The Start of Something Big

getimageRecognizing that the once-traditional philanthropic roles of North American Jews and Israelis have changed and that few in North America are familiar with the new Israeli nonprofit landscape, UJC/Federation’s Global Operations – Israel and Overseas Department hosted their first teleconference on Israeli philanthropy this week. The call focused on major trends in Israeli philanthropy and explored some of the differences between North American and emerging Israeli philanthropic models.

The keynote speaker was Dr. Hagai Katz, director, Israeli Center for Third-Sector Research (ICTR) and director, Program for Nonprofit Management, Guilford Glazer School of Business and Management, Ben Gurion University of the Negev.

Here with thoughts on the conversation is Naomi Orensten, Program and Planning Associate, UJC Israel and Overseas:

I am thrilled to report that 83 people dialed into yesterday’s teleconference on Israeli Philanthropy for North American Jewish Federations. These numbers, the nature of questions asked, and the sheer amount of emails requesting more information, sent us a loud and clear signal.

We get it: You want more information on this important topic. So we have already begun planning follow-up calls to further explore private philanthropy in Israel and emerging models of Israel-North American philanthropic partnerships.

Below are some highlights from yesterday’s call – important statistics to know and some insights from our expert speaker, Dr. Hagai Katz, Director of The Israel Center for Third Sector Research (ICTR), Ben-Gurion University.

  • Foreign giving comprises a significant proportion of Israel’s third sector (non-profit) revenue. Within the category of foreign giving, almost all of it is from the North American Jewish community. In 2004, this total was approximately $1.1 billion, slightly over 6% of the entire third sector revenue. This is one third of the sector’s total donated income, meaning that $1 out of every $3 philanthropic dollars comes from abroad. In comparison, Israeli foundations provide about a tenth of donated income; the remainder is from individual donors, corporate and household giving.
  • 87% of Israeli households give at least 1 shekel to charity; The average annual household gift – of all givers – is NIS 300 a year, or roughly $75.
  • There are very few incentives for philanthropic giving in the Israeli legal and tax system. There are ongoing efforts to promote changes in legislation and regulations to create incentives to donate and we are beginning to see some changes for the better. Recently, the roof was raised and the floor was lowered on tax return eligible sums. Still, the lack of incentives very much distinguishes Israeli philanthropy from North American philanthropy.
  • We are now witnessing the emergence of an Israeli philanthropic tradition that is becoming more diverse and sophisticated. For example, we are witnessing the appearance of new family and community foundations, the promotion of corporate social responsibility, different modes of community engagement, greater collaboration among Israeli philanthropists, and increased public awareness. The professionalization of grant making is also becoming more apparent.

In addition to framing the field with statistics and background information, Katz suggested some arenas in which the combined experience, knowledge, and sophistication of North American grant-makers can continue to have a critical impact on the nascent Israeli philanthropy. Katz encouraged North American grant-makers to collaborate with the growing numbers of innovative Israeli philanthropic bodies. Whether if be through matched giving, Israel-US giving circles, or other models of partnership, he emphasized that this is truly an arena where our expertise can significantly impact this budding model.

Here he focused on the professionalization of the field, suggesting that American donors provide an educational added value by promoting organizational transparency, the use of metrics and benchmarks, strategic planning, and research and evaluation. He also noted the importance of supporting the institutional sustainability of grantee organizations by funding core budgets and overhead costs.

It’s not every day that we are able to see how far Israel has come, how far she has yet to go, and to have so many specific suggestions of how we can continue to play a critical role. After last night’s call, I excitedly walked home thinking about the remarkable opportunities that lie ahead for us, realizing that we’re at the cusp of something that has the potential to be really big.  Israel’s third sector has made significant strides in the past decades – in size, scope, and sophistication.

From my vantage point here in Israel, this seems an obvious convergence; continuing this work is truly a “win” for everybody. We North Americans have incredible reserves of knowledge to transfer to our partners and colleagues in Israel. This is good for Israel’s citizens – the ultimate beneficiaries of nonprofit services; good for our philanthropic partners and the entire nonprofit sector, and also good for us. We’re applying hard-earned critical skills where they are direly needed and welding relationships along the way.

So stay tuned: We’ll update this shortly with the link to the recorded call, and come back soon to check out our Israel & Overseas page for many more resources on Israeli philanthropy.