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CEJP’s idea is to focus on the program rather than on the organization. For donors, this can provide assurance that the impact of their contribution will be significant and measurable. But it also opens the door for well-funded groups, such as The Israel Project, to pitch new donors while struggling organizations were never invited into the room.
Standing out in the list of presenters was Christians United for Israel, an evangelical group that boasts 1.6 million supporters. Its controversial leader, Pastor John Hagee, asked for funding for programs aimed at Christian millennials and for establishing a presence on Capitol Hill. CUFI is known for its hard-line approach to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict and has not endorsed a two state solution.
Absent from the event were progressive pro-Israel organizations. Hyman said that his group “tried very hard to give a potpourri of different opportunities” but that the list reflected the wishes of the donors attending. He did not rule out the possibility that future summit meetings will include other donors and more liberal organizations.
CEJP was established in 2005 and has since facilitated $70 million in donor gifts for Jewish organizations. Hyman sees Taglit Birthright as a model, arguing that it has brought new money into Jewish philanthropy without detracting from other programs.
Mark Charendoff, former head of the Jewish Funders Network and now president of the Maimonides Fund, agreed. “I don’t think it is a zero sum game,” he said. “Very few donors are at their absolute capacity and if you expose them to new ideas, they’ll give more.”
But others fear that this tactic will cause donors to gradually shift away from the bread-and-butter social safety network programs provided by the federations, to specific programs tailored to their individual wishes. Federations bring in some $700 million a year, but the number of donors is shrinking.
Hyman doesn’t see a conflict. “The federation system is the moral compass of the Jewish world,” he said, calling it “the most powerful network of philanthropist in the Jewish community.” But, he added, “the fundraising mechanism needs to be reengineered. It’s not a debate, because the donors are voting with their choices.”