February 24, 2000
Giving to Israeli universities provides 'meaningful connection'
Yeshiva University is there, too, as is Brandeis University. They are listed as No. 193 and No. 238 in this year's "Philanthropy 400" -- the roster of the nation's most popular charities published each November by the Chronicle of Philanthropy, the biweekly newspaper of the nonprofit world.
Israel's top institutions of higher learning also make the grade when it comes to fundraising in the United States, in the form of groups such as the American Society for Technion-Israel Institute of Technology (No. 224 this year), American Friends of the Hebrew University (No. 264) and the American Committee for the Weizmann Institute of Science (No. 297).
The American "friends" benefit from the economic trends that have propelled philanthropy to colleges and universities generally: a strong stock market, a healthy economy and opportunities for highly personalized and long-term gift giving.
And, although most of their donations come from American Jews educated in the United States, the fundraising groups for Israeli schools owe some of their success to a more emotional factor -- school spirit.
Donors "really behave like alumni would," Larry Jackier of Detroit, the president of the American Technion Society, said, noting an exceptional amount of enthusiasm, personal connection and "proprietary interest in the university's overall success."
David Friedman of Boston, for example, attended New York University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, but in many ways, he says, he feels and acts like an alumnus of the Technion in Haifa, which celebrates its 75th anniversary this year.
A veteran of the computer industry, Friedman has found in his nearly full-time role as the New England regional president of the American Society for Technion-Israel Institute "a way to do my piece" for Israel while expanding his professional interest and expertise.
The New England region helped create a management-training school modeled on his alma mater, the Sloan School at MIT, and Friedman helped launch the Bar Nir Center for Excellence in Computer Technology, which is designed to move the Technion's computer science faculty in a more consumer-oriented direction.
"What we're doing is very contemporary; it relates to where Israel is at now," said Melvyn Bloom, the executive director of the American Technion Society.
As Israel developed, the Technion's faculties kept apace, focusing first on road-building, then agriculture and aeronautical engineering, and now computer science.
As Israel's needs have changed, so, too, has the approach to fundraising for Israeli causes.
"The message is distinctly different," Bloom said.
Whereas keeping Israel safe from external aggression and rescuing Jews in peril around the world once drove the successful fundraising campaigns of the most broad-based American Jewish philanthropy, the United Jewish Appeal (UJA), American Jews are now moved to create direct connections to Israel's economic and political successes.
By investing in Israeli education, infrastructure and research, donors to Israeli universities believe they are helping to improve not only the quality of life in Israel, but also in the Middle East as a whole and, in many cases, the world at large.
The medical discoveries and technological advances of researchers at Israeli universities present "a powerful force for peace," said Dr. Irv Hecker, a biomedical physician from Washington, who volunteers for the American Committee for the Weizmann Institute by making professional connections between Weizmann scientists and their counterparts at the National Institutes of Health.
The success of institutions such as Weizmann "spills over into commerce, into scientific and the economic relationships all over the world," Hecker said, during a day of presentations last month in New York by Weizmann researchers.
"That makes Israel stronger."
Forging human connections between the Diaspora and Israel is another byproduct of friends groups, which aim to build professional and collegial partnerships between Americans and Israelis and in "connecting donors to what we're doing," said Martin Kraar, the executive vice president of the American Committee for Weizmann.
One of the features of giving to the schools that is most attractive to donors, fundraising professionals report, is the opportunity to sponsor a specific project: a building, a body of research, a faculty chair or a student scholarship.
"A chair is not just a symbol," said Kraar, a past executive vice president of the Council of Jewish Federations. "It's a meaningful connection to a piece of research."
Robert Arnow, a New York real estate executive, was already the chairman of the board emeritus of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev when he made the acquaintance of Ismael Abu-Saad, the first Bedouin to receive a doctorate from the school.
As he became aware of the plight of Bedouins in the Negev who have lost many of their land rights, Arnow decided the school needed a center to help raise the educational level of the Bedouin population.
The center is an important symbol of Israeli interest in their well-being, he said, which is critical at a time when Bedouin disaffection toward Israel is growing among the population, as is Islamic fundamentalism.
Arnow convinced the university to fund the center, but he said he is providing "a lot more money" for various programs related to the center.
"All my time is going to help Bedouins," said Arnow, who is semi- retired.
Donors involved in the friends groups often claim long lineage's of Jewishly committed philanthropists, and report that they are simultaneously dedicated supporters of traditional forms of American tzedakah, or Jewish charitable activity, including the UJA.
Although Israeli friends fundraising income can fluctuate by tens of millions of dollars year to year, their long-term track record is impressive.
The American Committee for Weizmann last year raised over $61 million from cash gifts, planned gifts and remainder trusts.
This month, the university, which is currently celebrating its 50th anniversary, announced that it had received a pledge of $20 million from Guardian Industries Corp., the glass-manufacturing company run by William Davidson, an owner of the Detroit Pistons basketball team.
The gift -- which the school in Rehovot, Israel, says will be the largest private donation it has received -- will be used to establish the Davidson Institute of Science Education, a facility aimed at enriching pre-college science programs and curricula.
Although the Davidson gift is impressive by any fundraising standards, most American affiliates of Israeli universities focus their fundraising energies on cultivating major donors.
"We reach out to everybody," said Adam Kahan, executive director of American Friends of the Hebrew University. "But the fact is, the predominant focus is to reach out to major gifts," which are generally described in the field as those over $100,000.
Kahan's group has raised $180 million in new moneys at the halfway point in its current five-year campaign, which aims to raise $600 million by the year 2002 -- $367 million from American supporters.
The American Technion Society raised $740 million since its inception in 1940, according to its spokeswoman -- 91 percent in the last 20 years. Its latest three-year campaign exceeded its $175 million to $180 million goal and ended nine months early, having raised $210 million -- including a $30-million gift for a new business school, to be paid out over 10 years.
Even those groups outside the Philanthropy 400 report success in inspiring donors. The American Associates of Ben-Gurion University reports a "substantial jump" in 1998 total revenue to break $30 million for the first time, up from $25 million the previous year.
American Friends of Tel Aviv University raised a reported $15 million in 1997; figures for 1998 are currently unavailable.
Bernard Moscovitz, the executive vice president of the American Associates of Ben-Gurion, said that behind the impressive fundraising is a new class of philanthropists.
"Donors are far more educated and aware of alternatives" to umbrella fundraising campaigns such as the one carried out annually by the UJA, said Moscovitz, a former executive vice president at UJA.
Fundraisers at the UJA campaign -- which is now run through the United Jewish Communities and raised more than $760 million last year -- are equally aware of current philanthropic trends.
They, too, have developed diverse, giving opportunities, such as endowments and supplemental giving -- which raises $15 million to $20 million a year -- as well as Israeli partnership programs, in an effort to maintain a loyal donor base and attract new interest.
"People want options beyond the annual campaign,'' said Donald Kent, vice president for developing and marketing at the UJC, adding that the UJC encourages a broad range of philanthropy.
In this spirit, the UJC recently announced the creation of an independent foundation that will, in part, help match donors with Jewish needs around the world.