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  • Andres Spokoiny

What’s the difference between 45,000 and 4,300? Millions.

Israel, a country of fewer than 8 million people has 45,000 registered nonprofit organizations. This ratio, one of the highest proportions in the world, is due in part (of course) to the proverbial “one Jew, two synagogues”, but also in part to duplication and the proliferation of nonprofits that are far from solid – to put it mildly.

For funders, navigating this seemingly saturated nonprofit landscape is made even more difficult by Israel’s arcane legal rules for the sector. In the USA, the IRS certifies nonprofits as meeting baseline standards, and that’s it. In Israel, it’s a little more complicated: as many as 45,000 nonprofits, amutot, are registered by the Ministry of Justice, with 34,000 active; from these, though, only 15,000 have received the “ishur nihul takin” (certificate of proper management), and even fewer—only 4,300, qualify for “46a status”, the tax exemption equivalent to an American 501(c)(3).

These numbers underscore the difficulty of doing high-quality, independent grantmaking in Israel. To navigate this complex landscape and sort out the good, impactful nonprofits from the rest is daunting. Add cultural differences, language barriers and basic physical distance, and the task—important as it is—becomes virtually impossible.

In past decades, donors could count on the “central organizations” (Federations, JAFI, JDC) to channel their Israel funding, but as we’ve become more sophisticated and take a more hands-on role, identifying fields and choosing organizations, there’s a clear and painful lack of tools to support funders in strategic Israel giving. While some foundations have established offices in Israel, that is costly and out of reach, for all but the biggest.

Adding to the complexity is “friends of”—600 of them in America. They do a great job in steering interest in Israeli causes and telling the story of important nonprofits, but it’s a blessing and a curse: they don’t make it easy for funders to make decisions. Complicating things further, many Israeli “philanthropic advisors” wear double hats, simultaneously serving in fundraising roles for nonprofits. Naturally, their advice is far from neutral.

With such as complicated picture making good grantmaking decisions so difficult, valuable resources make only a fraction of the impact they could be making, or even worse are lost completely. Collectively, the difficulty of navigating the Israeli nonprofit landscape costs the Jewish People millions .

But what to do? We want to invest in Israel. It’s our common Jewish Project and has real, concrete issues—security, education, shared citizenship, and more—that all need to be addressed. As funders, we see Israel as a place where philanthropy can make a difference. Despite all the difficulties, we have seen an explosion of independent grantmaking in Israel.

Taking all this into consideration, JFN decided earlier this year to expand its work in Israel to offer philanthropic advisory services to overseas funders who want to do right with their investments in Israel. We now assist funders by mapping the field, sorting out the most impactful nonprofits, and helping them define strategies and connect with other funders who share their interests.

JFN’s position to provide these services is unique. On the one hand, we are the only “neutral” provider; we’re completely agnostic regarding which field you fund or what organization. Our only mandate is to make sure that the funding is as impactful as it can be.

Second, our biggest asset is our network. As part of the process of navigating the Israeli philanthropic landscape, we can count on local Israeli philanthropists to provide their on-the-ground input and guidance. A new funder’s exploration of the field becomes an exciting opportunity for partnership and collaboration.

Even with the tough landscape, then JFN is in a unique position to help funders overcome the hurdles and hit the ground running. If you’re interested in making a bigger impact in Israel, Offi Zisser, our director of Advisory Services in Israel, is going to be in the US in late October and has some availability to take individual meetings with members. If you are interested, please let us know ASAP or, if you’d like to start a more general conversation, just send me an email at any time.


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