Startup looks to support and scale Israeli nonprofits

Israel Impact Partners brings together McKinsey veteran and community-building rabbi to work with foundations and philanthropists

Passion. Deep knowledge. Big hearts. The nonprofit sector tends to draw people with these qualities and then promote them into jobs that require business skills like management and finance. Other charities, like UpStart and Leading Edge, have emerged to provide this training in the Jewish communal world; some organizations benefit from pro bono consulting, and some foundations also help shore up their grantees in these areas. Michael Bloch offered that kind of pro bono help during his tenure at global consulting firm McKinsey & Company, where he worked for 23 years — until he decided he wanted to dedicate himself to this mission full-time.  To that end, he co-founded Israel Impact Partners with Rabbi Benji Levy in early 2021 to consult with nonprofits both in Israel and outside it with the goal of helping them grow their impact. They talked with eJewishPhilanthropy’s Helen Chernikoff about the firm’s origins and goals.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Helen Chernikoff: How did you each come to this work?

Michael Bloch: I worked for 23 years with McKinsey helping corporations grow and innovate, having an amazing time, working at a level I could never have imagined, traveling the world. At one point I got a bit tired of traveling the world. I was on a plane every week. I was hungry for meaning. I’d been exposed to the world of nonprofits, and I realized there was so much nonprofits could learn from the business world. I spoke with 130-plus people in the social sector in Israel and the U.S. about where I could contribute, and discovered that funders were frustrated that nonprofits weren’t growing at the desired rate. Israel is smaller; there is more of a chance to make a difference. It will be another 23-year journey. I want to learn, and I want to contribute. 

Benji Levy: I never thought I would come into this space. I was on the path growing up to go into the corporate world, but at 26 I was invited to run Moriah College, a 2,400-student Modern Orthodox day school, the school that I went to in Sydney, Australia. I did that for six years, and then I went to Israel to become the CEO of Mosaic United, which is a joint venture between the state of Israel and the Jewish world to develop identity and education initiatives for people ages 18 to 35. I developed relationships with funders there. So Michael has experience in the for-profit space, and I come from the community-building side. We have complementary skill sets.

HC: You’ll be serving charities. Are you a charity yourselves?

MB: We will be a “no-profit” company. We are not a charity. We intend to cooperate with the efficiency of a company, and pay people commercial market rates to get access to the best talent. But we aim to reinvest our profits to benefit the social sector, especially by initiating sector-wide initiatives like helping nonprofits figure out how to measure their impact.

HC: You were already working with non-profits on a pro bono basis when COVID-19 hit. What are you feeling now about the impact of the pandemic?

BL: This is a unique time in the philanthropic world. We’ve been really inspired by some funders’ desire to invest more. But when they invest more, they want to invest smarter. And we want to make sure they can get more bang for their buck in terms of the social good they can create.

HC: I’ve been hearing about a lot of fatigue in the field. Are you picking up on that?

MB: When COVID hit, it was April, and I felt the sector needed help. We couldn’t do business as usual. So we created an operation that would help nonprofits review their strategies; it was 15 experts, half from McKinsey. We have followed up, and they are exhausted. Not only has the need for their services increased, by two or three times, but their fundraising has decreased, and they have to spend more time on it. Psychologically, they are also quite impacted. 

HC: Can you talk a bit about the difference between corporate and nonprofit culture?

MB: In business, performance management is very simple. Money is the metric, and whatever strategy gets you to make more money is the winning strategy. In nonprofits, it’s harder to measure the impact. How do you compare helping 100 people recover from depression with feeding 100 people? Also, governance is less tight [in nonprofits]. In most companies, the board can fire the CEO, but only in a very few nonprofits is that true. That’s one of the reasons working with the funders is very helpful. Money speaks. You can use the promise of more funds to help guide the CEO. 

HC: And what about the differences between Israel and other Jewish communities?

BL: The Israeli philanthropic market is nowhere near the level of sophistication of America. On the flip side, I’ve met in the past few weeks with billionaires who are excited to think more about their philanthropy. Not everyone we see is giving to their potential. There’s all this perfectionism —  they don’t want to put money in unless they  make sure it’s very well-spent.

MB: Everyone knows Israel is the Start-Up Nation. The “vaccine nation.” We can also be the “social innovation nation.” There are amazing models here and we want to get them known globally. The way to go about it is to franchise them, help them replicate themselves. We have started to work on this with one particular project. The question is, how do you package a nonprofit and train others to replicate it, in other parts of the world?  

HC: What keeps you up at night?

BL: I’m worried about apathy, about disengagement from our Jewish communities. We need to look at ourselves, as the organized Jewish world, and on the one hand celebrate the incredible things that we’ve done, and on the other hand ask what we can do to make a difference. There’s a tremendous thirst for meaning, for spirituality, especially on the back [end] of coronavirus. For every existential question the world is facing, Judaism has a beautiful answer. So many turn to other sources, and it’s almost like fast food, it doesn’t really nourish them. You need depth, you need profundity, you need nuance.

MB: I’m a man in a hurry. I’ve got a lot of dreams and I need time to pursue them.