Aronson II: Changes in store for Birthright fundraising, free ride might be over


After picking his brain about Bill Davidson, I also spoke with Bob Aronson for a few minutes about the state of Birthright Israel fundraising.

Aronson, who took over in January as the CEO of the Taglit Birthright Israel Foundation — which is the branch that oversees the private money that flows into the organization — has some serious changes in store for the way that the foundation raises money.

Here’s what he had to say:

  • “We’re pretty much on plan for meeting the monthly goals for the Adelson foundation. We have to raise a new $10 million to qualify for their $20 million gift. We’re on schedule.”
  • Birthright, which now is a cash in, cash out organization that spends every dollar it takes in immediately on trips is now moving from a cash only model to a model that also accepts pledges from donors for future years. “So we can get on a sound footing,” Aronson said.
  • Whereas the organization has relied until now on mega donors, it is now trying to build a broader support base by building a national campaign to raise $60 million. The Birthright foundation has hired a number of senior development professionals to do so. The goal is to reach out to the parents of the program’s 200,000 alumni.
  • The foundation is also creating an alumni development association through which alumni will solicit each other. (For money. Not for what you are thinking. They get that on the trips.)
  • The message is pretty clear. Birthright Israel until now has been a gift from a handful of very wealthy people (along with the Israeli government, the Jewish Agency and the United Jewish Communities). That handout is about to end, though. “We have to transition from a small number of funders to a broad-based campaign," Aronon said. "If America wants Birthright Israel, they will have to participate financially in keeping it going,” he added. “We are not in an economic situation where we can wait for multi-million-dollar gifts to come through the door.”
  • The organization will be folding the B3 project, which was started by the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Family Philanthropy to give grants to a handful of federations to help them fundraise specifically for Birthright, into a broader development program. “The federations this year gave $6 million to Birthright. We would like them to up that, but I am not optimistic because of the tremendous losses many federations have suffered,” Aronson said.
  • The foundation’s board is undergoing a transition of leadership — one that Aronson hopes will help ease tensions between the private philanthropists who have done much of the heavy lifting in funding Birthright, and the federation system. The new chair of the Birthright foundation board is Dan Och, who is a major player in the UJA-Federation of New York.
  • The idea for a Birthright endowment has been kicked around for a while, and now, Aronson said, it’s going to happen. Creating one has been a struggle thus far, as the politics involved in getting the private philanthropists, the UJC, the Jewish Agency and the Israeli government to agree on who would control the endowment has been near impossible. “We have to start an endowment,” Aronson said. “I am not one for politics, but I do understand the value of endowment.”

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