Call him a personal shopper, a matchmaker or a boutique investment adviser. However he is described, Joseph Hyman is trying to chart a new course in the world of Jewish philanthropy. A longtime Jewish organizational professional and fundraiser, Hyman last year launched the Center for Entrepreneurial Jewish Philanthropy (CEJP) to support and advise philanthropists who are considering major gifts to Jewish and Israel-related causes.
Hyman acts as the middle man between donors and organizations, working with philanthropists to understand their particular interests, then he hits the pavement to locate worthwhile organizations that meet their philanthropic requirements.
The center's goal is simple: to attract dollars to Jewish groups that might otherwise have gone elsewhere.
"If successful, we believe that CEJP will help to create a new paradigm in Jewish giving," said Hyman, who is going public about his organization for the first time. "One that empowers and inspires a new generation of philanthropists to participate because they want to, not because they have to."
His endeavor comes at a time when wealthy American Jews make a disproportionately high number of large gifts in United States but overwhelmingly make them to non-Jewish institutions. It also comes as philanthropists are increasingly looking to have a say in exactly where their dollars go.
The approach seems to be working.
Since its launch 19 months ago, the center already has facilitated more than $10 million in philanthropic donations to Jewish and Israel-related causes. Recipients include some well-known projects, such as Birthright Israel, which provides free, 10-day trips to Israel for young Jewish adults. They also include some lesser-known ones, including Meshi, a center in Israel offering the parents of special-needs children a break from child care, and Project Kesher, a group devoted to Jewish education and advocacy for women in the former Soviet Union. "CEJP is revolutionary," said Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, president and founder of The Israel Project, which has received two six-figure, multiyear commitments from donors working with the center.
"What it is doing," she said, "is taking the desires of the philanthropists to heart and saying, 'What is the outcome that you want? What is the investment that you want to make so that you can make positive change? And what's the most cost-effective, reliable way to achieve those goals?'"
"There are people out there who are not giving to the level that they're capable of giving," said Adam Frieman, a longtime investment banker on Wall Street and a financial sponsor of the new center, said, Some portion of that group would give meaningfully more if somebody were able to connect with them on a personal level and make the giving personal."
Hyman hopes that his efforts to eliminate much of the work involved in finding worthy causes will attract new dollars to Jewish groups.
"Beginning with the creation of Birthright about 10 years ago, it has been a core group of committed Jewish philanthropists who have challenged the community to move forward," said Hyman, who stresses that his work is meant to complement that of the federations and other more traditional fundraising arms, not replace them.
"We are now beginning to see a new generation of megadonors emerge whose support is crucial to our future."
The center today is working with nine North American philanthropists, including real estate developers, senior management of Fortune 500 companies and hedge fund managers, according to Hyman. And while all have donated to Jewish causes before, some now are giving at a much higher level.
Hyman likens the philanthropists "to world-class athletes who, with the proper support and coaching, can become Olympic gold medalists."
Donor-advised funds are not new, say philanthropy insiders, and in fact have become increasingly popular over the last number of years in Jewish philanthropic circles.
However, said Sue Dickman, executive vice president of The Jewish Communal Fund, which facilitates and promotes charitable giving through donor-advised funds, the center is doing something different.
"What we do and what other donor-advised funds do is simply facilitate people's philanthropy," she said. "We don't provide advice and input into the direction of their philanthropy. What Joe does is help people think strategically about their philanthropy and maximize the input that they can have."
Other Jewish groups, notably the Jewish Funders Network, offer some donor advice. And several organizations are doing similar work in the general philanthropic world - among them the Wealth and Giving Forum, Rockefeller Advisory Services and the Philanthropic Initiative in Boston.
The center is also seen as attractive because it is supported by investors and does not charge for its work. Donors say that for this reason, they feel the group's advice is objective.
"We felt that he could offer us something that we needed" because Hyman is "not connected to any particular organization but very well connected in the greater Jewish community both here in the U.S. and in Israel," said the administrator of a private family foundation in the Chicago area, who requested anonymity for reasons of privacy.
Nearly two years ago, shortly before the center was launched, Hyman sat down with a Chicago-based private investor Robert Sklare to chat about philanthropy. They spent about 10 hours talking, Sklare said, discussing the Jewish philanthropic interests he and his wife, Yadelle, shared, the areas that got them excited and the problems they hoped to help solve. Then Hyman got to work tracking down a series of organizations that fit their bill.
Several did. In fact, Sklare said, since then, he's donated a "substantial" amount of money to Israel-related organizations - certainly more than he'd have given had he never met Hyman.
He has since funded, among other groups, Birthright Israel; Karev, an after-school enrichment program for inner-city youngsters in Ashkelon, and Meitarim, a group of pluralistic schools that attempt to bridge the gap between religious and secular students.
According to Jeffrey Solomon, president of the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies, general philanthropy has nearly doubled in the last decade, and the growth of Hyman's center reflects that trend.
"I think we're going to see more and more different kinds of approaches to specialize it, make it more strategic, capture it," he said. "This is the first one that is specifically aimed at Jewish philanthropy."
Still, asked if this sort of philanthropy is the wave of the future, Solomon demurred.
"It's hard to know what would have happened had CEJP not been there," he said. "Would that money have gone to different Jewish organizations? To general charities? Would it have been given at all? While helping to direct millions of dollars is very impressive, it's hard to know what would have happened had it not been there."
Rabbi Irving Greenberg, president of the Jewish Life Network/Steinhardt Foundation, said that Michael Steinhardt, a megadonor to Jewish causes, was not initially convinced about Hyman's efforts, but after he demonstrated that "he had a little bit of a track record, Michael became a funder."
"I think it's very significant," Greenberg said of Hyman's approach. "My guess is that this has not only got legs, but that this is the wave of the future."