Expanding Israel's NIS 100K Philanthropy Club

Almost half of Israeli nonprofits’ funding comes from the government, while relatively few Israelis donate more than NIS 100,000 to NGOs here. A new initiative is seeking to change that.

Nonprofit organizations continue to rely heavily on government support, according to data released earlier this month by the Central Bureau of Statistics. The state agency reported that only 10.5% of nonprofits’ revenues came from Israeli households or businesses last year. Another 8.5% came from overseas donors. Fully 48% of nonprofits’ revenues, however, came from the Israeli government or local authorities. And finally, almost 30% of the collective revenue of nonprofits was derived from the sale of services, including services provided to the state.

Contributions to Israeli nonprofits are not commonly raised the way they are by many organizations in the United States. For example, a dinner where each guest donates tens of thousands of dollars to a good cause is not a common sight here. And while wealthy American businesspeople know that some level of giving back to the community is part and parcel of being in business, many of the well-off in Israel prefer to keep their money in their own pockets.

In 2011, only 4% of the donations here were from well-off Israelis giving more than NIS 100,000 of their own money. Now though, a group of wealthy Israeli donors have decided it’s time to change all that, with 18 signing up to an initiative called Committed to Give.

The goal is simple: To increase the number of people in Israel who contribute more than NIS 100,000 per year from the 1,000 that do so today (among 10,000 considered to be sufficiently well-off) to 2,000 individuals within a few years. The method is simple, too: Inviting those who have not yet contributed to take part in conversations and meetings presenting the initiative.

"We believe in private giving because, in every free economy, the government budget is constrained and many areas fall through the cracks,” says Orni Petruschka, a high-tech entrepreneur who is part of the initiative. “Relative to other places around the world, private giving in Israel is rather low.”

Petruschka was a cofounder of high-tech company Chromatis Networks, which was acquired by Lucent Technologies in 2000 for $4.5 billion in stock. He is also chairman of the Abraham Fund Initiative, which promotes interaction betweeen Arabs and Jews in Israel. He says Israel's socialist past is partly to blame for well-off Israelis’ lack of charitable giving.

“For us, the socialist era created our societal DNA,” Petruschka says. “We expect that the state will do it, even when it can't. We all grew up on the ethos of volunteering, not donating private money, and we prefer to contribute from the corporation's money.”

Fellow initiative member Avi Naor agrees. “The fact that you contributed from the corporation’s money - assuming it was done in a proper and transparent way - does not absolve you from contributing from your own pocket,” he says.

Naor was one of the founders of software giant Amdocs, and is also a founder and chairman of the nonprofit Or Yarok Association for Safer Driving in Israel. He says that, typically, Committed to Give meets with people who made their money in high-tech - primarily, men between the ages of 40 and 50 who feel the time has come for them to give back to the community.

However, Naor says the initiative is not limited to high-tech people. "We seek out everyone,” he says, in a bid “to effect change in the field of Israeli philanthropy.”

Limor Edery