Women’s Philanthropy – Change Is In the Air

By Phyllis Teicher Goldman and Nancy Schwartz Sternoff

We read with great interest the re-printed piece by Susan Weidman Schneider that appeared in Lilith in 1993; we have applauded Susan for many years for her outspoken and determined advocacy for Jewish women. Yes, the Jewish community is still plagued by structural inadequacy, the “Male Model” described by Susan, that inhibits both women’s giving and women’s leadership. The recent 2014 CEO salary survey issued by Jane Eisner of The Forward attests to egregious gaps in leadership roles and compensation by gender.

However, there have been significant advances that we hope Lilith will examine and publicize. The most promising shift has been promulgated by the proliferation of Jewish women’s funds and foundations across the spectrum of “mainstream” Jewish organizations. To date there are approximately 24 Jewish women’s funds in North America, many housed in Federations, and the Dafna Fund has gathered momentum in its work for gender parity across sectors in Israel.

Often under the radar, these funds have attracted thousands of women who share the aspirations described in the article, and who fund collaboratively with both a gender and a Jewish lens. Their mission statements articulate a commitment invest in systemic change, to level the playing field for women and girls, to nurture women leaders and to assist their donors to be strategic philanthropists. They consider their grantees to be partners in the work of advancing women and girls rather than “beneficiaries” of donations, and they proudly and rightfully assert that women’s issues are indeed community issues.

In their early stages, the funds operated as “classic” giving circles, but in the past five years there has been a significant upswing in activism, including the adoption of fundraising models to support social change and social justice aspirations. Collectively their assets are valued in excess of $39M. One of the funds has recently raised two $1M gifts in one year. Asking and receiving gifts of this magnitude represents a dramatic shift in fundraising philosophy and strategy, and we hope other large investments will follow as outreach and visibility expand and as more women articulate their feminist philanthropic values.

The funds have supported, with a collaborative grant-making model, organizations that focus on issues such as equal pay and advancement for Jewish women professionals, elder abuse in the Jewish community, sex slavery worldwide, anti-domestic violence interventions, economic stability and financial literacy, the plight of agunot, sexual harassment, girls’ identity and body image – all issues that previously were not on the community agenda. In the aggregate, the funds are granting approximately $3M per year. In 2013, 17 funds (almost unheard of in the Jewish community) came together to fund a feminist leadership agenda by a newly formed collaborative in Israel.

In our work with the Jewish women’s funds over the past 17 years, we have witnessed a shift in understanding, a shift in philosophy and a shift in vocabulary – and we all know that words matter. This growing movement has found its collective voice! We now read in their literature of their commitment to feminist ideology, to systemic political change, to human rights and to social and economic justice.

The professionals who lead the funds are themselves smart and dynamic leaders, many of them wearing multiple hats in their federations. Their lay leaders are eager partners, dedicated to attain parity for women and girls throughout our institutions, our communities and our world.

Yes, much work remains ahead of us. But we celebrate the significant accomplishments of these funds as we continue to strive for parity for women and girls, and we hope our communities will join us to support this critical work.

Phyllis Teicher Goldman and Nancy Schwartz Sternoff are Co-Principals at G&S Consultants.