Predicting the Future of Jewish Philanthropy: Let’s Hear Your Thoughts

Photo by Jerry Reynolds Photography

Next week this blog will proudly host an interview with Mark Charendoff, President of the Jewish Funders Network.

In the meantime, I want to present you with the questions I asked (plus one more) and see what you think. What is the future of Jewish philanthropy? How can we get more people involved and why should it matter?

Six Questions on the Future of Jewish Philanthropy

1. Giving Jewishly–

We know that on average, Jewish philanthropies give a small percentage of their money to Jewish causes. How should we be defining who is a Jewish philanthropist?

Are there key values that every philanthropist, as a Jew, should hold dear? What are the implications of the growing trend away from Jewish communal giving? How can Jewish organizations adapt and evolve to combat this trend?

2. Jewish Youth Philanthropy–


What can the Jewish community as a whole and Jewish organizations in particular do to spark the interest and investment of young Jewish philanthropists?

Are there ways in which philanthropies can or should be changing their thinking to become more appealing to young donors? How can the Jewish community help younger Jews become stakeholders in the Jewish community, and through that, Jewish philanthropy?

Photo by Griraffes

3. Social Innovation: Jewish Philanthropy’s Power to Transform–

Mr. Charendoff wrote: “Some of the most innovative projects in today’s Jewish communities came about because an independent funder or group of funders took a risk on a longshot.”

What are the transformative ideas in the Jewish community right now that would benefit from high risk investment? What trends in the Jewish community should leaders and Jewish philanthropists be paying attention to?

What roles do social innovation contests (like Charles Bronfman’s and Ronny Maiman’s) play in the current philanthropy arena as a way to advance Jewish communal innovation?

4. Investing in Israel’s Top 15 Vision: Changing the Paradigm of Jewish Giving to Israel–

What can Jewish philanthropists do to help forward Israel’s Top 15 Vision of becoming one of the most developed countries in the world in the next 15 years?

What are the best ways for Jews abroad to invest in Israel and to promote and help support it socioeconomically, technologically, economically, and environmentally? What should be avoided? In short, how can we change the paradigm of supporting Israel in the Jewish community?

5. The Frontier of Jewish Philanthropy: What the Future Holds–


What can we expect to see in the next two to five years from the field of Jewish philanthropy? What should we be striving to create? Who is on the frontier of change that we should be paying attention to?

What will Birthright’s long-term impact and lessons be for Jewish communal organizations? What can Jewish organizations do to make themselves 21st century ready in terms of the needs of the Jewish community?

Photo by Lee Jordan

6. Giving Voice to the Minority–

Mr. Charendoff was quoted asking, “When did unpopular ideas lose currency in the Jewish community?” Are there ideas that fall into this category that you think we should be paying more attention to?

Recommended Reading

If you like these questions, you might also enjoy:

And to help get the crystal ball rolling:



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7 Responses to Predicting the Future of Jewish Philanthropy: Let’s Hear Your Thoughts

  1. Smooth Stone says:

    Thank you for reaching out to my site, Smooth Stone. Your ideas are wonderful. Please let me know if I can help publicize any of your literature or postings in the future.

  2. Shai says:

    I’ll take a stab at it (what else is new?).

    1) Jewish philanthropists donate 20% or more of their annual income to projects that advance social obligations between people. This is the amount that is considered a maximum reasonable amount in halacha, enough to do good, but not so much to bankrupt you. I do think, though, that people with money who donate are made into celebrities, and the Jewish community would be healthier if it could find a way to make those who give much less, though still 20% or the equivalent in time or services, feel just as respected. I realize that not everyone can put their name on the JCC – of course, I don’t mean that is the only way respect can be given. Rather, what I mean is that the substance of what we do in the context of our community defines our commitment, and it would be to our communities interest to focus more on how to harness the power of the substantive acts of the “hidden righteous” not less than the easily visible in defining what we consider community ideals. We need to stop with the hagiographies and show how “everyman” is a valuable, wanted, part of our community.

    2) They can become stakeholders when Jewish community building becomes substantive – which is to say, cohesive in its sense of self-worth, and sure of what it stands for. Right now, it’s a moving target regarding those things.

    The opposite of stakeholding is consumerism – the sense that people who give of themselves are looking more for bang for the buck than a sense of being part of something larger and meaningful. The latter can be achieved through grasping for a broader, inclusive sense of Jewish substance that forms the foundation of oru Jewish communities.

    I think then for that purpose “philanthropy” is too narrowly defined and it makes a lot of Jews feel unnecessarily marginal if their greatest wealth is not measured in the millions.

    The best thing philanthropists can do is work to change the system so that it empowers/enables all of us (as stakeholding systems do) to influence our communities, rather than merely providing programs-from-on-high (as consumerist systems do). Stakeholding solutions have a much longer shelf-life than consumer driven ones, I believe that’s clear.

