MA Jewish Life MA News

Women’s Philanthropy: Inspiring Women and Building Community

By Laura Porter

Women give – and they give independently, from the heart, and with purpose. Statistics show that 74 percent of female business owners and corporate executives earned their wealth on their own, and 84 percent make their own decisions about philanthropy whether or not they are married. Forty-seven percent of women versus 39 percent of men believe that giving is a moral imperative.
And, in 2010, women controlled 60 percent of the nation’s wealth. In another twenty years, they will be the primary recipients of between $400 billion and $2.3 trillion in inherited wealth.
Given those numbers, it should come as no surprise that, in the Jewish world too, women’s philanthropy campaigns are rising to the top of annual federation campaigns.
In 2013, the national Women’s Philanthropy Campaign raised $184 million.
Lions of Judah, those women recognized for annual Federation gifts of $5,000 or more, raised $27 million in 2012. More than 3500 Lions have endowed their annual gifts to the tune of $565 million in pledged assets.
In Western Massachusetts, says Amy Berg Nee, Strategic Philanthropy Manager of the Jewish Federation of Western Massachusetts (JFWM), the women’s philanthropy campaign is “growing by leaps and bounds.”
“Women’s philanthropy is a wonderful training ground” for leadership, says Nee. “Our mission is to help raise money for the community and help inspire women. It’s about building community.”
Historically, most women’s campaigns through federations have been organized through the women’s “division,” a term JFWM dropped “because it sounds divisive,” Nee says.
At JFWM, Betsey Freedman chairs the Women’s Philanthropy Steering Committee in Western Massachusetts as well as the women’s campaign. She is also in her second year on the National Board of Women’s Philanthropy, which has 84 members from North America. A vice president of the Federation board, she sits on its Endowment Board as well as the Endowment Investment Board.
“Betsey has made it her goal not only to revive our program but to put it on the map,” says Amy Nee.
Certainly, she has learned a lot from her involvement with the national board, says Freedman, as well as from the CCCT trip she and Nee took together in 2013 to Israel and Belarus.
“I saw [Women’s Philanthropy as taking] a different path [from the past],” she says. “I was looking for women who had careers, who were interested in becoming leaders and training people to help meet the needs in their communities.”
As part of that shift, Freedman has honed in on the makeup of the Steering Committee, insisting on highly committed members and bringing in women from the Upper Valley, broadening involvement beyond the Lower Valley.
During her first year, nominations for new committee members came just from the Steering Committee itself; now, members of both the Federation Board as well as the Federation’s Endowment Board can nominate “women whom they believe would be wonderful,” she says.
In the two years since she has chaired the Steering Committee, donations have been up 25 percent each year.
The emphasis has been to recognize and empower women, a tone set from the outset every year by the Shabbaton Retreat.
A practice begun under Rhonda Goldberg, the former chair of the Steering Committee, the retreat brings committee members together for a weekend at a member’s home at Mount Snow in Vermont. Through conversation, challah making and Shabbat worship, the group discusses ideas and plans for the year ahead. This fall, the facilitator was Meredith Dragon, the Executive Director of JFWM.
The bonding experience “has increased the commitment of women and has itself created a buzz,” says Amy Nee.
That buzz has resulted in an abundance of creative programming.
“13 Extraordinary Women,” now in its second year, is a program that chooses 13 women from among sixty nominations to be publicly honored in an event held at Open Square in Holyoke.
Home for the Holidays raises funds by organizing a round robin celebration of five holidays (Sukkot through Passover). Five women open their homes, set their tables to reflect holiday traditions, and welcome visitors to enjoy food provided by local Jewish caterers. Tickets are $36, and, last year, the event raised $2,000 for the PJ Library.
Women’s Philanthropy at JFWM has sponsored a book during the Jewish Book Festival and a movie day during the annual film festival, the reception held at the University of Massachusetts Holocaust Center.
They have reestablished a dormant Federation fund intended to support mothers and children and donated $7,000 of its accumulated interest to Rachel’s Table. A new program, Mothers and Children, teaches Jewish traditions to non-Jewish mothers.
By adopting the Step Up program from the national board, the Steering Committee made it possible for donors to reach specific levels of giving by pledging over a period of several years.

