November 16, 2018

The art of pitching Israeli innovation to philanthropists

Flying for many years in the Israeli Air Force (IAF), made us IAF veterans somewhat skeptical of the “civilian” society. Being socialized in an organization where excellence is the norm, where nobody awards you for impeccably carrying out the most demanding mission, because they would expect nothing less from you, made it difficult for many of us to adjust in the totally different civilian environment.

Especially frustrating were the conferences, where there was hardly any focus and one couldn’t judge results because the goals were either vague or nonexistent (see President Peres’ conferences, for example), and where mingling and rubbing shoulders with celebs were the only benefits.

No wonder, then, that when I received an invitation from Joseph Hyman, Founder and President of the Center for Entrepreneurial Jewish Philanthropy (CEJP), to participate in an Israel Summit in New York, I didn’t have high expectations.

How wrong I was.

First of all, from the beginning, the goals of the Summit were crystal clear. In Hyman’s carefully drafted words, they meant “to strengthen the community of philanthropists interested in the areas of Media, Policy and the Israel Experience; to facilitate a discussion of new and powerful strategies, resulting in new collaborations that will make 1+1+1 = 5 [in the IAF 1+1+1 still equals 3, but I saw what he meant. UD]; introduce participants to new organizations and educate them; and motivate each attendee to meet with at least 2-3 organizations with the goal of providing vital investments dollars”.

Then came the impeccable organization of the Summit, the most tachlis-oriented event I have ever frequented, which led exactly to meeting these goals. In a day-and-a-half event (Jan. 23-24), modeled after Venture Capital Investment Conferences, 17 representatives of organizations with an Israeli agenda had the chance to pitch for 20 minutes sharp each, thus giving the philanthropists in the room a quick sense of what they were doing and what they needed.

The big question was: Will the philanthropists actually show up? Not only because this was an unprecedented, innovative event, but mainly because New York was hit at the time by a most severe storm. Much to our surprise and joy, they showed up, and in full force. Hyman described it vividly: “In the aftermath of last week’s 10 inch snowstorm, Mike Leven’s plane touched down at Westchester airport. It was 12:30 am and Mike, the President of the Las Vegas Sands, had come to New York for 24 hours to launch a potentially ‘game changing’ entrepreneurial venture. Earlier that day, Larry Hochberg caught the only plane out of Los Angeles for New York. He too saw the coming two days as a chance to change the face of Jewish philanthropy. In cities all across the country including San Francisco, Los Angeles, Los Vegas, Chicago, Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia and Boston, philanthropists, trustees and leading foundation professionals weathered the storm and traveled to New York to launch a new Venture Capital model that could ultimately drive $100 million and more in philanthropic investments into the Jewish world and Israel”.

The Summit itself went smoothly, with some 75 philanthropist listening to this exceptional parade of high-powered presentations, as well as to speeches by Ron Prossor, Israel’s Ambassador to the UN, and others. Over meals and cocktails, deals were made. When Sandy Frankel, the trustee of the Helmsley Charitable Trust ($4 BILLION to give away), encouraged representatives of Israeli-oriented organizations to come to him with ideas, people knew that they were part of a serious business indeed.

Hyman, always a man of grand style, summed up the Summit: “If Birthright taught us that we can change the paradigm, then CEJP is committed to ‘kicking down the door’ in our quest for ‘Wall Street’ type products that will drive tens of millions of dollars of Jewish philanthropic investments into the Jewish world. In the coming weeks you will begin to see CEJP unveil a series of ‘game changing’ initiatives with potential for enormous impact.”

Wow. And there is more: “For those who braved the snow and reaffirmed their enormous commitment to the State of Israel, last week’s Summit was no disappointment… and in the future, when CEJP will have completed 20-30 Summits, they will be able to tell their children and grandchildren ‘I was there at the first one… and made history’.”

Is Hyman exaggerating? Being there, feeling the energy and already getting tangible results from the Summit, I don’t think he is.

Uri Dromi is the Director General of the Jerusalem Press Club (JPC).