Jennifer Spitzer, New Israel Fund vice president of finance and operations, is the manager of the organization's new new donor-advised fund.
Jennifer Spitzer, New Israel Fund vice president of finance and operations, is the manager of the organization's new new donor-advised fund.

New Israel Fund launches unique home for progressive donor-advised funds

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New Israel Fund, the San Francisco-based progressive nonprofit, has developed a new avenue for politically liberal Jews who want to support organizations that align with their values, using donor-advised funds.

The Progressive Jewish Fund, which NIF describes as the only one of its kind in the country, is an alternative for funders who want to make philanthropic contributions to certain organizations, such as the activist group IfNotNow, that are deemed too controversial for some mainstream federations.

“There are Jewish funds, there are progressive funds, but there are no progressive Jewish funds,” said Jennifer Spitzer, NIF’s vice president of finance and operations and manager of the new fund. “We want to be the organization that provides a national Jewish progressive home.”

DAFs are rapidly growing as a popular vehicle for American charitable giving, with contributions and disbursement each growing by about 20 percent between 2016 and 2017, according to the National Philanthropic Trust. There is also a unique Jewish twist to the field: According to a Trust report, the world’s first donor-advised funds in the 1930s were created by and housed in community foundations and Jewish federations.

Spitzer said that she hopes the NIF’s fund grows at “a similar trajectory” as the DAFs did at the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund, where she served as CEO for four years. By the time she left in 2014, it “had 900 funds and over $300 million under management,” she told J.

Contributions to the Progressive Jewish Fund, which officially opened in late October, total nearly $4.5 million in 22 different donor-advised funds, Spitzer said. She hopes that it reaches $10 million within a year.

News of the NIF’s new fund raised some hackles among Jewish federations, where some regard it as a competitor to donor-advised funds they manage. Spitzer does not see it that way. “We have supporters who also have DAFs with federations, which we welcome,” she said.

RELATED: How does S.F. Federation vet donor-advised fund grantees?

“NIF is providing a much-needed service to our supporters and others who have asked for this. Donor-advised funds are the most popular giving vehicle in the U.S., with inflow of some $29 billion a year nationwide, so we know that there is plenty of room in the philanthropic landscape for NIF, an organization with four decades of experience and expertise in the field,” Spitzer said.

The Progressive Jewish Fund guidelines prohibit donations to any group that “supports the 1967 occupation and subsequent settlement activity, violates the human rights of any group or individual, advocates for human rights selectively for one group over another and/or rejects the principle of the universality of human rights, works to deny the right of the Jewish people to sovereign self-determination within Israel or to deny the rights of Palestinian or other non-Jewish citizens to full equality within a democratic Israel.”

The guidelines also prohibit funding any organization that “participates in or promotes global BDS activities against Israel,” while carving out an exception for organizations that “lawfully discourage the purchase of goods or use of services from settlements.”

Buying into the Progressive Jewish Fund requires a $5,000 initial contribution, and the donor can then recommend giving funds to any group the organizations supports or that is in line with its values.

Spitzer said she hopes to be able to lower that threshold to make it more inviting to young donors. In the meantime, about one-third of the accounts opened at the PJF have been created by parents and grandparents for their young adult children and grandchildren.

NIF raises money in the U.S. and elsewhere to support human rights and civil society-building programs in Israel. “The name ‘Progressive Jewish Fund’ is descriptive, but not exclusive,” Spitzer said. “This is a fund for those who want to give through a vehicle that is explicit about its liberal, democratic values.”

Debra Nussbaum Cohen
Debra Nussbaum Cohen

Debra Nussbaum Cohen is an award-winning journalist who covers philanthropy, religion, gender and other contemporary issues. Her work has been published in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and New York magazine, among many other publications. She authored the book “Celebrating Your New Jewish Daughter: Creating Jewish Ways to Welcome Baby Girls into the Covenant.”