A Renaissance
In Central Massachusetts, women’s giving has undergone a similar renaissance under the leadership of Toby Richmond.
Richmond, long active in the Worcester Jewish community, joined the board of the Jewish Federation of Central Massachusetts (JFCM) in the fall of 2013. As part of that commitment, she agreed to become a Lion of Judah.
Shortly afterwards, she received a Shanah Tovah card from Betsey Freedman, an old friend whom she hadn’t seen in ten years. In the spring of 2014, they traveled together on a Lion of Judah bus trip to New York City, a connection that reflected the bond among women working for Federation.
For Richmond, the bus trip was a pivotal experience. The group enjoyed lunch at the New York Federation offices as well as a visit to the Chagall exhibit at the Jewish Museum, and she “shopped for knockoffs” with women from the Hartford chapter “who welcomed me, a complete stranger, into their midst.”
The experience showed her that “women want to be part of an organization that will give them an avenue for social growth as well as a chance to raise money for a good cause,” she says.
Upon her return, she observed to Howard Borer, Federation’s Executive Director in Central Massachusetts, that “the Worcester Chapter was missing the boat.”
The Women’s Division in Worcester still existed, but it wasn’t growing; it was dormant. Women were giving money, but the division wasn’t active socially.
With Borer’s support and Betsey Freedman’s encouragement, Richmond was determined to reinvigorate women’s philanthropy in Central Massachusetts. That decision was only strengthened by the JFNA mission trip that she and Borer took in early July 2014.
In the company of other Federation representatives, they traveled to Greece and to Israel, then in the middle of last summer’s violent exchange with Gaza.
Everywhere they went, she says, “we visited people whom Federation was helping.”
The turning point for her was in Greece, where they went to Thessaloniki, stopping at the train tracks where 57,000 Jews had been deported to Auschwitz; only 1200 survived.
Speaking for the Greek people, the Mayor of Thessaloniki apologized to the group for not doing more to help the Jews in their time of need, she recalls. “And I realized that only Federation can prevent these atrocities from happening again; they are the guiding light that keeps Judaism alive in over 70 countries worldwide.”
After her return to Worcester, Richmond held a kickoff event at her home for a newly formed Women’s Philanthropy Board, timing it as the prelude to a Rally for Israel being hosted that night by Federation at Congregation Beth Israel in Worcester. Betsey Freedman attended the kickoff as well as Ann Pava, Chair of National Women’s Philanthropy (NWP) of the JFNA. Pava is also a past president of the Jewish Federation of Western Massachusetts and immediate past chair of Women’s Philanthropy of the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford.
At the Rally, Toby Richmond spoke about her experience in Israel. She described the fear and trepidation of having to run for cover in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem when sirens indicated that Hamas rockets were headed towards them.
Other speakers included Pava; Ronit Nudelman Perl, Consul of Israel to New England; Judy Yuda, Director of Afula/Gilboa Partnership2Gether (via Skype); and Tslil Swissa, one of this year’s Young Emissaries to the Central Massachusetts area. In addition, Rabbi Aviva Fellman of Beth Israel led a Memorial Service for fallen IDF soldiers.
The Jewish community of Central Massachusetts raised close to $30,000 for Israel.
Since then, the Women’s Philanthropy Board in Worcester has been in full swing. They held their first board meeting on Sept. 4th with 18 members on board, eight of whom were new to Federation. As their renewed commitment, each board member pledged a dollar a day for a year.
Howard Borer invited Linda Hurwitz, Federation’s national campaign chair for North America, to meet with the “major ambassadors,” or large donors, in Central Massachusetts. Borer and Richmond had met Hurwitz during their trip to Israel.
At the gathering, held at the home of campaign chair Sheila Trugman, Hurwitz emphasized the importance of establishing relationships in the course of soliciting for donations. She stressed that 85 percent of successful soliciting depends on body language and eye contact, with only 15 percent stemming from words. The emphasis, then, must be on face-to-face contact and not on telephone calls or fundraising letters.
At Borer’s suggestion, the Women’s Philanthropy Board planned parlor meetings to spread interest in its work.
In early October, a high tea at the Willows, an independent living facility in Worcester, featured Richmond and Borer’s presentation about their JFNA trip, using a professional video of their photographs created by photographer Karen Kaufman. The event brought in $1,540 in new pledges, with five women signing up to become involved in activities.
On Oct. 27, at the Worcester JCC, the board sponsored a presentation by Hadas Goldman and Yuval Hameiri of the Tarbut Community and a screening of Hameiri’s film,“I think this is the closest to how the footage looked,” which won an award at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. The event drew an audience of 90.
In addition to future scheduled parlor meetings, plans include a community-wide celebration of the 25th anniversary of Rachel’s Table in April, as well as a bus tour of Jewish Worcester led by Harold Gurwitz.
By meeting with individual donors and building new relationships, the Women’s Philanthropy Board has raised $35,924 in increased pledges this year on a card-to-card basis, reflecting 36 new givers to Federation.
At Betsey Freedman’s suggestion, the Worcester group has also used the national organization’s Step-Up program. Five new members have given at the Pomegranate level, pledging $1,800.
Howard Borer could not be more pleased.
“Any community activity requires leaders who are committed and excited to work on a project that will benefit the entire community,” he says. “After Toby’s trip this summer to Greece and Israel, she fully understood the power of women’s giving. She also understood that the women of this community could help mold and shape its direction for years to come. But leaders need followers and Toby has engaged new women and reengaged those who were active in the past to forge a new women’s fundraising and programmatic agenda.”
Future plans, says Richmond, include raising the number of younger women involved in the Women’s Philanthropy Board and its activities, as well as bringing in more women from the Westborough area.
Across the state, women’s philanthropy is thriving: strong, committed women are working together to encourage each other to give independently, from the heart, and with purpose.

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