Social Change Through Philanthropic Collaboration

by Jay Ruderman

All of us involved in philanthropy want to have a positive impact on the world. Indeed, it is an obligation to make that effort with energy and dedication instead of passively engaging in Tzedaka alone. But what is the best way to affect positive change beyond merely writing checks?

For many generations the model of successful philanthropy in the Jewish world was that of the Macher. You built your wealth. You started a foundation. You made grants to hospitals and schools. And you got other machers to support your pet projects in exchange for your support of theirs.

That model was actually pretty successful for many decades, and it produced many worthwhile results. But it’s not a model suited to today’s world. The trend in philanthropy is toward collaboration: pooling resources to create a multiplier effect, as Bill Gates and Warren Buffett have done. Gates and Buffett have realized that they can achieve more good together than alone. There is also a trend toward philanthropists being more directly engaged in the projects they fund. This reflects an entrepreneurial sensibility that a new generation of funders is bringing to philanthropy.

These trends should be encouraged in the Jewish world. And they will be much on the minds of attendees at the Jewish Funders Network conference in Philadelphia this week.

In my case, I will be meeting with philanthropists interested in special needs advocacy. In January, I was fortunate to be part of an announcement of a new Special Needs Funders Group that has formed under the auspices of the JFN. Its first formal meeting will take place during the JFN conference. Our group is now 14 strong and growing. It includes some of the biggest names in Jewish funding; but we’ve joined hands and resources in the belief that we can accomplish more together than working alone. Our mission is to find, network and fund the best special needs programs across the Jewish world, to pull them out of their independent silos and get them to share best practices and work together.

Toward that end I will also be meeting with a group of Philadelphia-based Jewish funders who are focusing on special needs advocacy and funding in their area. It is important that networks like these connect and work together on all levels, local and global.

The successful creation of effective collaborations is deeply satisfying, but it requires hard work. Substantial effort is needed to create a solid partnership at the beginning. Partnerships, whether with other funders or the implementing organization, must be collaborations of equals based on mutual respect and trust. Here, the traditions of the business world are especially applicable. When philanthropy is treated like a business, albeit one conducted for the public good, it can be very effective. This also means conducting meetings and operations as a business would be conducted, with mutual respect for the people with whom we are “doing business.”

This collaborative network we are building around special needs funding will bring everyone together on an equal footing, to learn, grow and act as a team. Ultimately, this is the model for modern philanthropists who want to achieve social change and help to make a better world.

Jay Ruderman is the president of the Ruderman Family Foundation and a member of the board of the Jewish Funders Network.