Check out the Forward’s special section on giving…
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Check out the Forward’s special section on giving…

The Forward published its annual section on giving this week, and while the philanthropy world might not be quite are wealthy as it used to be, this section is certainly rich. (Wacka Wacka.)

Anyway, the section features:

  • Thoughts on how to do more with less by the Sam Bronfman Foundation’s Dana Raucher.
  • Thoughts on the future of federations by Jerry Silverman.
  • And an appeal to nonprofits to appeal to the grassroots by Jo Ellen Green Kaiser.

The piece closest to my heart, however, is a review of “The Art of Giving” by Charles Bronfman and Jeff Solomon, written by some shady cartoon character named The Fundermentalist.

As I have intimated here and in the newsletter, I found Bronfman and Solomon’s book quite helpful and a pretty good read.

But it was also very subtly provocative:

In the end, the art of philanthropy comes down to business science, the authors say. A philanthropist must choose a population to help and a field within that population, and then figure out a modality to serve that population.

And clearly, the federation system is not among Bronfman and Solomon’s favorite purveyors of good.

Both men are steeped in the federation system: Solomon spent years as chief operating officer of UJA-Federation of New York before taking over Bronfman’s foundation, and Bronfman, who got his philanthropic start with the Jewish federation in Montreal, served as the first chairman of United Jewish Communities when it was formed as a merger of three umbrella groups for federation campaigns.

Yet, mention of the federation system is nearly absent from the book — and in my conversations with Solomon since getting my hands on “The Art of Giving,” it is clear that this was not a mistake.

Clearly the authors feel that the federation system is part of the old charitable system and that its role and income are suffering because they cannot yet fulfill the needs of the new philanthropist. While the old federation system in large part wallows in its old boys’ club, it has not yet found a way to work with the modern age’s social entrepreneurs — something Solomon says he and Bronfman will talk about at length as they tour the country with the book.

Even when Bronfman describes his greatest philanthropic success, the founding of Taglit-Birthright Israel — the organization that has sent nearly 150,000 Jews between the ages of 18 and 26 on free 10-day trips to Israel — he does not mention by name the federation system or the Jewish Agency for Israel, two of the primary partners in the endeavor.

While Birthright is the case study that Bronfman and Solomon use throughout the book as an example of what to do in philanthropy, the closest they come to using the federation as such is the suggestion that perhaps a philanthropist should go to a local United Way or federation office to see what programs it supports as an example of what the philanthropist might want to fund on their own.

But check out the rest of the piece and the rest of the Forward’s section.