Books: Sounding a Call for Hope, Rebirth
During the high holy days, people of Jewish faith can reflect on the past year and experience spiritual rebirth. "Hope, Not Fear: A Path to Jewish Renaissance," authored by philanthropist Edgar M. Bronfman and writer Beth Zasloff, seems to hold the same message for Jewish organizations.
Jewish youths will reinvigorate nonprofits, says Bronfman, the founding chairman of Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life. In the preface to this new edition, released in paperback in October, Bronfman highlights how more than 300 Jewish philanthropic startups have sprouted since the book first came out in 2008 — proving that the Jewish community can adapt and renew despite challenges, including the recession.
Bronfman urges American Jews to embrace the creative efforts displayed by young leaders and channel their energy toward reviving the community's philanthropic institutions. Here, FundRaising Success speaks with Bronfman about his book and how it can help invigorate fundraising and philanthropy in the Jewish community.
FundRaising Success: What prompted you to write "Hope, Not Fear"?
Edgar Bronfman: I decided to write "Hope, Not Fear" because I thought I had something important to say to the Jewish community. I want the American Jewish community to be proud of our accomplishments and to stop pinching itself to make sure it's really true. I also want to build our numbers by not fighting intermarriage unsuccessfully, but to take advantage of the opportunity to bring those who are not Jewish but have married Jews into the fold. That means welcoming the non-Jews with sincerity.
FS: How does the book deal with the changing face of Jewish philanthropy?
EB: More philanthropy needs to be focused on young people. The new, young philanthropists are bold, independent thinkers who are determined. They will direct their philanthropy to enterprises that excite them and that are able to accomplish something in the world. There is a generational shift in the way the young people are giving philanthropically.
In order for organizations to remain relevant, we need to recognize that younger people are moving away from organizations that manage money on a donor's behalf and instead want to be involved with organizations where donors take an active role. Too often, organizations that are stuck in an outdated mode of thinking throw up their hands in helplessness rather than expressing delight that a new generation wants to be generous, but in its own way. This is a tough lesson to learn, but it will have to be absorbed for organizations to remain –relevant.
FS: How does your book address challenges that Jewish community fundraisers are seeing in this economy?
EB: This economy will soon get better, and we can witness the signs of improvement slowly. In my book, and in many of my philanthropic endeavors, I take a long-term view. I believe that a financial crisis should not mean a crisis of vision for nonprofits, and organizations can and should do more with less.
FS: Jewish organizations often say they have trouble finding a common ground of Jewish identity to call upon. Especially for youth-oriented Jewish organizations, what's the challenge in identifying donors and volunteers? As founding chairman of Hillel, what experiences do you draw upon that can inform Jewish organizations how best to engage their donor bases?
EB: Part of a philanthropist's role should be to help empower young people who are creating programs and organizations that meet their needs. The fact that young Jews are not affiliating in the traditional ways indicates there is something wrong with our institutions, not that there is something wrong with our youth.
We have to support reinventing our institutions and their programs in order to be relevant for today's generation. We must support our young people's vision and creativity. Young people possess energy, imagination and courage to lead the way and make a difference. Where young people have begun to lead, Jewish life has seen tremendous new vitality.
FS: What can fundraisers learn from your extensive experience working with Jewish organizations? What advice would you impart to fundraisers?
EB: The initiatives I highlight in my book differ in many ways. But they share qualities that I believe are at the heart of their success. They engage instead of preach, inspiring young people to learn rather than telling them exactly what they must believe. They help Jews connect with and understand a deeply Jewish sense of responsibility for our fellow human beings in the world. They create diverse, pluralistic environments and encourage respect among all Jews.
In addition to supporting initiatives that support learning among our young people, I believe philanthropists must be educated themselves if they are to understand the importance of supporting education, or any philanthropic endeavor. Fundraisers can play an important role in better informing their donors. FS