Corporate donations grow in Israels startup nation

When the Israeli mobile maps startup Waze accepted a buyout from Google for more than $1 billion in June, each of the company’s 100 employees walked away with about $1.2 million from the sale.

An even bigger check, though, went to Baruch Lipner, a Canadian Israeli who hasn’t worked in the high-tech or finance industries for a decade. The acquisition put $1.5 million on his desk.

An educational program offered by JVP Community in Israel

A veteran of the venture capital world, Lipner is now the sole employee of Tmura, a nonprofit that pushes Israeli startups to donate stock options to charity. If any of the donating nonprofits merges, goes public or is bought, Tmura cashes in the options and distributes the money to Israeli youth and educational charities. If the start-up fails, Tmura carries none of the risk.

Even though Tmura owned less than 1 percent of Waze, the record-breaking deal made 2013 a banner year for Tmura, comprising approximately three-quarters of the $2 million it raised.

“Our small fraction of a percent was worth a lot of money very quickly,” Lipner said. “A lot of the entrepreneurs running these companies are good people who are happy to help.”

Waze wasn’t the only Israeli company giving back in 2013.

As the country’s economy has grown in recent years, experts and corporate advisers are seeing a steady uptick in corporate donations and a growing culture of corporate responsibility.

Israeli corporate philanthropy experienced a nearly sevenfold jump between 1998 and 2008 — from 89 million shekels, or about $25 million, to 600 million shekels, or about $172 million — according to Hebrew University’s Center for the Study of Philanthropy. More recent data isn’t available, but observers say the upward trend has continued.

Good Vision, an Israeli corporate social responsibility consultancy that counts El Al Israel Airlines and Bank Leumi among its 25 clients, prepared reports for three companies on corporate giving last year. Now it is writing 10. Of the 320 companies partnering with Tmura, 54 donated options in 2013.

According to the 2013 Maala Index, which measures Israeli corporate giving, the 82 companies that reported giving gave about 1 percent of their profits to charity, a rate similar to the American average.

“If we look at the last 10 years, there is a critical mass of Israeli companies that are committed and regard giving to the community as one of the things they should do,” said Maala CEO Momo Mahadav. “The bad news is that that critical mass is about a third of the large companies in Israel. Two-thirds are less committed.”

Good Vision CEO Ivri Verbin says corporate social responsibility goes beyond writing a check. He notes that most Israeli companies urge their employees to make in-kind donations by doing pro-bono work or volunteering with nonprofits — a reflection of what some say is an Israeli reluctance to donate in cash.

Many Israelis feel burdened by high taxes, Verbin says, but they’re happy to lend a hand.

Good Vision pairs its client companies with charities that could benefit from their services. The leading Israeli insulin manufacturer Novo Nordisk, for example, joined with the Israeli Cycling Federation to fund a bicycle program for Israeli youth.

A similar logic inspired JVP Community, a nonprofit created by Erel Margalit, founder of the venture capital firm Jerusalem Venture Partners. By funding youth programming and educational initiatives in poor Jerusalem neighborhoods, JVP Community hopes to foster social entrepreneurship that will complement the firm’s encouragement of Israeli business.

“We tell the kids about high-tech to make them part of the startup nation,” said JVP Community CEO Yair Zaafrany. “We want to give them more opportunities, and the connection with JVP opens that world for them.”

As more and more corporations have increased their charitable work, Lipner expects other companies to follow suit.

“When we first started to pitch the model to give options to charity, it was an educational project,” he  said. “Once we started making real money, the story started to change.”