The 10 Questions North American Donors Will Ask Israeli Nonprofits

[A further article in a series aimed at guiding Israeli nonprofits towards successful resource development.]

by Jeff Kaye

Daniel M. Lyons, one of the most respected philanthropists in the history of the State of Israel passed away last April at the age of 92 in Florida. I remember sitting with Dan and his wife Bente their living room and being asked the question that many Israeli fundraisers encountered during the decades of his involvement, namely “Jeff, tell me. What’s the most important thing I can do for Israel right now”? I could tell from the tone of his question, Dan wanted an immediate answer to his important question.

For any of us in the field of Israeli fundraising, there are several questions that we can easily anticipate when meeting with North American donors or grant-makers. To my knowledge there is no Cliff Notes Study Guide for Israeli fundraising, so I plan to outline the questions that may be asked, or actually, will be asked, by donors. Over the next few months, we will try to answer some of these questions.

So, if Dan’s question is number 1, the following is a list of the other nine:

2. Is this program not the responsibility of the Government of Israel?

The answer is often yes, but the nonprofit organization needs to explain how the program will engage with government ministries; whether by leveraging funds or providing a model to be adopted by the State at a later stage.

3. How will you evaluate the impact of the program?

No nonprofit can assume that they will be able to secure funding for programs year after year without being able to display the proven impact as a result of the intervention. Some organizations conduct their own evaluation, others use reputable research institutes such as the Henrietta Szold Institute or the
Meyers-Brookdale Institute. But be sure to include evaluation in both the programmatic and financial model.

4. Why aren’t more Israelis philanthropic?

This is one of the more challenging questions to respond to. The truth is that Israelis do give philanthropically, although still at the rate of 0.8% of the GDP in comparison to 1.85% in the United States. Interestingly, 9% of Israeli corporations are giving socially, totaling 1.2% of the business turnover. One of the main reasons for the huge discrepancy is that the Israeli Government does not do enough to encourage giving and tax concessions are still meager in comparison to many other western countries. The good news is that the situation is changing thanks to the work of organizations such as Sheatufim, who are providing knowledge and tools to the expanding the circle of Israeli philanthropists.

5. Does your Board contribute financially to the organization?

Israeli nonprofit professionals struggle with this question constantly. While nonprofit Boards in Israel function in an advisory capacity, many have yet to step up to the table as contributors.

6. Why are there so many Israeli organizations apparently doing the same work?

There are 32,000 amutot in Israel, which means that there is one nonprofit for each 244 citizens. (In the USA, it is one nonprofit for each 277 citizens.) Donors will want to know why more organizations with similar missions do not merge and save costs.

7. What is the nonprofit rating for your organization?

Donors in North America and elsewhere are used to seeing rates for organizations evaluated by Charity Navigator, Guidestar or Charity Rank in Canada. Israeli organizations have until recently only been able to boast their Israeli Registrar of Charities – NihulTakin (Certificate of Proper Management) but more recently by Midot who is now rating Israeli nonprofits.

8. How will you sustain the program after the term of the requested grant is finished?

Many foundations will limit grants to two or three years with the understanding that other resources will be secured to continue the program. Given the volatility of the economy is not easy for Israeli nonprofits to guarantee this in advance. While efforts to secure continuing support for the program need to start immediately, if that cannot be done, sometimes it pays not to accept the grant.

9. What is the organization’s overhead percentage?

Donors or grant makers do not expect organizations to function without overhead, but do expect that the budget of the organization clearly indicate the proportion spent on overhead costs as a percentage of the total budget. In general, overhead should be listed in three separate categories – indirect operating costs, fundraising and marketing costs, program delivery costs. This will be the topic of a separate article in a few weeks from now.)

You may be wondering what I responded to Dan Lyons. I usually had answers in my pocket which I would share at the most appropriate point in the conversation, but the best answer was to persuade Dan and Bente to come to Israel to decide for themselves, which they did many times. The State of Israel is a better place as a result.

Jeff Kaye is a Senior Partner at Golan & Kaye – Leading Philanthropy in Israel and founder of The Israel Academy of Philanthropy (TM).