An older generation of donors tended to give to big institutions, which they counted on to make good use of their funds. Less trustful of institutions and more keen on making a direct impact, this generation of funders tends to tailor its giving to particular areas of interest and expects an active role in molding the projects it funds.
That’s all well and good as long as the desire of the donor matches the collective priorities of a community. But in some cases the inclinations of donors have essentially become the de facto strategies of the organizations and communities that they fund. When a donor responsible for half the budget of an institution favors a certain program or service, rarely is that Jewish organization in a position to argue.
If the donor is interested in elevating a certain kind of Jewish identity program or in promoting a certain view of Israel or in building a new museum rather than, say, a new school, that donor can often singlehandedly dictate the community’s agenda. Invariably, when a large donor makes a major investment in an area of activity, that investment attracts other dollars and corrals the energy of the entire community. A community that might not have otherwise chosen to build a new museum might all of a sudden find itself completely immersed in a large-scale project, just because one donor thought it was a good idea.
Jay Ruderman, “What Billionaires Owe the Jewish Community”, eJewish Philanthropy (10 March 2015) [http://ejewishphilanthropy.com/what-billionaires-owe-the-jewish-community/]