The New Philanthropy in Israel: Ethnography of Mega Donors

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The present study presents prevalent attitudes among mega-donors1, individuals who are both business leaders and leading donors in Israel, including their philanthropic identity, their philosophy of giving, their motivations for giving, their giving practices, and their views of the first and third sectors. This study is based on in-depth interviews conducted from November 2006 through June 2007 with 14 representatives of this group. Philanthropy in Israel, and particularly that which is led by a new generation of donors who come from the business world, is currently in the midst of a process of change. For this reason, I chose to adopt a qualitative methodology, conducting in-depth interviews with representatives of this group of donors, in the belief that this would make it possible to identify not only their individual perspectives and insights on the field of philanthropy, but also the processes of construction and reconstruction of Israeli philanthropy. More than anything else, so it seems, this group of donors exemplifies a perceived shift taking place in Western philanthropy through which spontaneous, individual or romanticized charitable giving based on the values of compassion and “alms for the poor” is being replaced by a more "Rational Philanthropy" based upon the personal involvement of donors who see themselves as investors rather than philanthropists. The present study aims to explore the conceptual framework of this Rational Philanthropy, which has been imported and adapted from the business world and includes performance measures, transparency standards, and structured, goal-oriented practices. Common motivations for giving cited by Israeli megadonors include, but are not limited to, a desire to influence national macro-social developments in Israel, a desire to give back to the society in which they were educated and in which they amassed their wealth, social pressures, and most of all, a quest for meaning. This study will also touch upon the interviewees' attitudes toward the first [governmental] sector as well as toward the third [nonprofit] sector. The philanthropists' view of the government is markedly negative; this is evident in their expressed disappointment with the government for not providing its citizens with the most basic services, mainly health care and education. Nevertheless, despite their negative view of the government and government officials, the vast majority of 1 Mega-donors are affluent individuals who donate large sums. Individuals interviewed in this study donated gifts ranging from a few million dollars to tens of millions of dollars. 7 interviewees believed they should cooperate with the government and placed the responsibility of regulating and coordinating all philanthropic efforts in Israel in its hands. The interviewees' views of the nonprofit sector ranged from complete disregard for government-like organizations, such as the Israeli chapter of the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces [“Ha'aguda Lema'an Hahayal”], to full cooperation with private foundations and nonprofit organizations. An attitude found dominant in this work is that defined here as “Patriotic Philanthropy”. Patriotic Philanthropy denotes philanthropic investments in educational and community projects intended to strengthen and reinforce the Jewish-Zionist national and secular collective. Patriotic Philanthropy thus seemingly embodies an Ethno-Republican civil discourse focused on the collective and national good rather than on personal welfare or group rights (centered on individual rights, property rights and personal liberties or the rights of ethnic groups, respectively).
Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)1-91
JournalRetrieved August
StatePublished - 2008


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