Danni with friends on a trip organised by Forgotten People Fund charity

Danni with friends on a trip organised by Forgotten People Fund charity

Danni Franks’ big idea for small charities in Israel has made her one of the country’s most influential women. By Alex Jacobs

Making aliyah is a hard thing to do. Regardless of your commitment to Israel and however good your preparation, Israel is a country where getting things done can be problematic. Which makes the achievement of Danni Franks even more commendable.

Danni made aliyah 10 years ago at the age of 31. Not only has she managed to get a foothold in the country but she has set up an organisation which is making a difference – and that is not just her opinion.

On Independence Day, Ha’aretz newspaper named her one of the 66 most influential women in the country. Danni had three things going for her – a great commitment to her new country, an ability to get things done and, crucially, a great idea.

This came to her during a chance conversation. She was chatting to a woman who was struggling to keep a small charity going.

Danni recalls: “She was telling me about how hard it was to get funds. I asked her how much it costs to run her organisation and she said it was about £100,000.

I said to her: ‘You clearly don’t have to do a huge amount of fundraising’ and she looked at me as if I was mad. Then I asked her how much she raised in the UK and she said absolutely nothing. I said to her on that day that I would help her.

woman of substance

Danny visiting Click, a vocational centre for the elderly in Hod Hasharon

“I didn’t know how, I didn’t have any money myself, but I was going to help.”

That promise evolved into an organisation called Myisrael, which has taken an innovative approach to charity fundraising.

Myisrael acts as a conduit for all those small charities and projects in Israel that desperately need money but which you would probably have never heard of in the UK.

Danni looks at them, vets them very carefully and if they meet Myisrael’s criteria they are added to her roster of projects – there are currently 18.

She says: “I really wanted to help the kind of organisation which does amazing things but doesn’t get any support from the UK.

“I had this idea that I could not only help these projects but also give a choice to donors who might have only a small amount of money to give but who wanted that money to make a difference.”

So back in 2008 she took the plunge and set up Myisrael. Her main priority was to give a guarantee that 100 percent of every donation would reach the project it was intended for.

“I wanted Myisrael to be like a stamp of approval for good projects. Initially I worked out what it would cost to get the organisation off the ground – from memory I think it was £40,000.

“I then went to three individuals who I knew had the financial capacity to give at that level and who would understand the concept. Then we set up a website, a bank account and a board of trustees – all the things you need to do to make a charity happen. Up to now, we have raised £1.8 million.”

But what excites Danni most of all is where the money is going – and where the money is coming from.

The projects range from a rape crisis centre to a project helping young musicians, a food bank in Bet Shean, Re-Specs, a charity that provides glasses for the needy, and Crossroads, described as a safe haven for youth in distress.

Members from the Musicians of Tomorrow group that sponsors gifted children from northern Israel

Members from the Musicians of Tomorrow group that sponsors gifted children from northern Israel

These charitable projects have a few things in common. They all have budgets of £500,000 a year or less, and low administration costs. And they have all proved to Danni and her team that they are worthy of support.

She says: “We vet them very carefully. You don’t need to worry about any of these organisations. If we have taken them on, it means they are kosher.”

“What I see as my job in the main is to make sure we find the organisations where the money has a real impact and that we know it’s going where its meant to be going. That is our guarantee to the people of the UK.”

Children show off their new glasses at Re-Specs, a charity which encourages people to recycle spectacle frames so glasses can be provided for those that need them.

To see the projects benefiting from the work she is doing and those in the UK who are now giving generously gives her a huge amount of pleasure.

This is matched by the pleasure achieved by the donors when they see that their money is making a difference.”

We like to keep it personal, so we love it when families come and view the projects while they are on holiday,” she says. “A bunch of families come out on visits. You see people looking and understanding what their money is doing and that’s a great feeling – it’s wonderful.”

She adds that the typical profile is of people with maybe £50 or £100 to donate – perhaps as a bar- or batmitzvah gift or on behalf of a relative.“They might want to give to a horse-riding charity because their mum loves horses, or they might want to help elderly people in Hod Hasharon – there is something for everyone. Our only real problem is getting the word out.”

We don’t have a marketing budget and we are always looking for ambassadors.”It is a slower process than we would like, but we are growing organically and I believe this is a great model for giving. We have had only one flat year, and that was when I was on maternity leave.”

Danni was educated at JFS and says her love of Israel was sparked when she went aged 13 on the school’s Givat Washington scheme, which gave a small group of children the opportunity to spend five months in Israel.

At the age of 31, she decided it was “now or never” and she went to live in the country. She describes herself as a committed Zionist and as such is delighted to have managed to find a career in which she is not only surviving in Israel but is making a tangible difference to those who live there. 

She gives an example: “We are supporting a fund helping Ethiopian graduates who want to get a professional qualification in nursing or social work for example and can’t afford to do the course. We are funding that. These kids are going to have jobs and they will be able to support their families, so we are helping break the cycle of welfare and poverty.“

“What a privilege to move here and to see these amazing fruits of my labours.”