Jean Shafiroff: A Compassionate Worldview

Jean Shafiroff: A Compassionate Worldview
(Courtesy of Jean Shafiroff)
Catherine Yang

For Jean Shafiroff, philanthropy is truly a lifestyle.

Shafiroff has always had the heart to give—long before hosting her television show “Successful Philanthropy” and authoring a book of the same title, becoming a board member of several major charities, and giving to and chairing countless other charities.

“It was the way I was raised, to be kind and giving,” Shafiroff said. From the nuns at her Catholic school who led their young students to care for others through giving back in small ways like bake sales, to joining the Girl Scouts and learning about fundraising, to listening to her father, a music teacher, speak passionately at the dinner table about his students and their futures, compassion has always been a core value for Shafiroff.

“It’s a great privilege to be in a position to give, and we all can be philanthropists. Everybody has worth. We all have great value to society and never think that you have nothing to offer, because you do. Everyone has compassion,” Shafiroff said.

(Courtesy of Jean Shafiroff)
(Courtesy of Jean Shafiroff)

Defining Philanthropy

Shafiroff is well known for her leadership in philanthropy. She chairs at least eight charity galas a year and champions causes like serving under-served populations, bettering healthcare, women’s rights, and animal welfare.

She is a board member of American Humane, Southampton Hospital Association, NYC Mission Society, French Heritage Society, Couture Council of the Museum at FIT, Global Strays, New York Women’s Foundation, Casita Maria, Southampton Animal Shelter Foundation Honorary Board, Jewish Board, and is an ambassador for American Humane and the national spokesperson for its “Feed the Hungry” initiative. The list of charities and organizations she gives to is even longer. For her work, Shafiroff has been honored many times by dozens of organizations.

“We give because we know actions and choices made now can help in the future. We give because small gifts can help lead to big change. We give because we are compelled to take action. We give because giving honors life and the power of the human spirit to affect change,” Shafiroff writes in her book. “We give because we do not wish to see suffering and we wish to assuage it.”

The book’s subtitle is “How to make a life by what you give,” and Shafiroff’s message is a humanitarian one. It is that anyone can be a philanthropist; we can all give in some way while staying within our means. For some it may be a charitable donation, for others it may be volunteering their time or knowledge. Not many people describe themselves as philanthropists, but Shafiroff wants everyone to understand that they can.

“The truth is that philanthropy is accessible to anyone,” she writes, and this new definition of philanthropy is “so vital to the future of our society, the human race, and the world.” The book is a practical one, step by step guiding any would-be philanthropist on their new journey toward giving. She proposes insightful questions, shares example stories, and leads the reader to think realistically about what they can do for others given their own specific set of circumstances.

Moved to Create Change

Shafiroff’s first career was as a physical therapist at the inner city St. Luke’s Hospital in New York.

“I wanted to be helpful to people and helpful to society,” she said. “There, I worked with many patients living below the poverty level, and had serious health issues. That left its mark.”

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 20: Jean Shafiroff attends NYC Mission Society Community Thanksgiving Dinner Hosted By Jean Shafiroff at Minisink Townhouse on November 20, 2019 in New York. Photo by Paul Bruinooge/PMC. Local Caption. (Courtesy of Jean Shafiroff)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 20: Jean Shafiroff attends NYC Mission Society Community Thanksgiving Dinner Hosted By Jean Shafiroff at Minisink Townhouse on November 20, 2019 in New York. Photo by Paul Bruinooge/PMC. Local Caption. (Courtesy of Jean Shafiroff)

She returned to school to obtain a masters in business with a plan to go into hospital finance. Then, at Columbia University she met her husband Martin.

Shafiroff then worked briefly on Wall Street. The hours were long and she would come home at 9 or 10 at night. She realized after  having her first child that if she continued this way, she would have little time to see her children.

“So I stopped my career. And as a stay-at-home mother of two daughters, I started volunteering at the schools,” Shafiroff said. She started with baking brownies for bake sales and then got involved with the school’s annual fund. Her goal was “100 percent participation.” She would tell the parents that it wasn’t about the size of the gift, but their involvement. If they could only give $5, it would still be a worthwhile gift.

During Shafiroff’s travels, she was further inspired to give. “I’ve seen tremendous poverty, in Cambodia, different parts of Central America, Nicaragua, Dominican Republic,” she said. “When you see extreme poverty, you know you have to do something, because life is not created equal, and I believe that those that have resources have an obligation.”

As an American, it is part of the culture to give. “In the United States, even people who don’t have a lot of money give their time and resources, and then they write small checks. It’s very much a part of our culture, which I think is important,” she said. “I believe that philanthropy must be taught in the home. We teach children how to be philanthropic by first teaching them to share and to be kind to others.”

Over time, Shafiroff’s philanthropy has given her a voice and a platform, which she has only used to amplify the good work of various causes or philanthropists so others can do the same.

“If people ask, and I have the time, and I feel that I can do something, then I do. I want to be helpful,” she said. “And I have to say, I enjoy it, because I have the philosophy that when you give, you get. It’s highly rewarding to be useful and to be helpful to society.”

Getting Started

“Start off slowly. Do a lot of research on the charity first: go to their website, ask people about them. And get involved in a cause that you have a passion for, and where you think there is a need—that’s very important.”
For more tips and guidance, Jean Shafiroff’s “Successful Philanthropy” discusses how to choose a charity, how to work with a charitable organization, what to expect, and more. 
Catherine Yang is a reporter for The Epoch Times based in New York.
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