NEW YORK – The first gift check Jill Rosenberg, a rising star in the world of Jewish philanthropy, ever wrote was for $36 when she was a student at Princeton University in the early 1980s.
Today she’s a prominent member of an unsung group of women leaders in the field. A partner at a leading international law firm, she gives more than $30,000 a year to causes inside and outside the Jewish community.
She has also created a legacy gift with the UJA-Federation of New York.
“I think it’s part of my identity being Jewish, to help others who are in need,” she told The Jerusalem Post. “It’s part of who I am.”
Many American Jewish women have been engaged in the field over the years, either on their own, or as part of a family, making significant financial gifts and other contributions to the Jewish world. Yet, they do not get much visibility.
Beth Mann, the Jewish Federations of North America’s director of advancement, said the potential of Jewish women donors like Rosenberg is very significant and often overlooked.
After studying the issue, JFNA established specific giving channels for women. They includes a national Women’s Philanthropy segment, representing about a quarter of the funds raised by the federation each year as part of its annual campaign, as well as a society for women making large gifts, called The Lions of Judah, for which the threshold annual commitment is $5,000. With 17,500 members, the group also includes $600 million in pledged assets.
“One day there is going to be a general campaign and a men’s campaign,” Mann told the Post. “Women are the fastest growing part of the annual campaign and the Federation system. It’s a very, very strong constituency.”
For Rosenberg, philanthropy is only a “natural consequence” of her upbringing.
“I come from a family who was certainly committed to Jewish causes, to a very strong Jewish identity and to the concept of giving back to the community,” she told the Post. “My parents were very involved through our synagogue, volunteering and being active in all aspects of the synagogue.
“They always gave money to Jewish causes,” she said. “I don’t think they were huge benefactors in any way, they weren’t extremely wealthy or anything, but that was part of their life.”
These values, Rosenberg said, where instilled in her from a young age, and when she finally had the opportunity to get involved in Jewish philanthropy on her own, she seized it.
Rosenberg does most of her giving through the UJA-Federation of New York, which a colleague introduced her to at the start of her law career.
She also serves on the board of the New York Legal Assistance Group, an organization that serves the working poor, providing free legal services.
“I’m single, I’ve never been married, and this is something I do for myself.” she told the Post. “I’m fortunate that I have a good career and have the ability to be philanthropic.”
For Angelica Berrie, who grew up in the Philippines and attended an all-girls Catholic school, the idea of charity was confined to the small collection basket at church, where every Sunday congregants would drop bills and coins anonymously.
But after she moved to the United States, became Jewish and begun engaging in philanthropy, she was faced with a completely different approach to giving.
“I came from that background into a world of Jewish philanthropy in New Jersey where people stand up and pledge in federations, and it was really a culture shock for me,” she told the Post.
Today, Berrie is one of the leading Jewish women philanthropists, donating hundreds of millions of dollars to a variety of causes ranging from education to health, interfaith bridge-building, Jewish life and Israel.
She began her philanthropic career in 2002, after her husband, famous toy maker Russell Berrie of Russ Berrie & Co., died. Mr. Berrie had established the Russell Berrie Foundation in the mid-’80s. In 1998, Fortune magazine called him one of the 40 most generous men in America. But now, it was Angelica Berrie’s turn to take the reins and continue making a difference in the world.
“The first thing I did after he passed away was to meet with other women Jewish philanthropists,” she recalled.
“I think it is the most helpful thing I did, because I understood what it meant and how you had to navigate this world of philanthropy as a woman.
“There is so little information about women’s giving because they are not as overt as men in the way they give,” Berrie told the Post.
One of the people Berrie turned to for advice when she began her journey as a Jewish philanthropist was Lynn Schusterman, who has been recognized as driving force in the field for more than 40 years.
Schusterman had established her family foundation with her husband, Charles, in 1987. Their goal was to “spread the joy of Jewish living, giving and learning around the world.
“We wanted to start using some of the resources that we had been blessed with to create the foundation and basically mainly focus it as a Jewish foundation,” she said.
Because Charles had been sick for many years before he died, Schusterman had already been doing most of the work at the foundation, traveling for projects and making strategic connections along the way.
The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation is today a leading organization when it comes to Jewish philanthropy. Lynn Schusterman also holds a variety of leadership positions in organizations such as BBYO, Hillel International, Repair the World and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. In addition, she is a founding member of the Birthright Israel Foundation.
Beyond the Jewish community, women’s philanthropy in the US in general has changed a lot of over the past 40 years, as much progress was made in reaching financial and social equality with men.
According to a research published by Indiana University’s School of Philanthropy in May 2015, “with increasing incomes, educational attainment, and control over wealth, women have never before had so much control over philanthropic resources.”
