Pablo Eisenberg, fierce critic of distant philanthropies, dies at 90

Pablo Eisenberg was just 7 years old in 1939 when he boarded an ocean liner bound for the United States with his parents and younger sister in Bordeaux as the Nazis were about to invade France. But as young as he was, their relentless escape nonetheless instilled in him a lifelong commitment to the helpless people left behind.

This manifested itself in 1973, after spending years in government and the nonprofit sector serving the underprivileged, when he wrote an article for a philanthropic journal that would alter his professional trajectory and shake up the world of charitable giving.

In the article, published in Grantsmanship Center News, Mr. Eisenberg, who died at 90 on October 18, called on major foundations, individual donors, corporate charities and philanthropies in general to be more socially responsible, transparent, accountable and fair in determining who received their largesse. To further the cause, he established a non-profit consulting firm to provide technical assistance to local neighborhood organizations seeking philanthropic assistance.

“Rushing out of France influenced him deeply,” said Mary Lassen, former chief executive of what is now Community Change, a Washington-based advocacy group for the poor originally funded by the Ford Foundation, that Mr. Eisenberg led as executive director. from 1975 to 1998. “He wanted to change the world. He had a passion for improving the lives of ordinary people.

In the article, which received national attention, Mr. Eisenberg posed a simple question: Who has benefited most from philanthropy, those who have received it or those who have given?

His question was in the form of a critique of a national commission on private philanthropy that had been suggested by John D. Rockefeller III and headed by John H. Filer, the president of the Aetna Life & Casualty Company.

The group, made up of government officials and business leaders, had been created to study the impact of changes to the tax code and regulations that could have an impact on philanthropy. But Mr. Eisenberg argued that the commission, and the philanthropic world in general, neglected the needs of the public, were unrepresentative and were not accountable, accessible and fair.

“You can’t say you have a serious priority for the poor if you’re not prepared to fund them,” he recalled in a 1998 interview with Shelterforce, an online publication that covers community development. .

His challenges to foundation funding were at first spurned but later embraced by Mr. Filer and other discerning philanthropists, who joined him in helping to establish the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, a watchdog group.

While many charities have remained insular, others have responded to Mr. Eisenberg’s spur by directing more donations to community organizations and diversifying their boards to include representatives from those organizations.

“I’ve seen him chastise foundation presidents for their failure to invest in grassroots organizing, for their neglect of racial justice, for failing to provide groups with broad-based support and long-term funding, and for be unapproachable and haughty,” said Deepak Bhargava, a former president of Community Change (originally called the Center for Community Change), wrote in a tribute to Mr. Eisenberg. And, he added, “He argued that we must do more to bring middle class and centrist forces into the fight against poverty.”

Mr. Bhargava confirmed the death of Mr. Eisenberg, at a nursing home in Rockville, Maryland.

“I believe in empowerment, as I think almost everyone does,” Mr. Eisenberg told the Los Angeles Times in 1986. “The purpose of empowerment and self-help is not to guarantee that everyone will succeed, but to provide equal opportunities.”

Pablo Samuel Eisenberg was born on July 1, 1932 in Paris to a Jewish-American couple who had lived in Europe since the early 1920s: Maurice Eisenberg, cellist, and Paula (Halpert) Eisenberg, housewife.

A few weeks after Germany invaded Poland in September 1939, the family sailed for the United States and settled in Maplewood, NJ, where Pablo – named after his godfather, cellist Pablo Casals – attended Millburn High School.

He received a Bachelor of Arts from Princeton University in 1954 and a Bachelor of Arts from Merton College, University of Oxford in 1957.

He also wanted to play the cello, but he had chosen another stringed instrument: he was captain of the tennis teams at Princeton and Merton, and he was establishing himself as a star on the tennis circuit.

Mr. Eisenberg played five times at Wimbledon and reached the quarter-finals alongside John Ager in 1955. He won a gold medal at the 1953 Maccabiah Games in Israel and in 1954 he was ranked ninth in the States United in doubles.

After college, he served two years in the military before joining the US news agency for three years, serving in Senegal. He then served for two years as program director for Operation Crossroads Africa, a forerunner of the Peace Corps. He later served as director of Pennsylvania operations for the Federal Office of Economic Opportunity and deputy director of its research and development division in Washington. He then moved into the nonprofit sector, becoming deputy director of field operations for the National Urban Coalition.

He also served as president of Friends of VISTA, a nonprofit organization supporting the federal agency for community service and volunteerism.

Mr. Eisenberg was a columnist for The Chronicle of Philanthropy and wrote the book “Challenges for Nonprofits and Philanthropy: The Courage to Change” (2004). After serving at Community Change, he became a senior fellow at Georgetown University’s Public Policy Institute.

His wife of 62 years, Helen (Cierniak) Eisenberg, died this year. He is survived by their daughter, Marina Eisenberg, and a sister, Maruta Friedler.

“Pablo Eisenberg was a strong advocate of civil values ​​in all walks of life,” William Josephson, former assistant attorney general in charge of the Charities Bureau of the New York State Department of Justice, said in an interview. “He nurtured civil rights and poverty leaders and provided homes for fragile organizations.”

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