Birthright Nails Down Adelson's $20-Million Pledge

Foundation Faces Major Fundraising Challenge

By Anthony Weiss

Published January 12, 2009, issue of January 23, 2009.

Birthright Israel, one of the most prominent organizations promoting Jewish identity among young adults, has worked out a deal with its largest donor to confirm a $20 million pledge that had been in question for the coming year.

ANTE MAIMED: Stock losses raised fears about casino mogul Sheldon Adelson’s charitable giving.
ANTE MAIMED: Stock losses raised fears about casino mogul Sheldon Adelson’s charitable giving.

Officials at Birthright Israel, which sends young Jews on free trips to Israel, say that the organization has made an arrangement with casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson to match his $20 million pledge for 2009 with $10 million in new gifts. Adelson had pledged the $20 million in the summer of 2008, but Birthright insiders had been so worried about whether the money would come through that they were planning on the assumption that it wouldn’t.

Adelson, tagged by Forbes as “the world’s richest Jew” in 2007, has seen his fortune decline precipitously since then. The stock of his casino company, Las Vegas Sands Corp., which is the bulk of his wealth, has dropped 95% in the past year, costing him more than $20 billion on paper.

Despite this, however, an agreement with Birthright confirming the pledge now seems to be in place.

“It’s definite,” said Robert Aronson, president of the Birthright Israel Foundation, which raises private donations for Birthright Israel. “It’s signed, sealed and delivered.”

But Birthright now faces a major fundraising challenge to secure the pledge: The organization must still raise $10 million in new gifts — a heavy lift in a climate where non-profits are struggling just to hold onto existing donors. Aronson, however, said he hopes to raise $60 million this year through the Birthright Foundation, up from $25 million last year.

“It’s a big jump,” he conceded.

Adelson could not be reached for comment.



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