Meet Barbara Dobkin

My Story

I did not come from a family of means but one with a deep tradition of giving. I can remember my grandmother telling me at an early age that if anyone asked me for money, they probably needed it more than I did. Later in life when we started earning money it came with recognition of our privilege and a deep sense of responsibility. But I wasn’t always strategic in my giving.

In the early years of philanthropy, when I got involved with my first few organizations, I always gave a set amount of $100 no matter what the donation requirement was. The minimum donation could have been $3, and I would give $100. I wasn’t as intentional about my philanthropy as I am today. For me, donor leadership isn’t about recognition; it’s about partnership, respect and commitment.

Too many donors stipulate requirements that are detrimental to the work of an organization. If donors respect what an organization does, they should not place a time limit on their support. Thinking that in three years an organization can devise a program, get it off the ground and begin to evaluate it is unrealistic. When donors, including foundations, fund only specific projects, the organizations pad their requests or are left to hustle to keep the lights on, pay the staff, cover insurance, etc. This is not to say that I never give designated grants. But when I do, I make sure there is adequate provision for overhead.

Gender has always been important to me. I grew up in the ‘50s, and experienced gender inequality in my everyday life. Too many people believe women’s issues no longer need support. While nothing could be further from the truth, this translates into a major funding crisis for organizations that work to empower women and girls. I know this funding crisis first hand as I’ve been on both sides of the table, as an employee of not-for-profits and as a board member of many.

For more than 20 years, I have encouraged women to step up to the plate with mixed results. Women and girls have endless potential to change global development, but donors must strive to be more strategic. We can’t just sit back and wait for change to happen. Women must step into our donor leadership and call on others to join us.

In 1993, I made my first BIG + bold $1 million gift to establish Mayan, a feminist organization to act as a catalyst for change for women in the Jewish community. That gift unleashed the power of my philanthropy. I have since made many gifts of $1 million, each targeted toward social change for women. My most recent gift went to American Jewish World Service, the leading Jewish human rights and development organization working to realize human rights and end poverty in the developing world.



Ruth Messinger Describes the Impact
President, American Jewish World Service


Barbara is a leader in every sense of the word, and it is because of donors like her that organizations are able to not only survive, but thrive.

Barbara first got involved with American Jewish World Service (AJWS) as a donor. She joined a Study Tour to India that highlighted our work with a partner organization in women’s economic development and microfinance. On the trip she saw the exponential impact that increased funding could have for the women in the community, became a larger donor and eventually joined our board of directors and became its chair.

If you’ve worked in non-profits you know that not all directors or donors are created equal. As a donor Barbara understands that organizations must be able to make choices about their funding. She will say, “I know we are primarily a grant-making organization, but our advocacy work is critically important so if you can’t raise money for advocacy, let me help by targeting some of my funds to that purpose.” She otherwise doesn’t restrict her funding to specific programs or initiatives, and her intuition for long-term sustainability and generosity is invaluable to our growth. As a board member Barbara is an active champion in the world, leveraging her enthusiasm, visibility, and pledge to help bring other donors to the table for our organization and is involved with her board colleagues to make the organization as strong as it can be.

The women’s movement needs more sophisticated donors like Barbara – women willing to fully invest their time, treasure and talent for the advancement of women and girls.