May 25, 2024
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May 25, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

 

I met Joe and Jeanette Goldstein (pseudonym), a philanthropic couple, at a UJA Federation dinner in Manhattan. It wasn’t long before we struck up a conversation and realized we had many things in common. I was soon traveling in their charitable orbit and they made generous contributions to my nonprofit. Then it happened…

We’ll return to the Goldsteins momentarily.

Getting married is an uplifting time for bright-eyed couples and their families. Wishes for good health, happiness and prosperity abound for everyone. The Talmud famously quotes every marriage as heaven-made. This match is often called “bashert,” meaning they were destined to wed.

A beautiful story in the September-October 2013 issue of Moment magazine summarizes this best:

The Jewish theory of soulmates has its roots in that most romantic of canonical texts: the Talmud (Sotah 2a). The sage Rav stipulates that “40 days before the formation of a child, a heavenly voice issues forth and proclaims, the daughter of this person is for that person; the house of this person is for that person; the field of this person is for that person.” This declaration is considered the origin of the idea of the soulmate in Judaism, although it is also discussed elsewhere, including Kabbalah, which teaches that husband and wife are plag nishamas, or “half-souls.” The 13th-century scholar Nahmanides… writes that when a soul is about to be born, God splits it in half, to be fully united in marriage.

While not a laughing matter, soulmates united in marriage sometimes end up separated and even divorced. A famous Yiddish expression gives added meaning to this; “Der mensch tracht, un Gott lacht,” which translates as “people plan and God laughs.”

A July 17, 2023 issue of Forbes Advisor reveals the grim story of divorce in the United States.

“In 2021, a total of 689,308 divorces occurred across the 45 U.S. states that report these statistics… when it comes to first marriages, half of which are dissolved. Second and third marriages actually fail at a far higher rate.”

A Queen Jewish Link article from December 22, 2021 stated: “The divorce rate in the U.S. is about 50%. American Jews have an estimated divorce rate of 30%. Among Orthodox Jews in America, the divorce rate is lower at 10%, but still much too high. To the credit of the Orthodox, 85% are married and stay married.”

On January 9, 2023 the American Psychological Association found that “Approximately 40-50% of first marriages end in divorce. The divorce rate for second marriages is even higher, with approximately 60-67% of second marriages ending in divorce.”

What are the implications for fundraisers? In such instances, charitable outcomes become uncertain. Consider the divorces of Bill and Melinda Gates and Jeff Bezos and Mackenzie Scott. Charities and donors often face complications and tax consequences because of these separations. The Gates and Bezos cases involved huge philanthropic initiatives. Space constraints do not allow further analysis here, but I encourage readers to look at these and similar cases.

Back to the Goldstein saga. Much to my chagrin, one morning I learned that Joe and Jeanette had separated and filed for divorce. A feather could have knocked me over. They seemed like an ideal couple. Who knew?

When donor couples separate or divorce, what should we do? What if either party seeks your support? If it’s a family foundation, what if some board members are married? You may encounter some of these vexing questions. Delicate situations can be challenging for everyone and how people handle them can affect future contributions.

Divorce is a complex process that brings with it a variety of challenges and issues. There’s no primer to follow. But here are some common-sense tips that helped me in awkward situations.

  1. Don’t intervene: Donors’ divorce is not a time to get involved in their personal affairs. Private matters must remain private. If it comes up, express sympathy but say little. It is an emotionally charged process that takes time. Don’t take sides, be patient and keep communication open.
  2. Identify the decision maker: Finding out who holds the purse strings will help you focus your efforts. They may have split this function. Perhaps one spouse unilaterally transferred it to the other. You’re likely to discuss this when you talk to them. Tread carefully.
  3. Commemorations: This is a sticky wicket. With the Goldsteins, Joe became the key decision maker. The building no longer bears their first names; only his surname remains. Whoever becomes the strategic decision maker will let you know what stays and what goes. Sometimes, no change is necessary.
  4. Foundations: Legal agreements may need to be reviewed. Governance arrangements and grant making criteria may be affected. Documents that impact charitable decisions, such as voting privileges or philanthropic goals, may need to be changed when board members divorce. It’s time to seek legal or mediation help.
  5. Confidentiality and privacy. We must respect the privacy of the couple. Whatever you discuss remains between you and no one else. Your credibility, and that of your organization, is at stake. Mum’s the word. However, this is a two-way street. Make sure the couple respects your confidentiality regarding sensitive philanthropic projects.

Other approaches are also available. These helped me. Whenever you see a friend or donor struggling through one of life’s traumas, remember this: “Some things have to end for better things to begin.” So, appreciate what you have today, acknowledging that all circumstances are temporary. Tomorrow is just a day away.


Norman B. Gildin is the author of the popular book on nonprofit fundraising “Learn From My Experiences.” He is the president of Strategic Fundraising Group, whose singular mission is to assist nonprofits to raise critical funds for their organization. His website is www.normangildin.com.

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