    3) The answer here is that innovation is the same as enabling and empowering. Make the system influenceable. Make it welcoming to influence by finding ways to help people feel their efforts have the potential to achieve great things. If the system does not change to permit this influence/influenceability, is it reasonable to expect that throwing money at the problems will achieve lasting, sustainable results? In my opinion, probably not.

    4) I think that the problems we have in Israel can be more efficiently resolved if we use the same advice given in my reply #3. Apathy in Israel is a learned trait. It infects people at younger ages than ever now. Much of that is due to a system that discourages influence/influenceability, that makes Jewish identity banal. Philanthropy in Israel should encourage encourage private/public partnerships, the development of a 3rd sector, citizens-rights groups, etc. – anything that helps people put their fate back into their own hands, as much as feasible.

    In my view, the Israeli government should be cajoled and if necessary embarrased into creating an influenceable system (some say this can be achieved by elections of regional represenatives but I doubt this is enough). Without that, we will be perennially weak and philanthropic efforts will achieve less than they could otherwise.

    5) In my view the “frontier of change” isn’t in philanthropy as it’s commonly defined. It’s on the ground – with the people who are reclaiming Judaism for themselves in ways that are not always conventional, because the way they are reclaiming it is intensely personal and meaningful.

    For Judaism to succeed, people have to feel they own it – that it’s responsive, that it’s got a message to teach, that it can enrich their lives. For too long, it’s been about halachic conflicts, hairsplitting, power grabs, pride, cliches, and therefore lacking the sort of substance that we’d find intuitively engaging and ripe with potential for personal and communal growth. These trail-blazers are people who are not taking the off-the-shelf product – they’re creating customized Judaism by taking ownership of it and investing themselves in it. Such intensity of commitment is catchy. I think that’s the wave of the future. Any philanthropists that can make that happen will be, in my view, be part of the wave.

    Birthright is thusfar an attempt to, I think, put young Jews off balance by placing them in an Israeli milieu, and culture-shock them into seeing their Jewishness, where before it may have been of less relevance. I think in the long run the Birthright-effect will not be sustainable unless 1) we provide communities that can be recepticals for the “fire in the belly” efforts that Birthright graduates bring back to their communities, 2) we provide some sort of globalized expression of Jewishness that shapes that context, 3) we build that context to put a premium on a primary identity that is “Jewish”.

    6) I see plenty of support for the entire spectrum of ideas, from Shalem Center on one side to the New Israel Fund on the other, or the Abraham Fund on one side and Ateret Cohanim on the other, and of course the entire gamut between Humanist Judaism to Chareidi Judaism has Jewish funding – what’s being defined as “unpopular”?

    The way I see it, social obligations to others is a key principle of Jewishness. It’s informed by thousands of intersecting values that we imbibe from our community context – a sense of sensibilities that directs our belief in fair-play and rightness. Our objective should be to ensure that each Jew has access to the vocubulary of Jewish values so that they can define for themselves and as part of their community how they wish to express their Jewishness, and in essence then there should be no need then to seek the approval of others such that ideas that meet with much approval are “popular”.

  3. ARB says:

    Another excellent article Maya. You give me a lot to think about.

    In terms of Birthright’s long term impact, here’s a recent take on that issue from JPost that I’ve never heard before. It talks about negative consequences of Birthright.

    Birthright israel’s collateral damage

    While I believe it is a great program, the points made in the article are worth considering.

    Any thoughts on how to promote some of the other Israel trips more effectively? How could non-Birthright trips get more funding so that they are able to offer cheaper or free trips?

  4. thenewjew says:

    Hi ARB,

    That was a really interesting article and one that promoted a disturbing perspective. It’s in line to be blogged about, probably sometime this week. It is most definitely something that we all need to think about further, but I want to save my comments for the actual article.

    I don’t know if you know, but Mark Charendoff and the Jewish Funders Network are a really big deal. Only philanthropists who give a minimum of $25,000 annually are eligible for membership and the JFN does a lot of thinking about how to give and what should be thought about. Look for the article tomorrow (Monday) or Tuesday. I’m interested to hear what you think.


  5. thenewjew says:

    Thanks so much, Smooth Stone. I look forward to learning together further.

    To my readers, go check out Smooth Stone’s journal for an education.


  6. Hey, cool tips. I’ll buy a bottle of beer to the person from that chat who told me to visit your site 🙂

    • Maya Norton says:

      I’m glad you’re enjoy my blog, but you’ve commented about 15 times today with multiple repeat comments. Please take a break to ensure your comments are meaningful and add value to the blog and its readers.

      ~ Maya

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