The Power of the Collective: Israeli Philanthropists Joining Forces

“I think that tackling any major issue of social change in Israel
must involve and often be led by Israeli leadership”
Julie Sandorf, President, Revson Foundation

By Frayda Leibtag

When Israeli philanthropists initially entered the world of giving, their instinct to create an organization of their own brought about the “MONGO” (my own NGO) trend, with Israeli givers adding their own organizations to the multitude of Israeli nonprofits. Yet, as Israeli donors gain experience, many realize that going it alone and creating something new is not always the best path. Funders who have encouraged the NGOs they support to join forces are now taking their own advice to heart, serving as role models in the not-for-profit world by championing the concept of collaboration. In the past five to six years, as Israeli philanthropy has evolved, Israeli funders have also started to give their energy and resources to existing organizations and projects.

“Philanthropists had this humbling experience where they began to understand that they cannot do it alone,” said Offi Zisser, Director of Advisory Services in Israel for the Jewish Funders’ Network (JFN). This led to philanthropic collaborations such as the Shahaf Foundation, which works to develop and promote a national movement of young socially active communities. The Shahaf Foundation supports a network of 170 young communities located in over 70 urban locations in marginalized towns and neighborhoods in Israel and plans to help establish another 180 communities over the next five years. The Foundation is a partnership between the Oran Foundation, Gandyr Foundation, The Jewish Agency, Rashi Foundation, Steinhardt Foundation, Mario Segal, Arison Foundation, Yad Hanadiv, The Morningstar Foundation, Meyerhoff Family Charitable Funds, JDC, Russell Berrie Foundation, UJA-Federation NY, Shaul and Batia Shani, and anonymous partners from Israel and abroad. Full partners contribute at least $150,000 per year and the Foundation has already invested $5.5 million, and leveraged additional foundation support and government investment, for a total investment of $9 million.

Avi Naor is the chairman and lead funder of the Shahaf Foundation, as well as a successful Israeli hi-tech entrepreneur and philanthropist, founder of several successful funder collaborations in Israel, and recent recipient of the prestigious Israel Prize. He explained the advantages of philanthropic collaborations: “By harnessing the wisdom and resources of philanthropic partners, we can achieve strategic and long-term impact with a sustainable agenda that will withstand the exit of partners. At the Shahaf Foundation, each philanthropic partner contributes their experience and knowledge, and we have succeeded in making synchronized and coordinated investments that are effecting real change in Israel. The joint management platform also allows for lower overhead and resources, as well as improved monitoring and tracking. Working together, we are smarter, stronger and generating greater impact.”

Committed to Give (CTG) is another example of collaboration between Israeli funders. Eighteen Israeli philanthropists who understand the power of the collective joined together to found CTG, an organization that promotes a culture of giving in Israel. “Philanthropy in Israel is venture philanthropy – it’s about creating change. Innovation and creativity go hand in hand with collaboration and everyone is seeking out partnerships to scale up and leverage their investments,” said Maya Lapid Edut, Initiative Director of Committed to Give. Many Israeli philanthropists have recognized that united groups of funders have more legitimacy and power, especially when dealing with government and cross-border, U.S.-Israel initiatives. “To create real impact, you cannot work alone,” stated Dr. Ronit Amit, Executive Director of the Gandyr Foundation.

The Gandyr Foundation is one of the partners in the Opportunity Fund for Civic Service, an independent philanthropic consortium of Israeli and North American partners. “There is a limited amount that anyone can give, so we found partners,” said Judith Yovel Recanati, who founded the Gandyr Foundation in 2004 with her family, and who is also a member of Committed to Give. The Revson Foundation, the Arison Foundation, the Gandyr Foundation, UJA-Federation of New York and an anonymous foundation joined forces and resources to exponentially expand civic service opportunities for young Israeli adults who are unable to serve in the IDF.

“With the Opportunity Fund, we immediately saw the impact when we approached governmental bodies and ministries. The way they related to us – as a group – was completely different,” noted Amit, who chairs the Fund. With a joint budget of $6 million, the Opportunity Fund is giving young adults in Israel a chance to contribute to Israeli society, and helping them achieve meaningful employment, higher education, and economic independence.

In cross-border initiatives such as the Opportunity Fund, Israelis have on-the-ground knowledge and the U.S-based partners provide the experience of creating governance and structure. Julie Sandorf, President of the New York-based Revson Foundation acknowledged the value of Israeli partners in the creation of the Opportunity Fund: “We would never have entered into a project so complicated and politically sensitive without leadership from Israel. We would not have invested at the scale that we did and we would not have been successful in engaging government and expanding opportunities without our Israeli partners on the ground. We relied on the Gandyr Foundation for knowledge and insights into the field that we could not possible have had sitting in New York City.”

Collaboration involves the sometimes difficult challenge of putting egos and personal agendas aside to work towards a common goal. “Partnership is not something trivial, especially when pooled funds are involved. My job as chairperson is to be aware of the complexities and to leverage the benefits of collaborations,” explained Dr. Ronit Amit. When the Opportunity Fund was being formed, although the different partners involved were invested financially at different levels, Amit insisted that each partner receive an equal vote. “In order for it to be a real collaboration with everyone taking responsibility and being involved in decision-making processes, we needed to establish ourselves as equal partners,” she said. “Everyone around the table makes a financial and intellectual contribution that is respected by the others,” agreed Sandorf.

Philanthropists have told Zisser and the staff at JFN that working together is both gratifying and enjoyable. “For some humble funders, it is uncomfortable to sit in the front row by themselves and cut the ribbon alone,” Zisser noted. In addition to the community factor, collaborations may also be the key to the future of development. “Partnership is a necessary condition for creating national impact. Without partnership, it is impossible to achieve long-term impact,” said Amit.

Sandorf believes that the future of social change in Israel lies in the hands of its own philanthropists. “I think that tackling any major issue of social change in Israel must involve and often be led by Israeli leadership. Israel is a sophisticated country. The dynamic of philanthropy needs to be pushed in the direction of Israeli leadership in projects. We are missing opportunities to further strengthen Israel by not acknowledging the blossoming leadership in Israeli philanthropy,” she said.

JFN’s Zisser elaborated, “At JFN, we recognize that there is something different taking place here in Israel in terms of the quality and quantity of funder collaborations. Many overseas funders are realizing that they need on the ground partners and the involvement of local leaderships to tap into local culture.” She concluded, “There’s a buzz: philanthropic partnerships are working, they are fun and it’s the most innovative thing out there.”