Strategic venture philanthropy – How the Adam and Gila Milstein Family Foundation fights for Israel and combats antisemitism.

May 17, 2024

This article was originally published in the Jerusalem Post on May 16th, 2024, written By ALAN ROSENBAUM

‘This is a unique time in the history of the world,” declares Adam Milstein, co-founder of the Los Angeles-based Adam and Gila Milstein Family Foundation, “when the enemies of the Jewish people and Israel are also enemies of Western civilization and America.”

Over the past decade, Milstein, who grew up in Israel and served in the IDF during the 1973 Yom Kippur War before moving to Los Angeles and becoming a successful real estate investor, community leader, and venture philanthropist, has warned about the exponential rise in antisemitism and its main promoters.

“We were among the first to alert the public that the main source of antisemitism stems from the radical Left and radical Muslims rather than from white supremacists.”

Many scoffed at Milstein’s views, but after Oct. 7, he reports, people are increasingly agreeing with his view that the source of the current wave of antisemitism comes from the unholy alliance between the radical Left and Islamists.

“We are determined to use our knowledge and experience, as well as the fact that we identified the issues before many others, to innovate new solutions and find new ways to fight back,” he says.

One of the groundbreaking ways in which the Milstein Foundation is fighting back is through what he calls “strategic venture philanthropy” to combat the serious threats confronting Israel and the Jewish people during this challenging period.

“Due to our expertise in the field and many years of experience,” says Elena Yacov, executive director of the foundation, “we can vet and select the most effective and innovative organizations to support.” The foundation currently supports close to 100 nonprofit organizations that support Israel, fight antisemitism, and champion American values.

To receive assistance, organizations must meet the criteria of the Milstein Foundation. First, they must support the foundation’s mission, which is to fight antisemitism, support the State of Israel, and protect American democracy.

Foundation staff evaluates the organization for its distinctiveness and effectiveness.

“We want to see proof of concept [gathering evidence to support the feasibility of a project], effectiveness, and impact,” says Yacov. “We need to see a return on our philanthropic investment in terms of their impact.”

Organizations must also be willing to collaborate with other recipients of funding from the Milstein Foundation.

“We don’t want to support two organizations that are doing exactly the same thing, but we want to support and empower organizations to work together and amplify each other’s strengths,” she explains.

Yacov cites a collaborative project by the foundation’s affiliate program – the Impact Forum Venture Fund, which brings together groups of 10 organizations at each cohort. With one donation, a single donor can support an entire group of organizations that has been vetted and selected for effectiveness. The participating organizations are using the funds to create collaborations and joint projects.

“We bring the leaders of these organizations together once a month,” says Yacov, where they get to know each other and work together. The funding is a really great way to incentivize them.”

Milstein points out that the foundation is in close contact with all the organizations it assists and connects them with other groups to encourage further synergy and force multiplication. “If one of them comes up with a research product or campaign that we think more organizations can join and amplify, we will connect many organizations to work together,” he says.

As an example, he cites a 2019 report, created by one of the organizations sponsored by the foundation, about the new antisemitism promoted by the Islamo-leftist alliance and what distinguishes it from classical antisemitism.

He says that the report was distributed throughout a network of 70 different organizations supported by the Milstein Foundation. “In this way,” he says, “we create a huge impact by ensuring that our organizations work together with synergy, force-multiplying their own work.”

Occasionally, the foundation will initiate its own projects when it identifies an area that is not being developed.

Milstein explains that these needs are determined only after extensive research. “The way that we operate is very unique,” he says. “It starts with a comprehensive analysis of the issue, the marketplace, and the anti-Israel organizations involved. We do a great deal of research to understand it further and recognize what we can do to help solve the problem.”

If the Milstein Foundation has identified a need that is not being addressed, it will create a proof of concept and partner with like-minded philanthropists to execute and develop a new project or initiative.

When Hamas terrorists attacked Israel on Oct. 7, the Milstein Foundation was ready to respond to the wave of antisemitism and anti-Israel feelings, due to the numerous organizations and projects it had supported over the past decade.

