March 22, 2007
A Big Giver
(Page 2 - Previous Page)He announced the night had raised more than $4 million, and that in addition the UJ would be receiving two mega-gifts: $32 million with the help of Bruce Whizin, for whose parents the Department of Continuing Education will be renamed the Whizin Center for Continuing Education, and an anonymous donation of $18 million for the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies. These gifts would come not over time, but all at once. That's the kind of local mega-donation that the community needs. But, Lowy said, it doesn't come easily.
"During my tenure as chairman there is a critical issue that I have come across and would like to talk about this evening," he said.
"Unfortunately, the professionalism, financial acumen, and governance procedures that I see at many of our communal organizations leaves a lot to be desired.
Every time a donor in our community gives a large donation to a non-Jewish institution, there are pages of editorials in the Jewish press asking why this is happening. There is then a tendency to blame the donors for neglecting their own community."
"While sometimes this may be true, what we really need to do is look inward and ask ourselves: 'Are our communal institutions capable not only of soliciting large donations, but of properly accepting them?' When I look at our Jewish donor base, I see extremely successful individuals, or families, who are ready to donate -- I would call it invest -- large sums within the wider community. To do so, the donors expect the highest level of financial stewardship, corporate governance, operational expertise, and transparency."
"When we in the Jewish community take a good hard look at ourselves, can we honestly say that our institutions meet that standard? Do we aspire to the standards of major institutions in the city such as USC, UCLA, or LACMA, for example -- all of which benefit from major investments from members of our own community? If we look at the actions of the major Jewish philanthropists, the answer must be no! Even when our donors do invest large sums in the community they are often setting up their own new organizations, not investing in the current ones."
"I believe that if we work to apply the best practices from corporate America and institute a level of professionalism, corporate governance, transparent reporting practices and financial skills, that will go a long way to convince donors that their communal investments will be used appropriately and effectively."
It wasn't the usual sort of you're-all-so-wonderful blather you hear at most of these events. It was you-all-can-do-better.
One reason Lowy can say this is he and Janine are hands-on donors. In addition to the UJ, Lowy sits on the board of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. She is on the educational cabinet of Pressman Academy and the board of Camp Ramah. It's not just the mega-money, it's the mega-hours.
Lowy's success at the UJ offers a few lessons, and a quandary. "It proves a few things," Wexler said. "One, that boards should make way for youthful leadership and diversity. Two, that breaking denominational barriers pays off. And three, that megadonors can have a mega-impact on their community."
And, I'll add, it raises a vexing chicken-and-egg dilemma: often it takes the deep involvement of donors like Lowy to help shape an institution to the point where it can attract other donors like the Lowys.
So, who's next?
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