What Can Israel’s NonProfits Expect as a Result of the Gaza War

by Robert Evans and Avrum Lapin

As anticipated, fundraising efforts were an immediate priority for many Israel-based non-profits during Israel’s war in Gaza, but have the leaders understood the changes in philanthropic habits in light of the struggling global economy?

Israel’s nonprofit agencies need to be asking strategic questions, focusing on how loyal American donors will respond to the many needs in Israel. While the economic chaos could negatively impact on Jewish responses we posit some observations about how Israel’s non-profits should re-frame their appeals to be even more effective.

In September 2008, we released a landmark report, “Philanthropic Support for Israel’s Nonprofit Organizations by U.S. Donors,” a document which examined charitable giving to Israel-focused organizations by American donors from 2001-2006. We compared results from four charitable sectors that The Giving USA Foundation and The Center for Nonprofit Philanthropy at Indiana University track annually.

Our study targeted 80 Israel-based non-profit organizations and compared their reported giving with U.S.-based non-profits in the same sectors in the philanthropic marketplace. We looked at IRS Form 990’s, documents required to be filed by any nonprofit that receives at least $25,000 in annual contributions in the U.S.

In light of the Gaza conflict and the faltering U.S. and global economies, the findings from the report have even more relevance.

  • Hospitals and medical research organizations had the most significant percentage growth in giving between 2001 and 2006. These increases can probably be attributed to the Second Intifada and the Second Lebanon War. Among the Israel-based health organizations studied, giving increased by 66%, more than three times that of the U.S.-based health organizations studied. Therefore, we project that organizations in this sector will likely see significant donor responses as a result of the current situation.
  • Educational organizations enjoyed a 42% increase between 2001 and 2006. This sector experienced the lowest percentage increase of all four sectors but it received the highest number of dollars from U.S. donors. U.S.-based educational organizations exhibited only a 24% increase, much lower than the Israel-based education organizations. Giving USA projects the likelihood that giving by U.S. donors will decrease to the education sector in this economic downturn.  Therefore, if Israel-based institutions in this sector are to experience any positive impact, they must refine their appeals immediately.
  • Giving to Israel-based human services organizations in the study increased 66% between 2001 and 2006. We attribute this marked increase primarily to the Second Intifada and the Second Lebanon War. Therefore, institutions in this sector could see significant increase if their appeals are timely and reflect impact.
  • Israel-based cultural organizations examined experienced an increase of 82% in giving between 2001 and 2006. In comparison, the U.S.-based Arts and Culture organizations studied exhibited an 11% increase. Previous economic downturns in the U.S. have seen significant decreases in giving to the arts and culture, and there is no reason to believe that past performance will not be repeated in 2009 and 2010.

Our study projected that philanthropic support for specified Israeli causes would continue to grow, but when our results were tabulated we neither foresaw the Gaza conflict nor the extent of the global economic collapse. Clearly, some giving to Israeli organizations has always seen a strong influence in times of armed conflict; historically, compelling emotional appeals for support made to American donors usually succeed as wars are waged and conclude.

Despite U.S. and global economic downturns, the study would suggest that American Jewish philanthropists will continue to make significant contributions to Israel-based organizations as they recognize the immediate needs and strive to make a direct impact. Historically, wars involving Israel have provoked increased charitable support, exploiting emotional ties and focused on maintaining Israel’s security. As we look closely at giving to all types of causes for 2009, we make three specific recommendations for institutions reaching out to donors:

  1. understand that all non-profits must provide even more financial transparency, especially in times when Israel’s non-profit agencies are facing financial pressures;
  2. establish and utilize the personal connections that humanize the requests for immediate support;
  3. take advantage of enhanced technology to bring the needs of an Israel-based organization into the living rooms and on the priority list of potential donors.

We welcome Robert Evans and Avrum Lapin, respectively Managing Director and Director of The EHL Consulting Group, Inc., who have recently joined eJewish Philanthropy as regular contributors.