Food, money and Jews


The issue of all issues in the nonprofit world must surely be how to attract donors to your cause. Every day, thousands of good causes vie for the attention of those with big hearts and the capacity to give.

There are countless ways of getting funding — foundation grants, federations, private donors, personal connections, revenue-driving programming, fundraising galas, crowdfunding and, of course, a rich uncle. It’s not an exact science. Raising money in the Jewish world can be one big wonderful mess.

Into this mess have jumped Gila and Adam Milstein, with a dose of Israeliness.

Adam is co-founder and national chairman of the fast-growing Israeli American Council (IAC); Gila is president of Stand By Me, an organization that supports Israeli-American cancer patients and their families in Los Angeles. They are co-founders of the Milstein Family Foundation, which supports a wide range of pro-Israel organizations.

The Milsteins live and breathe the nonprofit world, so they should know what’s missing. A year ago they saw an opportunity, and with the help of friends started The Donor Forum, a private, flexible and efficient model to connect pro-Israel donors with pro-Israel causes.

About once a month, a group of donors gets together over lunch to hear pitches from representatives of select causes. It’s great if you have a short attention span — the pitches last less than 15 minutes and direct solicitations are not allowed. The idea is to make connections and let the parties follow up.

Forum members commit to giving a minimum of $10,000 annually to the organizations featured. A steering committee of prominent local philanthropists selects the causes, recommends new members and contributes a minimum of $25,000 annually to those causes.

Why do I say this funding model is like a dose of Israeliness? It’s not just because my friend Adam and I frequently use that term when talking about what the IAC has brought to the Jewish community. Adam didn’t specifically refer to “Israeliness” when he brought up the forum, but he didn’t have to. It clearly applies.

One reason is the speed and simplicity — it’s chik chak, you’re in and out. There’s no yearlong process of cultivating donors and building relationships so you can eventually make an ask. Here, the connections get made instantly. It’s all about the quality of the idea and the people making the pitch, and you see it all in one shot, face to face.

The other sign of Israeliness is the kind of causes the Milsteins pick — feisty with significant potential. Some of the groups that already have made pitches to the forum include JLens, Reservists on Duty, The Lawfare Project, Heroes to Heroes and My Truth.

Here, the connection gets made instantly. It’s all about the quality of the idea and the people making the pitch, and you see it all in one shot, face to face.

At the forum’s most recent luncheon a few weeks ago in Westwood, I saw two pitches — from the Haym Salomon Center (HSC), a news and public policy group; and Students Supporting Israel, a pro-Israel grassroots movement on college and high school campuses. HSC is involved in something like guerrilla hasbara, or public relations. It creates all kinds of original content — news stories, commentary, analysis, opinion pieces — that it disseminates throughout the mainstream media to benefit Israel and the Jewish community.

At the luncheon, the HSC’s presenter showed his hand right away: We must transform the culture if we want to influence the views on Israel, and the best and quickest way to do that is through the mainstream media, he said.

He showed examples of how media stories can be biased against Israel while being completely accurate. He also showed how a headline slanted against Israel can easily be fixed. Then he rattled off the obligatory metrics — more than 1,200 articles and media mentions published online and in print, bylines in prestigious publications, and so on — and where new money would go to help them grow.

After about 10 minutes, donors had the key information they needed.

Representatives of the second group, Students Supporting Israel (SSI), were definitely feisty. The two presenters who run the organization said they were all about “boots on the ground,” and showed how they have mobilized students on more than 40 campuses to open SSI chapters and advocate for Israel using creative techniques built on unabashed Zionist pride. Of the examples they showed, I think my favorite was a huge blowup doll of Pinocchio right next to an Israel apartheid wall.

They also rattled off metrics, which included victories against Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions initiatives and the passing of pro-Israel resolutions. They showed their budget and how much money they were looking for to accelerate their growth. Every funding item was fully detailed.

It was clear to me that both the donors and the causes at the forum were vetted to be passionately and unapologetically pro-Israel. After the lunch, there was plenty of happy schmoozing and sharing of contact information, which will undoubtedly lead to donations.

The only Israeli things missing were the Turkish coffee and a little more arguing.


David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.