The study, titled “How and Why Women Give,” showed that in single- headed households, women are more likely to give to charity and give more than similarly situated men, and women tend to spread their giving across more organizations, while men tend to concentrate their giving.
When it comes to married couples, the majority decide on charitable giving jointly, the study showed.
Another study, conducted in 2011 by Bank of America Merrill Lynch, found that in nearly 90% of high net worth households, women are either the sole decision-maker or an equal partner in decisions about charitable giving.
When approaching married couples, JFNA’s Mann said, organizations that fund-raise often fail to recognize the key role women play.
“If there is a family gift, which means a woman is not giving a gift on her own but as part of a family, nine times out of 10, they do overlook the woman and they speak with the man, when in reality women are the ones who are making the philanthropic choices for the most part,” she said.
Karen Berman, CEO of the American Society of the University of Haifa, has noticed these trends in her interaction with donors over the past two years.
“Our base here skews a bit older, and it’s a lot of men, but it’s also a lot of couples.” she told the Post. “In general I think philanthropy is a family decision, like any major purchasing decision.... especially with philanthropy because it is much more of an emotional decision, and particularly with Israeli philanthropy.”
As she fund-raises in the US for the university, Berman engages with her existing donor base but also cultivates new relationships.
“I would say of the newer [donors] it’s almost half women,” she told the Post. “Among women statistically a lot of them are newer to philanthropy, although some of the most effective Jewish philanthropists happened to be women and happened to have been in philanthropy a long time.
“There is a practical element where women live longer than men, so ultimately, women are controlling the money. They just are,” Berman said. “Fifty percent of the population has to have a voice in what’s going on. I think people are realizing that women have to engage.”
For Angelica Berrie, having a voice is crucial as a woman in philanthropy.
“Regardless of whether you have a board of trustees, your voice as a person when you do things philanthropically, when you have to lead, is important,” she said. “You have to grow in order to make sure you’re heard.”
That growth, she told the Post, requires assertiveness.
“When I was newly widowed, there would be people who’d come to me and say, ‘if Russ were alive I know this is what he do,’ and I would say, ‘First of all he is not alive, and second of all I’m the one who’s standing here,’” she recalled. “Sometimes you don’t want to be assertive but they put you in that pressure point.”
Lynn Schusterman too recalls not being taken seriously when she first took the reins of her foundation, after her husband died. On at least two occasions, she had to bring prominent Jewish male philanthropists with her to meeting with nonprofit organizations in order to be regarded as a serious donor, even though her gift was much larger that the men’s.
“I felt humiliated, I felt the belittled, and I felt angry and hurt,” she said. “But I think it kind of made me understand what some of the suffragettes and women had gone through for generations.
“As far as the way I’m treated now, it has totally changed,” she admits.
“Today, because I’ve been active for 17 years now, I think that today people do understand that I put my money where my mouth is. I would not have to bring someone with me to a meeting today.”
Rosenberg, however, told the Post she has not felt any difference in how she and her male counterparts are treated. She believes this is perhaps related to the fact that her giving is done through a professional lens: Rosenberg is part of the UJA-Federation’s Lawyer’s Division, where donors are mostly regarded in their professional capacities.
“There are very successful professional Jewish women who are involved,” she said. “I think the model of professional women committed to philanthropy is one that has taken hold, I don’t hear people talking about a difference in the circle in which I operate.”
As the 2015 Indiana University study shows, there are still key differences in women’s and men’s attitudes toward their charitable giving.
For example, women are more likely to give as part of a group, or at least share their giving experience with other women.
“Women are more bridging leaders, they are learners,” Berrie said.
“They don’t need to be at the front of the parade and it’s not an ego thing. Women don’t need to see their names plastered on a building, they are not going to negotiate the size of their plaque.”
Rosenberg said, “It’s not just about writing a check. [Women] want to feel more connected to their giving and so there’s more of a group dynamic of having events, educating and letting people see what the results are of the gift that they might give, and how they can have an impact.”
She added that one of the strengths of women’s need to come together is that they have the ability to lead by example and empower other women to give as well.
“There is so much potential,” Rosenberg said. “I think women could be really effective [in Jewish philanthropy].”
According to Mann of JFNA, “men give based on who’s asking and women give based on who’s receiving.
“Women are much more interested in the stories of the beneficiaries, in impact of their philanthropy,” she said. “Everyone is moving toward impact philanthropy now, but it’s particularly true for women.
“The way men’s philanthropy is structured, it’s based on who they get access to,” Mann continued. “That’s why there still is a women’s philanthropy, that’s why there is still a way of engaging that is different.”