Philanthropy is intertwined with the culture and transformations Israel has undergone. Thirty years ago, Israel was almost purely a welfare state. Today, with a strong economy, changing the philanthropic landscape is necessary and we are working to create a different future for the next generation of funders.
by Shira Ruderman
As the member of a family foundation that was established in the United States, I am well aware of the deep roots personal, family and corporate philanthropy has abroad. Working in philanthropy for so many years gave me the opportunity to see firsthand how philanthropic endeavors bring about meaningful change, create an agenda and make our community a more fair and flourishing one.
When our foundation opened an office in Israel seven years ago, I searched the local philanthropy landscape to learn what others were doing and how they were effectively creating societal change. I was surprised to learn how our giving in Israel lacked strategic planning or did not focus on specific issues. Giving was something that was viewed as charity and not necessarily as an investment, funders were viewed as check writers and philanthropy was not a full-time job. In the US, we learned that philanthropy is like any other business: investing all your time and resources brings about greater impact and change. Israeli philanthropists had yet to understand this.
Philanthropy and strategic giving have many purposes: It can be used as a catalyst for change, can foster partnerships and long lasting relationships thereby impacting a larger segment of the population. Advocacy efforts tied to giving can launch a process of communal conversation which eventually can lead to transforming society into one that is more fair, balanced and accounts for everyone’s needs. Philanthropists have the power to be visionaries and have the financial resources to get things done, to turn that vision into reality. But implementation without vision (and vice versa) is a missed opportunity.
In the past, many Israeli philanthropists did not want their giving to be public and the assumption was that giving meant being in the limelight. But being private with your giving does not mean that you don’t have to be strategic – you can work behind the scenes and still meet your goals. Only in philanthropy can you have satisfaction, operate like a business, be effective, initiate partnerships, create new opportunities, take risks where necessary and be a change leader.
The culture of philanthropy in Israel has recently begun to emerge. The growth of wealth in Israel has pushed people to look at philanthropy in a different way. More and more Israelis have the financial ability to give large sums of money and therefore have decided to become strategic and smarter donors. Some have left the business world and have become full time philanthropists, actively involved in the day-to-day operations of the organizations they support. As philanthropists, we sit on Boards, learn about the difficulties NGO’s face and become engaged in solving those problems and helping the organization focus on the task at hand. Our involvement is shaping change on the ground.
Because strategic philanthropy is just beginning to plant its roots, the current cadre of Israeli philanthropists had to look elsewhere to understand how philanthropy works, its potential and its limitations. Like in business, there is always a need to study successful models in order to grow. Israeli philanthropists have begun to investigate existing US models, learn how they operate, begun to put it into practice here while adjusting their goals to meet the nuances of the local culture. Philanthropists here have learned fast from their overseas counterparts and change is occurring.
Philanthropy is intertwined with the culture and transformations Israel has undergone. Thirty years ago, Israel was almost purely a welfare state. Today, with a strong economy, changing the philanthropic landscape is necessary and we are working to create a different future for the next generation of funders. We have the opportunity to take a central role as decisions are formulated, because it is better to help shape policies, rather than having to try and fix broken ones. As a player around the table, we can be the engine behind social change and help demonstrate the centrality of philanthropy to creating a better future for everyone.
We are lucky to be in at the ground level and it’s an opportunity I hope we will not miss. We have the power now – but the change will only take place in the future. Therefore, the vision and responsibility to society is necessary and our goal is to bring more people to join our efforts. One does not need to be shy about their wealth; at the same time, they can give and better society using one’s own style and values.
This is the first in a series of posts meant to introduce you to the evolving world of Israeli philanthropy. You will hear from leading Israeli philanthropists and field experts who are working to make Israeli giving a more cohesive, strategic and long-term focused endeavor. We are building a culture of philanthropy here, one that will move the third-sector forward as Israel grapples with its many internal and social struggles.
Great things are happening – but it’s just the beginning.
Shira Ruderman is the Israel Director of the Ruderman Family Foundation.