I had the privilege of interviewing Mark Charendoff, President of the Jewish Funders Network about the future of Jewish philanthropy.
About Mark Charendoff
Mark Charendoff is the President of the Jewish Funders Network. He is the former Vice President of the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies where he helped to establish the Birthright Israel program and the Institute for Informal Jewish Education at Brandeis University. Mark received his Bachelor of Hebrew Letters and Rabbinic Ordination from the Darche Noam College of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem.
Mark has served as Chair of the Jewish Community Center Association’s (JCCA) Forum of Jewish Educators and as a member of the JCCA Commission on Maximizing Jewish Educational Effectiveness II. He serves as an officer of Edah, on the Board of Trustees of The Jewish Week (North America’s largest Jewish newspaper), and on the Advisory Board of the Washington Institute for Leadership and Values and the Jewish Institute for Pastoral Care.
Mark’s articles have enjoyed a broad circulation, he has served on the faculty of the Wexner Fellows program, and he speaks and teaches widely across North America.
For information about the Jewish Funders Network, see below.
The Interview: Five 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?
At the JFN, we consider a Jewish philanthropist to be someone whose philanthropy is informed by their understanding of Judaism and their sense of Jewishness, and not merely by the destination of their giving.
Take for example a young woman in New York who is funding a job program in Harlem through a non-Jewish agency directed to non-Jews, but who is doing so from her understanding that the highest form of tzedakah is to make someone self sufficient.
Is there a trend away from Jewish communal giving? How do we define it? If you are talking about the Federation system, yes. Is there a trend away from Jewish causes or Israel… I don’t know. That’s not a trend that I am aware of. The trend away from giving through large communal organizations is mirrored in the larger society– less is going to the United Way, for example.
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?
Good question. First of all, we could be doing a lot more, but the easiest answer is that doing this has nothing to do with philanthropy and everything to do with identity.
You can’t train a young person to be a Jewish philanthropist per se, but you can try to foster within them an appreciation of the values of their community. That should be our mission regardless of whether a person is rich or poor or in between.
I think that if the question is, therefore, what can we do to foster Jewish identity, then there are great examples: Birthright, summer camps, youth groups, day schools, a whole range of things we should be investing in.
Regarding giving kids specific skills as philanthropists– JFN is on the forefront of that. Our Jewish Teen Funders Network program is out there actually training teens in the skills they need to allocate money effectively and to appreciate the needs of the community and of Israel when they are making their funding decisions.
But the bottom line is that we are not reaching the vast majority of young people in a serious way. Certainly not. Education has to be the combination of transformative moments and formative experiences.
We are good at transformative experiences like Birthright for large numbers, but the formative experiences– those ways of engaging young people over time– we’re getting very, very small numbers of the non-Orthodox Jewish population.
3. 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?
Two answers: American Jews can “invest” in a business sense too. If you want to foster the growth of Israel, there are investment opportunities– whether your cause is to foster small businesses in the periphery of the country [for example in the Negev or the Galilee] or joint ventures between Israeli Arabs and Israeli Jews– there are plenty of options.
In terms of philanthropic dollars, let’s start with what we shouldn’t do. We shouldn’t replace the government of Israel. Philanthropists have to be very careful not to finance bad behavior on the part of the government. It’s something that the JFN is very careful about in the foundations we manage.
That said, smart funders can use their funding to move the government into areas that they ought to be moving just like philanthropists do with the government here in the US.
Consider: the 911 [emergency telephone] system was started by a foundation. It worked and was taken on by the government. Public libraries: started by Carnegie. Headstart: same deal.
There are a lot of innovative things that only happen because philanthropists take risks and prove that it can work and then the government can take it over and take the credit for it– as they should do.
In Israel, one of our members, the Rashi Foundation, was integral to getting a program going that would provide lunches to kids who needed them so that they could remain interested and attentive during the day school. Another foundation piloted the notion of extending the school day by providing enriched subject study. Private money can go hand in hand with the government.
4. 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?
We’re likely to see continuation of the current trend– there will continue to be more money available, and there will continue to be far more competition as the American Jewish community gets more assimilated and starts looking more and more like their neighbors.
There will be more competition for dollars, not just within, but outside the Jewish community. We’re going to have to work harder to make the case that we’re the best investment.
5. Giving Voice to the Minority–
You wrote: “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?
We are far too risk averse. Too afraid of making mistakes. Some of our institutions have gotten too big, so by the time an idea emerges it’s processed to death.
I think our placing consensus as a primary value has weakened creativity and entrepreneurial spirit, and we don’t reward risk taking in Jewish communal life.
We know that failure will be punished. In the business world failure is punished too, but risk taking and success are rewarded. In Jewish communal life there isn’t really a reward for anything other than raising money– which is kind of a terrible bottom line. There’s no incentive.
What’s the solution? To create institutions and train board that will celebrate failure, that obviously learn from failure, but really take seriously that notion that risk taking means you’re going to sometimes fail. There’s no way around it.
When an organization says proudly that everything is working, it’s just an indicator that they aren’t trying anything new. We should be willing to talk more about failure. We should be willing to learn more from our failures. That’s what good investors do.
About the Jewish Funders Network
The Jewish Funders Network (JFN) is an international organization of family foundation, public philanthropies, and individual funders dedicated to advancing the quality and growth of Jewish philanthropy. Membership is open to individuals and foundation that give away at least $25,000 annually in philanthropic dollars, and do so in the name of Jewish values, no matter whether the funds go specifically to Jewish causes or to broader areas. (The Jewish Funders Network is not a grantmaking organization and has no political agenda or affiliation.)
You may also be interested in learning about about the Jewish Funders Network’s strong programming in youth philanthropy. (Look for more information on this in a winter series on Jewish teen philanthropy and teaching generous giving.)
Special thanks to Jennifer Lew Goldstone and Courtney Williamson for their help.
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