Creative Network-Building: Adam Milstein’s Philanthropy

Philanthropy is vital to the health of societies, addressing communal needs not met by government programs or the free market. A vast array of nonprofit organizations across the U.S. support causes and communities that so often go unseen or fall through the cracks. But it’s no easy feat to raise the funds needed to drive social change. Appealing to donors is akin to political campaigning, taking time and energy away from an organization’s mission. Nonprofits with similar goals often compete with each other for the same donors, wasting precious resources and canceling out positive impact.

No one understands the complexities of the nonprofit world better than philanthropist and businessman Adam Milstein. Milstein is the founder and president of the Adam and Gila Milstein Family Foundation, a nonprofit that supports a wide range of causes dedicated to strengthen American values, support the U.S.-Israel alliance, and combat bigotry and hatred in all forms.. Born in Haifa, Israel, he served in the IDF during one of the country’s most traumatic and existential moments, the 1973 Yom Kippur War. While attending the Technion, Israel’s prestigious institute of technology, Milstein went into business with his father, expanding the reach of their real estate company. In 1981, he took this real-world experience with him to the U.S. where he earned his MBA at USC before becoming a top commercial real estate investor. 

Once he had made his mark in the real estate world, Milstein felt pulled to a higher calling. He wanted to leverage his considerable business acumen and resources to make a real difference in the Jewish community. He and his wife Gila founded the Milstein Family Foundation in 2000, kickstarting a philanthropic journey that has blossomed into a vital support network. Milstein owes much of his philanthropic success to one skill in particular: his capacity for creative network-building. Many philanthropists invest in individual causes that are close to their hearts or that earn them a certain level of prestige among their peers. Milstein, however, engages in what he calls “strategic venture philanthropy” – investing his “time, experience, vision and personal connections” to “empower a network” of causes that has maximum impact.

The Milstein Family Foundation funds a carefully crafted web of projects dedicated to strengthening American values, the U.S.-Israel alliance, the State of Israel, and the Jewish People,. Milstein’s intent is “philanthropic synergy” – that each of these initiatives will work together and reinforce each other’s missions, allowing them to spend more time making positive change instead of competing with each other for funds. His “strategic force-multiplication” method encourages partnerships between grantees so they can create targeted campaigns to fight hatred and bigotry. He believes initiatives like the Impact Forum, which brings like-minded philanthropists together to build a network of, pro-American, pro-Israel, and Pro- Jewish nonprofits that coordinate their efforts, are the future of effective philanthropy.

Collaborative campaigns like those Milstein champions are crucial to combat the increasingly aggressive tactics of those seeking to delegitimize Israel and spread antisemitism. By building and supporting a proactive wall of pro-Jewish and pro-Israel causes, Milstein hopes to counter adversaries like the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS). BDS promotes itself to the West as a Palestinian social justice movement, using fashionable progressive language like “decolonize” and “oppressor” that appeals to college students. In reality, it’s a terrorist-backed network that infiltrates university campuses across the U.S. with the aim of delegitimizing Israel and terrorize Jewish students. The tactics of organizations like BDS have only grown more sophisticated in recent years, and even more so after the October 7th, 2023 Hamas massacre of Israelis. “It is just going to get worse, with social media spreading fake news and the media mainstreaming the biased narrative,” Milstein told The Jerusalem Post. That’s why he’s “constantly supporting new organizations and groups who fill the cracks between the existing organizations.”

There’s a considerable generation gap that Milstein seeks to bridge as well. Polls show that young Jews do not feel as closely connected to Judaism and/or Israel as previous generations, so their philanthropic priorities may not include the fight against antisemitism or support for the Jewish state. “We cannot afford a younger generation that stays inactive in the face of unprecedented antisemitism,” Milstein expressed in a piece he wrote for The Jerusalem Post. “As Jewish parents and pro-Israel philanthropists, how we can cultivate shared philanthropic priorities in our children?”

His creative solution is to engage young Jews in the strategic venture philanthropy approach that he has pioneered. But he says we shouldn’t wait until young people are in college to start this work – Milstein believes reaching them when they’re teens is the most effective way to spark their passion. Being realistic with teens about the dangers the Jewish community faces arms them with the education they need for the fight ahead, a fight that rages on the college campuses they will attend, where BDS and other anti-Israel organizations are already hard at work. Milstein seeks to develop a “Venture Philanthropist Club” for Jewish high school students in Los Angeles, which will serve as a pilot program that he hopes is implemented across the country. Students will learn about the unique challenges facing the community today and develop strategic philanthropy skills. This will energize and empower them to support the projects that they feel will have the most measurable impact, a passion that will follow them into college and their adult lives.

Through creative network-building efforts like these, Adam Milstein has effected positive change at every level of the Jewish community. From Jewish high school students to longstanding institutions, he uses his expertise and resources to forge lasting connections that will carry Jewish advocacy into the future. Milstein’s innovative, collaborative approach is the philanthropic paradigm we should strive for to ensure the Jewish community has the support it needs to thrive in such precarious times.

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