-the-same with more dollars. It is about doing more with each dollar.

This begs the question: more of what? How can one do more with the same dollars? One answer is to focus on being more efficient by doing more activities with each dollar; a ‘bigger bang for the buck’, sort to speak. This answer is a technical fix of sort and would not be sufficient because of the magnitude of the above mentioned trends.

A second answer is to seek to have more impact with the same dollars. This answer focuses philanthropic dollars on the activities that can have a greater distinct impact on Israeli society. Hence, the question facing the leaders of Diaspora Jewish philanthropic activity in Israel should be roughly as follows: How can we leverage our giving to impact Israeli society in the service of the values that we believe in? How can we preserve our place and voice in the Zionist project in spite of the diminishing marginal impact of our dollars? In my view, this is where energy should be focused.

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