This Sunday, February 21st, prominent Jewish activists and artists will share their skills at Inside the Activists’ Studio SF, which will feature workshops on art, food justice, spirituality, and other topics, a spoken word performance by poet Josh Healey, and a panel discussion with leading activists. Daniel Kaufman, one of the panelists, shares his thoughts on creating infrastructures for philanthropy, engaging young adults, and expressing Jewish values through giving.
Daniel is the founder and president of the One Percent Foundation.
Tell me about the One Percent Foundation.
The One Percent Foundation is basically the missing piece of the civic engagement puzzle. There’s a lot of engagement around voting, volunteering, and activism, and we’re trying to be the giving piece. We want to create an infrastructure that will engage and empower people in their 20s and 30s – average, run-of-the-mill millennials – who perhaps haven’t thought of what it means to be a philanthropist.
The core program is the One Percent Giving Circle. We ask people to commit to giving one percent of their annual income, and at least half of that through the One Percent Foundation. Once people start giving, they’re considered Partners, and can nominate organizations to receive our quarterly grants. Our Working Group identifies the top five nominees, posts them online, and all Partners log in and rank them from 1-5. The top nominee gets the grant. The whole process lets us see what we’re doing as civic engagement.
There are three barriers to philanthropy for young people. First off, they feel like they can’t afford it. They’re earning money for the first time, and there are lots of demands on that money. Secondly, they don’t have the tools to identify a good nonprofit from the hundreds out there, so they don’t know who they want to give to. Finally, even if they have the money and know who they want to give to, they think, what’s the point? It’s not going to make a difference. So we really want to get people engaged.
What made you decide to make philanthropy your primary form of activism?
I was having a conversation with a friend of mine – actually, the cofounder of the organization – when I was in law school. He was working with big donors, linking them with political organizations. I had never really thought about philanthropy in my entire life, but as we were talking, I realized that there wasn’t really an infrastructure to support people who wanted to learn to give in a meaningful way. There were programs that targeted young kids or wealthier high-end donors, and there were some programs for people in their 20s and 30s, but those were very targeted. So we started talking to friends and creating this infrastructure. There was more and more unsolicited interest, and that organically became the One Percent Foundation. I gradually acquired an interest in philanthropy – I never set out to do it.
Where do you think you’ve made the biggest impact?
I think more and more people are taking notice and starting to think more strategically about what it means to create a broad-based movement for philanthropy. Our goal is to make giving a core component of the average citizen’s engagement portfolio, like voting. People who give to and engage with innovative nonprofits are more able to engage with their communities. Even giving a couple of dollars a month is very valuable to supporting good ideas.
The concept of ordinary people coming together to give sounds like it’s very rooted in traditional forms of tzedakah. Do you view your work as grounded in Jewish tradition?
Totally. I grew up in the Reform movement, which shaped who I am, and how I view the world. This organization sprouted from a group of friends who worked together at a Jewish camp. There’s no doubt in my mind that Jewish values drove the creation of the One Percent Foundation and continue to drive the growth of it. One of the things that’s so appealing to people about it is that it allows them to express their Jewish values in a very broad way, a community-based way. It’s not as insular as other Jewish experiences that they’ve had. Not that insular experiences are bad – this is just a different way to think about it. But, yes, my work is driven by Jewish values, tzedakah, and tikkun olam.
Do you have any goals for Inside the Activists’ Studio? Any particular ideas you want to bring to the table?
I don’t have a specific agenda. I love the concept and I’m excited to participate. It’s going to be an incredible program. The One Percent Foundation is totally organic and peer to peer, and what we’ve found and what has really surprised me is that there’s incredible interest when the demographic is presented with an opportunity to engage in a really meaningful way. They feel really empowered. It’s going to be very helpful in building the next generation’s philanthropy movement, which is ultimately what we’re trying to do.