Setting a Fundraising ‘Precedent’ in Israel

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Click photo to download. Caption: Arik Rosenblum (front row, center) led a delegation from Takdim that visited San Francisco in November to learn more about how the Jewish Federation fundraising model works, and how Takdim can replicate that model in Israel. Credit: Courtesy Arik Rosenblum.

The little country that could became the start-up nation and a global leader in technology, agriculture and academia in 63 short, productive years. Israel has a blossoming economy and more start-ups than all of Europe.

In that case, why do Israel’s non-profits, on average, rely on donations from abroad for some 62 percent of their budgets? Two years ago that figure was 70 percent and five years ago it was 80 percent, according to a Hebrew University study. As the world’s economies have taken a turn for the worse in the last few years, foreign donations have declined and an opportunity has opened for Israelis to fill in the fundraising gap.

“There is no modern democratic society in the world today where the numbers [of foreign donations are so high],” says Arik Rosenblum, the director of Takdim, the Ramat Hasharon Community Foundation, which launched last May. “Everywhere in the world the logic is [that] 99.9 percent of the donations raised for the local non-profits come from the residents and citizens of the country. Israel’s different.”

Israel has a long legacy of fundraising among American Jews, from Golda Meir to United Jewish Appeal to the IDF. Jews care about Jews and the Jewish state, so Americans are a natural target audience. But Rosenblum says it’s time for Israelis to take on greater fiscal responsibility for societal needs, and Israelis are seeing a need to maintain a strong stake in their changing and growing communities. That’s why he started the apolitical Takdim foundation (“precedent” in English), in partnership with the Ramat Hasharon municipality, a suburb of Tel Aviv, to work with Israelis on giving for the sake of “mutual responsibility” and tikkun olam (“repairing the world”).

Recruiting donors requires a cultural shift, Rosenblum says, as Israelis are not used to fundraising very much domestically. Even with roughly 24 percent of the population living below the poverty line, Rosenblum says, potential philanthropists are out there.

Rosenblum says many Israelis in Tel Aviv suburb communities like Ramat Hasharon, Ra’anana and Herzeliya are in good shape to become philanthropists. He estimates that roughly 100 major donors exist in Israel—those families like the Ofers and Arisons that give generously for building hospitals, for instance—but research also shows tens of thousands of people who don’t give substantial gifts are capable of doing so.

The Israeli corporations and individuals that already make donations do so with very little tax incentive from the government. Takdim aims to tap in to this spirit of community caring and foster an even greater desire to take responsibility for the future of one’s community.

And with a name like “precedent,” Rosenblum says he intends to be innovative in his approach. Adopting a model based on the U.S.-based Jewish federation structure, Takdim already has 70 lay leaders who will actively participate on committees, contribute funds for projects, and help identify areas in which Takdim can contribute and fundraise among fellow citizens. Rosenblum says a division to focus on women’s issues is also in the works.

Takdim has already received contributions from its lay leaders, including a $200,000 donation from an Israeli who has never given before in his life (toward a million dollar campaign Takdim is launching), Rosenblum says.

No other organization exists in Israel in which membership requires a financial donation, Rosenblum says. The lay leaders from Ramat Hasharon, a largely affluent city with a population of 45,000, include Takdim chairman David Ivry, who serves as president of Boeing Israel and is Israel’s former ambassador to the U.S.  Miri Eisen, a past spokeswoman for former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, is also on the board.          

The not-for-profit foundation intends to raise money for projects in Ramat Hasharon and outside the city. This coming March, Takdim will begin community-wide fundraising for four initiatives that emerged from an extensive mapping process: a playground for children with disabilities in Ramat Hasharon (the municipality will provide the land); a teen center also in the city; a social entrepreneurship training program for teens in Ramat Hasharon and another needier city in Israel; and a still undecided project in partnership with the San Francisco Jewish Federation.  

After a Takdim delegation visited San Francisco in November to learn more about how the Jewish federation model works, the two decided to begin discussing an official partnership. A delegation of senior San Francisco leadership intends to visit Takdim in March to solidify the relationship.

During the upcoming visit, Takdim will acquaint the delegation with some of Israel’s pressing needs in general and Ramat Hasharon’s in particular. Gila Noam, director of the San Francisco Federation’s Israel office, says she hopes Takdim’s visit in the fall will be one of many similar visits that will help Israelis and Americans work hand in hand.

“It really presents an opportunity for reshaping the relationship between an Israeli community and the North American Jewish community,” Noam says.

The partnership will promote mutual learning, Noam says. Israelis are spontaneous, venture capitalists, and known for start-ups, she says, while Americans are more profit- oriented and tend to be more cautious. “The blend is going to produce some very exciting stuff,” she says.

Rosenblum says Takdim is also establishing an international advisory committee with members from New York’s 92nd Street Y, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, The Jewish Agency, the Jewish Federations of North America and the New York, Baltimore, San Francisco and Chicago federations. The committee is not going to provide financial help, but will instead advise on strategic decisions and reflect on how to make the model successful in other Israeli cities.   

Not every aspect of the federation model will work for Israel, Rosenblum says. The foundation won’t be conducting an annual campaign, as the US federations do, and it will need to maintain a closer relationship with its local municipality—the body with access to the schools, land and many other areas of city life.

However, like the Jewish federations, Rosenblum wants Takdim to be a training ground on the community level for new philanthropists. Federations frequently help American Jewish donors “get their feet wet” in learning how to become strategic and effective philanthropists, Rosenblum says, before they move on to national giving.

For now the focus is on making the model work, before Rosenblum recruits donors outside Ramat Hasharon and launches similar foundations in other cities.

“The fact that we already have $200,000 without starting [fundraising] is not bad, but there’s a lot of work ahead of us,” Rosenblum says. “We’re a force to be reckoned with.”

Posted on January 9, 2012 and filed under Features.