There was one particular aspect of AIPAC which I found provided an interesting contrast with our community in the UK.
Everywhere we turned during the conference and frequently during the plenary sessions, at the lunches and dinners, we were assailed by requests to donate to the work of AIPAC, or treated to an explanation of the benefits, both philanthropic and taxation wise, of a donation to AIPAC. The seating in the conference hall, the fringe entertainment and even the lunch arrangements were tapered to progressively favour those who had donated the most.
The U.S. attitude to philanthropy seems to me to be more structured and more internalised in the Jewish community than here in the UK. Largely, this stems from an overall US culture where the state rarely provides something for nothing and where citizens have to pay for basics such as education, healthcare, and so on. There is much wider acceptance of the need to pay for communal benefits.
In the UK, we are light years behind the U.S. in how we raise funds for charitable purposes. I have long felt that we do not have as many donors as in the U.S. and that we do not value in the same way our smaller donors. But it has been interesting for me to come into the community from outside and to realise quite how dependent we are as a community on the generosity of around 70 to 80 donors who between them maintain the vast majority of our charitable and community institutions.
It has also been fascinating to find out quite how much it costs to run the UK Jewish Community. It was something I had little idea of before I joined the JLC, and I suspect that 99% of people in our community have no idea how much it takes to fund community institutions.
It is also the case that, just as we in the UK expects our healthcare, education and social care to be free at the point of access, so we expect our community services also to be free to the user.
We have not yet created the necessary link in people’s minds between the cost of community services, and the need to raise funds to support them.
This for me is a critical challenge for our community. How can we broaden the net to attract more philanthropy into the community? How can we become less dependent on such a small number of generous donors and how can we ingrain a respect for smaller donors and a culture of giving into those who use our community’s services?
These are critical challenges for us in the months and years ahead.