Birthright foundation announces new matching grant

Birthright foundation announces new matching grant

NEW YORK — A new matching grant program by the Birthright Israel Foundation will provide a dollar-for-dollar match on any increase in donations to the foundation based on 2008 gifts.

That means if a donor gave $100 in 2008 and gives $120 in 2010, the foundation would match the $20 increase.

Private philanthropists, the Jewish federation system, the Jewish Agency and the government of Israel fund the Birthright program. The foundation oversees the private money given to the program, which makes up the vast majority of the Birthright budget.

The foundation has up to $20 million to use for the matching grants, which are being funded by a $10 million gift from casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and another $10 million from a small group of other donors.

The Adelson money is the second installment of a $30 million pledge he made in 2008.

According to Birthright, the foundation is in the middle of a huge push to broaden its donor base.

In 2008, the foundation had 2,823 donors. The number nearly tripled to 8,370 in 2009 as it rolled out a national grass-roots campaign. The foundation aims to have 50,000 donors by 2015.

The matching grant program came out of a late January summit of 49 major donors held by the foundation in Las Vegas and hosted by Adelson, although he was not in attendance.

Of the 49, only three of the 15 original private funders who helped launch Birthright — Michael Steinhardt, Charles Bronfman and Lynn Schusterman — were present in Las Vegas, according to the foundation’s CEO, Bob Aronson.

Among the 15 original donors, only eight are still giving to Birthright. The rest have dropped off either because of changed economic circumstances or philanthropic focus, or death.

This trend, Aronson said, highlights the need to build a much broader donor base.

According to Aronson, funding for the trips has held steady. In 2008, the foundation raised $55 million to $56 million, and in 2009 it brought in $57 million — even as the mega-gift from Adelson dropped by $10 million.

Fund raising, when subtracting Adelson’s mammoth gift, rose from $26 million to $37 million.

By 2015, Aronson wants to be raising some $49 million per year without Adelson money. Anything Adelson would pledge at that point would be gravy. Really thick gravy.

(This article was adapted from JTA’s philanthropy blog,