Transforming treasured art into philanthropy for nursing: The Jonas Center History 

Occasionally, a donor’s vision generates a new model of giving that affects countless others. This is the case with Barbara and Donald Jonas, philanthropists and noted art collectors who decided to increase their giving during their lifetimes. In May of 2005, working with the Jewish Communal Fund and Christie's, the Jonas family auctioned 15 of their abstract expressionist artworks and generated $44 million to seed the Barbara and Donald Jonas Family Fund.

Long involved with local arts, education and medical institutions, Barbara, a psychiatric social worker, and Donald, a leader in retail, sought appropriate beneficiaries for their new giving. Early on, they engaged Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors to help them identify areas where philanthropic attention was needed. The more they explored, the more the Jonases grew concerned and intrigued by the complex issues underpinning the nursing shortage and its impact on the healthcare of individuals and communities.

In early 2006, the couple established the Jonas Center for Nursing Excellence, a first-of-its-kind philanthropic program dedicated to advancing the nursing profession in New York City through two main areas of activity:

  • Creating a unique grant structure based on the forging of partnerships between schools of nursing and clinical practice settings
  • Convening opinion leaders to develop solutions to long-standing problems challenging the nursing profession

Just one year after the auction of their artwork, the couple was joined by hundreds of nurses and leaders in the healthcare community to officially launch the Center by awarding the first round of grants totaling $2.8 million. Six months later, the Jonas Center’s first symposium on critical issues in nursing drew 350 representatives from academic, practice, policy, business and philanthropic worlds. In recent years, the Center has broadened its geographical range to include strategically targeted partners beyond metropolitan New York.