Striking the Balance

[This post is part of a series from the Ruderman Family Foundation designed to introduce you to the evolving world of Israeli philanthropy.]

by Shuki Ehrlich and Maya Lapid Edut

For many years Israel was rightly accused of receiving donations from abroad but not giving. This picture has changed drastically, especially in the last decade, and today philanthropy in Israel is beginning to thrive. Israeli donors are taking responsibility and becoming involved in promoting social change.

While American Jews and Israelis share the goal of strategic and effective giving that creates lasting and meaningful change, there are significant differences in the perspectives and characteristics of each culture, as well as in the practices that can enhance and advance philanthropy in Israel and the U.S. alike. It is not a matter of which culture of giving is better or more effective. The discussion should center on how the two communities can work together to achieve maximum results. This can only happen if we learn from each other without being judgmental, and respect each other’s culture. The well-established and more experienced American-Jewish-culture of giving, and the Israeli, which is a culture in process – still suffering from some “childhood illnesses”, but at the same time demonstrates innovation and creativity.

Taking a lay leadership role in Israel doesn’t necessary mean being a funder, while in America it does mean you also support the organization financially. Israeli donors are very much involved in their donation’s cause and they often become experts in their social action field. Another major difference is the social status of philanthropists, who are appreciated and embraced in the US versus suspected as having ulterior motives and treated with cynicism in Israel. In America significant private philanthropy is expected from high net worth individuals, whereas in Israel that has yet to become the norm.

There are many examples of innovative social initiatives that have successfully created change and generated nationwide impact on Israel’s society. Behind each of these examples there is a professional NGO and devoted private Israeli donors, as well as philanthropy from abroad. For example, the improvement in the local culture of driving, road safety and the decline in the number of accident casualties nationally have been affected due to the combined efforts of philanthropy, NGO’s and government. Post-traumatic stress disorder and its influence on individuals and on Israeli society has been exposed, legitimized and professionally treated by a philanthropic effort creating an NGO Trauma Center for Victims of Terror and War. Its unique model of a call center helpline has been adopted and is being applied today at the Wounded Worrier Project (WWP in the US).

While the philanthropy scene in Israel has been constantly changing, Committed to Give realized that the available data about this field was not sufficient and not comprehensive enough. So we initiated, and then partnered with Yad Hanadiv to conduct the first-ever in-depth survey. Our purpose was to map the field, measure the sources, scope and characteristics of Israeli philanthropy, and to create a relevant and updated database.

This recent survey, carried out by Israel’s Bureau of Statistics and published in March, shed some positive light on Israel’s philanthropy scene. There are three major – even dramatic – achievements over the last few years that are worth noting:

  1. There was a significant increase in the amount of private donations and in the number of private donors;
  2. Private donors have become more professional and willing to provide meaningful long-term commitments;
  3. Donors have become more involved in leading social change and in developing the strategy to promote it.

The good news is:

  • In 2011 total donations to NGOs in Israel was 16B NIS, of which 8 B came from abroad and 8 B from Israelis, both private donors and corporations.
  • Total giving in cash increased by 21% between 2009 to 2011, compared to the increase of 10% in overseas giving to NGOs in Israel.
  • The share of private giving is 4.7 B NIS, which is 71% of the cash contribution, compared to 84% in the US.

Where is Israeli giving in comparison to the US?

  • The share of philanthropy in Israel’s GDP is 0.8%, compared to 2% in the US;
  • Individual donations in Israel add up to 1.2% of the disposable personal income, compared to 1.9% in US;
  • The main beneficiaries of philanthropy – both in Israel and in the US – are NGOs in the fields of welfare, research and education and religion. But in Israel welfare NGOs receive 39% of the donations compared to 13% in the US. In the US, on the other hand, 33% of the donations are channeled to religious NGOs compared to 13% in Israel.

The numbers are encouraging and growing, but there is still a huge gap between the Israelis who give, and those who CAN but DO NOT. For example, a Merrill Lynch wealth report estimates that more than ten thousand millionaires with available capital of at least one million dollars currently live in Israel; yet based on our estimate, only 1,000 families give $25K or more annually.

The findings of this report were among the reasons that triggered the Jewish Funders Network in Israel and Sheatufim – the Israel Center for Civil Society, to embark on an ambitious initiative, aiming to change the scope of private giving in Israel through the establishment of Committed to Give – an active and personally involved impact group. We understood that in order to change the culture of giving among wealthy Israelis, and help donors advance from incidental giving to strategic and effective giving, we must overcome both personal inhibitions and public cynicism, and “come out of the closet”‘ to create a paradigm shift.

At Committed to Give, we pursue 3 equally-important goals:

  • Encouraging effective and strategic giving;
  • Expanding the circle of private donors in Israel;
  • Promoting public awareness of the importance of Israeli private giving

We are very concerned about the low level of significant private donations in Israel in view of the country’s wealth potential, and wish to create a critical mass of donors and donations, in order to strengthen and complement the government’s share. We have already begun to meet with target audiences and have invited potential philanthropists to engage with us. The goal is to create a new discourse on private giving and connect donors to significant private philanthropy.

In other words, we wish to combine those who are doing well with the wellbeing of Israel, to which all of us are fully committed.

Shuki Ehrlich is the Chair of Committed to Give. Shuki Ehrlich is a veteran of the Software industry in Israel and now an active social investor, He is a member of the executive board of Israel Venture Network, a board member of Tzeva – Youth Building the Future and member of the steering committee of JDC’s center for Lay Leadership in Israel.

Maya Lapid Edut is the Director of Committed to Give. Maya has vast professional experience with NGOs in the Jewish world, primarily with Jewish Peoplehood and Israel relations. She has previously held positions at Beit Hatfutsot, the Museum of the Jewish People, Maccabi World Union and The Jewish Agency.