The event in New York City in late January looked more like a pitch meeting for venture capitalists than the usual Jewish philanthropic gathering. Several dozen businessmen and women holding booklets with financial balance sheets listened attentively as 17 heads of Jewish not-for-profit organizations took the stage and spoke for 20 minutes each, as if their futures depended on it.
Which, in a way, they did.
The organizers of this first-ever Israel Summit were attempting to copy the style of venture capital summits, where entrepreneurs try to win over deep-pocketed investors, and adapt it to the world of Jewish giving, which has struggled to attract new donors.
“We’re trying to engage powerful business leaders, leaders on Wall Street, on their terms,” said Joseph Hyman, president of the Center for Entrepreneurial Jewish Philanthropy, which organized the summit.
“I just mirrored what is done in business,” he said of the new initiative. “What we pulled off is the same as in the venture capital world.”
But while this model excites some, it leaves behind more traditional Jewish organizations that provide the kind of social services not always attractive to high-roller donors. And, in the case of the January meeting, it also excludes those whose politics didn’t match the largely center and right-wing non-profits invited to pitch.
“I can’t see how this model will serve us,” said an executive in the federation system who asked not to be named. “We can show proven success, but we’re not only about innovation.”
This was not the first attempt by a Jewish organization to streamline interaction between donors and grantees, but it was by far the most intense effort to date. Despite a snow storm that shut down the city a day earlier, donors representing 65 foundations and organizations arrived in Manhattan on January 23 and sat through a day and a half of presentations by select groups working on Israel-related activity in the fields of media, campus and policy.