Women Changing the Face of Jewish Philanthropy

women's philanthropyBy Lisa Eisen

Women are front and center during this heated political season. From the first woman presidential nominee to the focus on her opponent’s treatment of women to the impassioned words of the First Lady, this presidential election highlights the growing power of women to shape public discourse and the direction of our country.

As with our country, so our own community. Just as we are watching the increasing role of women in politics, so are we experiencing the ascendancy of women in Jewish life and, in particular, Jewish philanthropy. Women have emerged as major forces on both the secular and Jewish philanthropic scenes, and their impact on Jewish giving and the Jewish community will be reverberating for years to come.

As a professional fortunate to work for two leading women philanthropists, Lynn and Stacy Schusterman, I have a front row seat for witnessing how women leaders are ushering in major changes to Jewish living and giving. While we still have a long way to go before women play an equal role to men in our community, it is clear that women have taken their rightful seats at the table and are shaping Jewish philanthropy like never before. Now is the time to maximize their generosity and leadership so the Jewish future benefits from the full resources our community has to offer.

A Rising Force

The rising force of women in Jewish giving mirrors a trend in society as a whole. Today, women represent 51 percent of our nation’s wealth holders. Women are making their own fortunes and inheriting enormous resources, as we undergo the largest generational transfer of wealth in history – $30 trillion over the next decades.

They are, in turn, putting billions of dollars toward making positive social change. Two years ago, Inside Philanthropy highlighted these trends with a list of 15 top women philanthropists. Today that list includes 50 powerful women, both philanthropists and foundation executives, and one-third of the funders are Jewish. Moreover, 75 percent of current foundation professionals are women, including half of CEOs.

When it comes to Jewish philanthropists, we are seeing the impact of pioneering givers, such as Lynn Schusterman, Mem Bernstein, Angelica Berrie and Terry Meyerhoff Rubenstein, and the growing influence of next generation funders like Stacy Schusterman, Laura Lauder, Marcella Kanfer Rolnick and Mamie Kanfer Stewart. These are just some of the names among the scores of generous Jewish women who are stewarding significant philanthropic dollars to Jewish and Israel-related causes. Still more women are serving as chief executives of major foundations, including Rachel Monroe at the Weinberg Foundation, Sharon Alpert at the Cummings Foundation, Terry Kassel at the Singer Foundation, Julie Sandorf at the Revson Foundation and Rachel Levin at the Righteous Persons Foundation, to name a few. In the Jewish federation movement, still a largely male-led enterprise, Kathy Manning recently finished her tenure as chair of JFNA, and Women’s Philanthropy is directing an ever-increasing pool of resources.

Where Women Give

Long excluded from the inner circles of Jewish giving, many of these women are focused on building a more inclusive, empowering and egalitarian Jewish community and, in so doing, are playing a key role in reinventing American Jewish life.

Diversity and inclusion are key priorities for many of these philanthropists. Barbara Dobkin has been at the vanguard of supporting Jewish women and girls empowerment, creating Advancing Women Professionals and the Jewish Community, Ma’yan: The Jewish Women’s Project and the Jewish Women’s Archive. Others at the vanguard include Sally Gottesman, who is fostering greater gender diversity through Moving Traditions and Kolot, and Belda Lindenbaum, who broke new ground in the Orthodox world by supporting the establishment of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance and the Drisha Institute.

The Berrie and Schusterman foundations convened the Conference for Change in 2007 to address the challenges of inclusivity in our community, and since that time, they and other funders have helped make Jewish life more welcoming not only to women but also to LGBT Jews, Jews of Color and others who feel marginalized in Jewish leadership. And funders such as Shira Ruderman, together with her husband, Jay, have led the way in ensuring that Jews with different abilities are fully included in Jewish institutions.

Many leading Jewish women philanthropists are also focused on building a vibrant new generation of Jews engaged deeply with Jewish culture, values and religion. Mem Bernstein has been a major investor in Jewish camps and day schools, and also in creating millennial-focused cultural purveyors such as Tablet. Elisa Spungen Bildner, together with her husband Rob, created the Foundation for Jewish Camp, which has dramatically expanded the number of young people having transformative Jewish experiences. And Susan Crown and Karen Davidson have placed next gen Jewish education as a centerpiece of their family’s philanthropic portfolios.

How Women Give

Not only do Jewish women tend to prioritize different causes, they are also giving differently than their male counterparts. Research on women’s philanthropy shows that relationships are central. Women seek to build personal connections with nonprofits and with other funders, forging partnerships and community through their giving. This deeper funder engagement is good news for Jewish organizations, as are other characteristics of women’s philanthropy, including:

  1. Hands On: Women go well beyond checkbook philanthropy, providing not just funds but also their time and talent to support the causes in which they are involved. They serve on boards, raise money and actively engage their peers in the work.
  2. Collaborative: Jewish women embrace collective giving and build donor networks to form bonds with other givers and, more significantly, to leverage their dollars and magnify the scope and impact of their giving. One indicator of this trend is the rise of Jewish women’s foundations, with more than 20 such funds operating in the U.S. Younger women especially are also creating and joining giving circles, many with the help of Amplifier, the growing Jewish giving circle movement.
  3. Transformative: Research indicates that women donors seek social change through their giving and expect to see both stories and data on impact. Contrary to perceptions, Jewish women, like many Jewish male philanthropists, are seeking to be transformative rather than transactional, with both the strategy and the passion to make a difference.

How to Tap into Women’s Giving

We have come a long way, but there is no denying that barriers to equal participation and leadership persist for women in Jewish life and philanthropy. As a result, our community is losing out and leaving dollars on the table by not taking full advantage of women’s giving potential. How can we better tap the enormous giving capacity of Jewish women? Here are a few ideas:

  1. Invite women to the conversation. Engage women in donor conversations and treat them as equal partners in those discussions. Listen to their interests and understand their vision. Ensure they are represented on boards, including as chairs. And don’t forget single women, who, data show, give generously.
  2. Think big. Do not underestimate women’s giving. As many Jewish women funders have already demonstrated, they are capable of big donations. If you ask for a major gift, be prepared to show how it will move the needle.
  3. Mentor and role model. Women need to be visible and vocal in their philanthropy and to serve as mentors and role models for others, especially their own daughters and grandchildren.
  4. Befemale friendly.” Do not assume the gender of the key decision maker. Many donor databases, for example, default to Mr. Be sure the names of both spouses are included or, better yet, list the woman independently.
  5. Share success stories. Women expect to hear about the impact of their investments. By becoming more data driven, more effective storytellers and better at creating personal ties between donors and beneficiaries, we can better maximize the generosity of Jewish women.
  6. Go beyond the usual suspects. There are Jewish women and Jewish men giving magnanimously to secular institutions but not to Jewish causes. We will do a much better job engaging them, capturing their imaginations and attracting their investments if we offer a compelling vision for how they can realize their goals while making a meaningful difference for our community.

I firmly believe the ascendancy of women will continue to change Jewish philanthropy for the better. While we still need more research on how women impact Jewish giving, all of the trends point to more inclusive, collaborative and impactful philanthropy for the Jewish community, and it is on us to ensure that is the case. Think how much more we will accomplish using 100 percent of the talent in our community. With more women at the helm of Jewish philanthropic and nonprofit organizations, I am optimistic that we will make Jewish life more dynamic and our world more equitable for future generations.

Lisa Eisen is the Vice President of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation.