The Heart of the Matter
The New York City-based Jewish National Fund’s mission statement describes the organization as “the caretaker of the land of Israel on behalf of its owners — Jewish people everywhere.” As such, it raises money to implement programs to plant trees, build reservoirs and manage water, and develop land in Israel.
In the fiscal year ending October 2005, the JNF raised $50 million, all in private donations.
JNF Chief Executive Russell Robinson says that Jews in the United States are generous givers, donating close to $2 billion a year in charitable contributions — no small number considering that the Jewish community comprises only 3 percent of the U.S. population.
“There is a word in Jewish life that talks about charity — tzedakah — and part of that word translates into ‘a sense of responsibility,’” Robinson explains. “Inherent in the Jewish nature is feeling a sense of responsibility toward others. Be it to the crises we’ve had with natural disasters, to Jewish causes and to Israel, the outpouring from the Jewish community has been tremendous.
“Charitable giving has been a major part of the fabric of Jewish life throughout our history and will remain so,” he adds.
Here, Robinson addresses the Jewish charitable nature and the causes it supports.
FundRaising Success: Are there any special considerations when approaching Jewish donors?
Russell Robinson: Understand the Jewish community. It’s not a community defined by any one definition. The secular Jew — those who aren’t affiliated with any synagogues or Jewish institutions — and the Reform, Conservative, Orthodox and Reconstructionist Jews, all have sensitivities and considerations when making charitable gifts. When approaching this community, you should understand that it’s desirous of participating but cannot and should not be approached by a single definition, a definition of one. It’s not a proper approach.
FS: What types of causes are Jewish donors most likely to contribute to, other than specifically Jewish causes?
RR: With its inherent charitable nature, the Jewish community’s response to non-Jewish causes is equal to, if not greater than, Jewish causes and includes social services, major universities, the arts, sciences and hospitals, to name a few.