“We were able to immediately provide solutions and fight back against the exponential rise of antisemitism,” says Milstein. “At the same time, we’re using our knowledge, experience, and existing organizations we support to come up with new ideas that use more cutting-edge technology and AI and other techniques that can scale up our knowledge, experience, and abilities.”

In his view, Oct. 7 was a wake-up call for the American Jewish community, especially among those who identified as progressives, who were dismayed by the lack of support they received from that community. “I now see some more people in the Jewish community interested in fighting antisemitism,” he says, adding that some American Jews are shifting funding toward the Jewish community, the State of Israel, and the fight against antisemitism instead of progressive causes.

However, Milstein is concerned that while anti-Israel demonstrations are constantly being reported throughout the United States, very few hear about pro-Israel demonstrations.

“Furthermore, when politicians say something positive about Israel, they are bombarded by hate, email, and texts from radical leftists and Islamists, but they don’t get too much support from the Jewish community,” he says.

Assimilation, he continues, is the number one enemy of the Jewish community in the United States, and the significance of the State of Israel no longer resonates with the younger generation of American Jews.

“We’re losing many of the biggest pro-Israel donors of our time as the older generation is dying out, and the wealth is being passed to the young generation,” says Milstein. “In the past, there were donors who would give tens of millions of dollars to Israel without thinking twice. The donations today are much less, and relatively fewer donors are supporting Israel.”

To that end, the Milstein Foundation is working with a new generation of younger philanthropists, educating them about venture philanthropy and organizations that can make an impact, getting them involved, and supporting organizations that are pro-Israel and fight antisemitism.

Having been engaged in the world of charitable giving for decades, Adam Milstein says that there are three types of philanthropy: emotional philanthropy; social-belonging philanthropy; and strategic-impact philanthropy.

Emotional philanthropy, he explains, is when people donate to particular organizations or institutions that affect them emotionally, such as their synagogue, their children’s school, or a hospital. They have a personal connection to and derive benefit from supporting the institution.

The meaning of social-belonging philanthropy is when people give money in order to be part of a particular group.

“Whether or not you agree with their mission or you think they are doing their mission effectively, you want to be a large donor because it has status attached to it,” says Milstein. “You want to be part of a social club.”

The most effective type of philanthropy, he says, is the strategic-venture philanthropy model employed by the Milstein Foundation, which closely analyzes the issues, devises solutions, and supports effective organizations.

“It is a holistic way of looking at issues, coming up with solutions, and taking action. It’s not about recognition – it’s about making an impact,” he says. “If you want to make an impact, we say that strategic-venture philanthropy is the way to make a big impact on the future of the Jewish people.”

What advice does Milstein offer to those interested in participating in Jewish philanthropy? “First of all,” he says, “we need to connect with and champion the State of Israel. We have a state with all the power that states have – diplomatic, military, and otherwise. It’s inconceivable that we’re going to fight against the enemies of the Jewish people without the support and engagement of the Jewish homeland, the State of Israel.

“We have tremendous influence and power in America, and now is the time to use it because the later that we respond, the later we unite together to fight back, the more difficult it’s going to be to be effective,” he predicts. “I call for partnership and collaboration, and I call on like-minded organizations and philanthropists to work together.”

Antisemitism may be a threat to the Jewish people, but on the other hand, he points out, it can motivate people to join forces and fight back.

As the interview comes to an end, Milstein says that Israel’s fight against Hamas is more than a localized struggle in the Middle East. “This is a time for us to unite and help others in the overall fight against the forces of evil that are attacking Western civilization today, which is the Islamo-leftist alliance.

“Instead of looking at this and acting as if this is just the problem of the Jewish people, we need to understand it’s a universal problem. The way to solve it is by educating and awakening other Europeans and Americans to understand that this fight is against them and partnering with them in the fight against the forces of evil.”

As evidence of the universal need to fight the forces of evil, Milstein notes that a growing number of the organizations supported by the foundation are non-Jewish organizations that are fighting to protect American democracy, American values, and the exceptional concept of America.

“We’re joining more and more American organizations that are fighting for America because they’re fighting our fight. And if they win, America will win, the world will win, Jews will win, and Israel will win.”

This was written in cooperation with the Adam and Gila Milstein Family Foundation.