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Charendoff presses philanthropists to give more and aim higher

For the second year in a row, the president of the Jewish Funders Network used the platform at his organization’s annual conference to call for changes in the way that the Jewish world gives away money.

Last year, speaking from the depths of the recession, Mark Charendoff suggested to his members — all of whom give at least $25,000 per year to Jewish causes — that they focus their money on three categories: Jewish literacy projects, Jewish peoplehood and Jewish service.

This year, amid some signs of economic recovery but lingering philanthropic trepidation, he made three new suggestions.

First, Charendoff pushed his constituents to collaborate and try to find ways to fund projects together.

"There are serious problems that many of us are trying to confront in the Jewish world and Israel. We can’t solve them by ourselves," he said Monday at the Arizona Biltmore Hotel, where some 210 philanthropists and foundation professionals gathered. "There are different types of partnerships; learning together about an issue and taking action, or aligning our efforts to maximize results, and of course formal partnerships."

Second, Charendoff pushed the donors in the room to seek ways to get more money on the table for nonprofits. 

"At this moment, $550 billion is sitting in private foundations in America and yet we are using only 5 percent of it," he said. "We need to figure out how to change this equation. How can we get the other 95 percent of our money working for us?"

Charendoff suggested that foundations not necessarily dole out more in grants, but that they look at ways to use the money from their endowments, such as providing loans to Jewish organizations to help them expand, providing growth capital to young organizations that would generate returns once the groups mature, and investing in socially conscious ways that could improve corporate behavior. 

Finally, Charendoff pushed those in the room toward what he called "the 51 percent solution." Right now, less than 25 percent of Jewish children attend Jewish day school, about 10 percent attend Jewish camps and 25 percent of young adults participate in Birthright Israel. Charendoff suggested that the philanthropic world, even during the recession, sets lofty — but attainable — goals, and strives to send 51 percent of kids to day school, 51 percent to Jewish camps and 51 percent to Israel with Birthright.

That would create a tipping point for Jewish identity-building, he said.

"Can we do it?" Charendoff asked. "I don’t know. But why is it that Jews swing for the fences in every game but our own?"

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