Jonas Family Fund


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 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. The Jonas Center’s unique grant structure requires partnerships between schools of nursing and clinical practice settings. One of the Center’s key goals is to serve as a convener, bringing together opinion leaders to develop solutions to long-standing problems challenging the nursing workforce.

Just one year after the auction of their artwork, Barbara and Donald Jonas, joined by hundreds of nurses and leaders in the healthcare community, officially launched the Jonas Center for Nursing Excellence 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 2008, the Jonas Center created the Jonas Nursing Scholars Program to address the nursing faculty shortage. The Jonas Scholars Program awards grants to schools of nursing to support expanded numbers of doctoral students. The Jonas Center is also driving efforts to raise awareness among federal, state and local legislators of the far-reaching impact of the nursing faculty shortage.

Barbara and Donald Jonas now invest equal effort to learn about nursing and effective giving as they did about art. They are focused in their giving, involved with their grantees and look to demonstrate tangible impacts. The Jonas Center’s model – grantmaking paired with advocacy and convening – is already attracting other funders. While nursing is the prime philanthropic focus of the Barbara and Donald Jonas Family Fund, the Fund also supports select initiatives in mental health and at-risk youth and families – giving efforts that involve the Jonases’ children and grandchildren.

By transforming art into targeted giving, Barbara and Donald Jonas established a new philanthropic model that improves the lives, health and well-being of others.