Jewish Funders Network Gathers
he Jewish Funders Network 2005 International Conference this year drew more than 300 people to the Hyatt Regency at the Inner Harbor April 3-5, its biggest-ever crowd, to explore with peers the new face of philanthropy.
The event, called "Investing in People: Cultivating Leaders for Our Future," centered on the theme of the individual. Though philanthropy often is driven by new ideas or projects, those concepts can't succeed without quality people behind them, according to conference co-chair Sandy Cardin, head of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation.
Guests included David Bornstein, author of "How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas," Marie C. Wilson, founder and president of The White House Project, and Laura Samberg, co-director of the Samberg Family Foundation. They spoke on cultivating leaders and other concepts, including how to connect with future generations of donors and how to make gifts effective and meaningful.
The goal of each conference, said JFN president Mark Charendoff, is to encourage philanthropists, Jewish federation professionals, fund-raisers and other participants to meet one another and learn about trends in their field.
Mr. Cardin's co-chair, Terry Meyerhoff Rubenstein, executive vice president of the Joseph and Harvey Meyerhoff Family Charitable Funds, noted Tuesday morning that attendees were spending ample time getting to know one another. As the bell chimed at 10:30 a.m. to indicate the beginning of the next session of workshops, conference participants who stood chatting in small groups throughout the lobby were reluctant to disband.
"We can't get people into the workshops," said Ms. Rubenstein, laughing. "That's always a sign of a good conference."
Mr. Cardin said this year's theme of investing in individuals rather than programs or ideas and not just with money but with technology and other types of support is not necessarily revolutionary.
"It's not so much a new idea it's a different way of thinking about the work we do," he said. "Ultimately, [a project's success] always comes down to the implementation and the people who do that implementation. The best ideas in the world won't be very effective if the people who are implementing them aren't getting it right."
Through about a dozen small workshops per day and several larger plenary sessions in the hotel's ballrooms, the conference's organizers tried to help the participants explore the trends in and future of Jewish philanthropy.
Workshop topics included how to support an aging population, which featured Jewish Family Services executive director Barbara Gradet, appropriate disaster responses to events like last year's tsunami, which featured American Jewish World Service president and executive director Ruth Messinger, and effective non-profit governance, featuring Alice Kolman, director of the Children of Harvey & Lynn Meyerhoff Philanthropic Fund. Some sessions closed to the press appealed to the unique situation of family philanthropists, including a workshop featuring the Blaustein Foundations' Betty Blaustein Roswell and Michael Hirschhorn speaking on how to work effectively within the various generations of a family. The conference is not about lecturing participants on the future direction of philanthropy, said Mr. Cardin, but rather engaging them in discussion about new ideas. The intergenerational theme, for example, as well as that focus on the individual, permeated many of the event's workshops and seminars.
"It's changing the language. The language is very important," Mr. Cardin said. "It's a buzz you get the conversation going."
In one morning workshop Tuesday, the presenters seemed determined to dialogue with their audience. Speaking on how to fund Jewish generational change as a philanthropic leader, Sharna Goldseker, director of special projects at the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies; Morlie Levin, vice president of donor strategic initiatives at the Los Angeles Federation; and Aliza Mazor, an organizational specialist with Bikkurim: An Incubator of New Jewish Ideas, worked to involve their listeners in the conversation.
The direction of the presentation quickly moved toward how to appeal to younger funders who may be put off by the traditions of Jewish philanthropy. Ms. Goldseker, daughter of Sheldon Goldseker, chair of the Goldseker Foundation, described a study her organization has commissioned through a Washington pollster on how young people identify themselves religiously. From about 1,400 young people of varying religions Catholic, Protestant, Jewish the organization is finding that about 27 percent of the group describes itself as "Godly," or devout. The same percentage identifies as "Godless," or more secular. But 46 percent fall in the "undecided middle," she said. Foundations should "call the bluff" of those disaffected middlers, Ms. Goldseker said, asking them, "What are you inheriting from your family legacy of philanthropy? What do they want to do about that? What do they want to give down the road?"
Ms. Levin encouraged her audience to embrace the differences in younger generations of philanthropists, including emphasizing the idea of "giving not really being a gift, but being an investment." Young entrepreneurs with money to give, she added, like to see donations in that light.
Moderator Brent Copen, a senior associate, financial services, at the Nonprofit Finance Fund, asked the panel's listeners to name the aspirations they have for future generations. "What would success look like?" he asked. Suggestions included a Jewish day school in every town, more quality of investments than quantity, more risk- taking in philanthropy, more inclusiveness and more diversity in leadership. Yosef I. Abramowitz, founder of Jewish Family & Life, shared with the panel his experiences as a recipient of philanthropic funds. After the program, he reflected on the industry's slow move toward appreciating and supporting the individual. "I think it's a natural evolution," he said. Philanthropists "are now seeing the key to all of this is individuals."
The conference and its ideas, he said, are invaluable, in contrast to events where community organizations go to solicit funds for their work. "People here have independent funds," Mr. Abramowitz said. "You get the most creativity here, and it's not just talk."
Sheldon Goldseker, who said this year marked his eighth annual JFN conference, said his family's foundation sprung years ago from ideas gathered at industry conferences he had attended. A member of JFN, he also sat on the event's host committee. "There's so much going on here, both Jewishly and non-Jewishly," he said. "I always learn here. But more importantly, I feel invigorated."