Giving Legend: Jean Shafiroff Devotes Her Life to Philanthropy

Jean Shafiroff
Jean Shafiroff
Photo by Michael Paniccia

Few people dedicate themselves to philanthropy like Jean Shafiroff, an author, TV show host and humanitarian who is one of Palm Beach County’s newest homeowners.

Shafiroff currently serves on nine charitable boards and chairs several annual galas and other fundraisers. She has been honored by dozens of organizations and is widely recognized as an authority on philanthropy. Her contributions include helping other philanthropists spread the word about their important causes on her TV show, Successful Philanthropy. The TV show is an offshoot of Shafiroff’s 2016 book, Successful Philanthropy: How to Make a Life by What You Give, which serves as a practical guide to modern giving.

“The whole concept of my book is that anyone can be a philanthropist, even if they don’t have money,” Shafiroff says. “You can give your time and knowledge. Our country is based on this principle. A lot of people have told me my book inspired them to become more philanthropic, and that means a lot to me.”

The book’s introduction was written by Georgina Bloomberg, daughter of businessman, philanthropist and 2020 presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg.

“Georgina comes from a family that is very involved in service and giving back, and she represents the next generation of philanthropists — a group I believe is really important to cultivate,” Shafiroff says.

Many charitable organizations and the people they serve have faced unprecedented challenges over the past two years.

“This has been an extraordinarily difficult time in history, and it’s very important that we all do what we can,” she says. Fundraising has decreased because of the pandemic, threatening the survival of many organizations. Many animal shelters across the country, for instance, have struggled to keep their doors open. As a national spokesperson for American Humane’s Feed The Hungry campaign, board member, donor and fundraiser for the group, Shafiroff helped the charity reach its goal of raising $1 million to feed a million shelter animals through the Feed the Hungry COVID-19 program.

In addition to American Humane, Shafiroff currently serves on the boards of the Southampton Hospital Association, New York City Mission Society, New York Women’s Foundation, Casita Maria, French Heritage Society, Couture Council of the Museum at FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology) and Global Strays, an international charity founded by one of her two daughters. She is also an honorary board member of the Southampton Animal Shelter Foundation and an honorary trustee of the Jewish Board, where she previously served for 28 years as a board member. “I am Catholic, but I love this organization and the work they do,” she says.

Her other philanthropic activities include hosting cocktail party fundraisers in her home and chairing or co-chairing about eight or nine galas each year for various charities. Chairing an event carries multiple responsibilities, from fundraising to drumming up interest.

“Usually, a chair purchases a table, sells tables and tickets, brings in sponsors, gets involved in the planning process, helps to form a host committee and creates excitement about an event,” she explains.

Low overhead is a key to a good charity fundraiser, she adds. “There are exceptions, but generally, overhead should not be more than a third of all the money that’s brought in.”

Shafiroff believes that part of her mission as a philanthropist is to give other people a platform to talk about the work they do. On her TV show, which airs in the Hamptons and New York City, she has given voice to a variety of causes through her interviews with close to 100 philanthropists, celebrities and politicians, including Ndaba Mandela, Nelson Mandela’s grandson and founder of the Mandela Institute for Humanity; Kerry Kennedy, president of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, an advocacy organization; actress and model Carol Alt, who discussed her work with animal charities; and actor and philanthropist Tony Danza.

“My TV show is designed to inspire and motivate others to get involved in philanthropy, and I plan to grow it and try to make it national,” says Shafiroff, who is also nearing completion on a second book, with an expected release date in 2022.

During the lockdown in 2020, Shafiroff recorded some of her TV show episodes remotely from the Palm Beach area, where she and her husband, Martin Shafiroff, spent three months. Martin is vice chairman of Stifel, an investment firm.

Now that they own a home in the area, the Shafiroffs plan to spend more and more time in Palm Beach in the months and years ahead.

“Palm Beach is a very beautiful and friendly place, and it’s a very philanthropic community,” Shafiroff continues. “We have supported a number of Palm Beach causes and, as we spend more time in Palm Beach, I will get more and more involved in local charities. I am excited about getting more involved, but because I am very involved with many charities already, I want to add judiciously — serving on nine boards is a lot of work.”

Shafiroff says she feels “blessed” to be able to do all the philanthropic work that she does.

“I feel that since I am able to do it, I have a responsibility to do it,” she adds.

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