Cover Feature

Making Philanthropy Fashionable

Michael Paniccia

For Humanitarian Jean Shafiroff, Giving Has Become An Art Form. So Too Have the Statement-Making Pieces She Has Worn on the Charity Circuit.

Her love of giving knows no bounds.  Those are the first seven words in-the-know New Yorkers would use to describe philanthropist Jean Shafiroff.  As Elise McCabe Thompson, president of the New York Mission Society notes, “When it comes to giving, Jean Shafiroff leads the pack.”

Shafiroff not only sits on the board of the New York Mission Society, but seven other organizations as well, an impressive number given the commitment each one takes.  From the New York Women’s Foundation to the French Heritage Society the presidents, chairmen, and CEOs of these organizations echo McCabe Thompson’s sentiment. Of Shafiroff, Ana Oliveira, president and CEO of the The New York Women’s Foundation powerfully proclaims, “She sets forth a path for philanthropists, new and old, to reflect on their values and discover their own philanthropic identity.”  Elizabeth F. Stribling, chairman of the French Heritage Society, agrees: “Jean epitomizes the values of a true philanthropist; she is generous, caring, concerned, and determined.”

In a city as competitive as New York, words of flattery do not often abound to this degree. Yet, for Shafiroff they do, and for good reason.

To understand Shafiroff as a philanthropist, it is first essential to understand her as a woman.  She not only raises a significant amount of money annually as a spokesperson and gala visionary for the charitable causes in which she believes, but she herself gives generously as well.  It may appear a nuance, but it is far from it.  Shafiroff walks the walk. Sure, she makes monetary donations buying tables, hosting parties at the homes she shares with her husband Martin, and raising funds at a tireless clip, but she volunteers her time and knowledge as well as writing checks.  That is the point of differentiation that sets Shafiroff apart from her counterparts.

She holds two degrees from Columbia University, an MBA, which gives her financial knowledge, and an undergraduate degree in physical therapy that explains her deep compassion. Hence, the words ‘time’ and ‘knowledge’ that she always returns to.  She has both. As she passionately says, “We were put here on this earth to learn, to grow, and to give. We must make opportunities available to people so that we can improve their future.”

Shafiroff channeled this passion into a highly acclaimed book on the art of giving, which fits perfectly into a a chic day bag. In Successful Philanthropy: How to Make a Life by What You Give, Shafiroff empowers emerging and existing philanthropists to build a better world. It is a guidebook not only on how to give, but how to give greatly with our hearts and with our wallets. She shares her experiences and challenges with finding the time to do so and why it is imperative.  “Giving energizes us and those around us. Sometimes it feels like there are not enough hours in the day. How could we possibly find the energy to volunteer when we barely have enough time for ourselves, families, and friends?” She goes on, “There is nothing more gratifying than the feeling of helping someone else.  It elevates us out of our own concerns and takes us to a place where we feel a profound connection to the value of life.”

The book takes the experiences Shafiroff herself has with sitting on the boards of the New York City Mission Society, the New York Women’s Foundation, the French Heritage Society, and others, and serving as an ambassador for the American Humane Society and the Southampton Animal Shelter, which allows her to raise awareness.  Shafiroff believes wholeheartedly that we reach self-fulfillment and find the meaning of life through the art of giving. And several nonprofits agree with with her enlightenment, as she has been honored by the American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society, among others.

From countless cover stories to full-length features on Shafiroff’s philanthropic activity, there is always one thing to note other than her sheer generosity: she always looks absolutely wonderful! Her dresses, jewelry, hair, and makeup are perfection. Her calendar is filled to the brim with benefits, galas, and cocktail parties, which even the most social of New Yorkers would find slightly overwhelming.  But she hits the mark, every time.

It would be extraordinarily difficult to argue that she is not one of the most fashionable in the philanthropy world. Shafiroff is a patron of some of the world’s most coveted designers, from Chanel to Gucci and Carolina Herrera to Zac Posen.  She also has an impressive collection from the late Oscar de la Renta and continues to buy from the house today. Just the other evening she wore a metallic tangerine strapless cocktail dress to host the Surgeon’s of Hope Annual Gala Kickoff party at her home. She has previously been honored by the organization and continues to support their work sending heart surgeons to Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Paraguay, and Panama to perform heart surgery on children that might otherwise not live.

For Shafiroff, it always returns to passion and philanthropy.  Her adoration of fashion has earned her a coveted seat on the board of the Couture Council at the Museum of the Fashion Institute of Technology. She supports emerging designers and donates her pieces to be put on view for their students.  And she proudly delights in it. The art of understanding fashion is powerful and her profile is only on the rise because of it.

As she tours the country being a guest speaker on TV and radio shows promoting her book and her causes—which include women’s rights, racial equality, animal welfare, and bringing both help and awareness to underserved children—she looks to expand her philanthropic footprint globally.  And she is smartly using the platform of social media to do so.  Shafiroff’s Instagram is a magical mix—a taste of it all—from getting fitted for a custom B Michael gown to visiting dogs and cats at the Southampton Animal Shelter and promoting the message of #adoptdontshop.

With Shafiroff one thing is clear: There is integrity in all that she does and a deep love of the work she was put here on earth to do.  “As a philanthropist, you write your own story of giving that unfolds over a lifetime,” she notes. “Philanthropy benefits others around us and expands our life experiences.  Any and all efforts we make to look past our own lives, to meet the struggles that other people face head-on, and to do what we can to make the world a better place broadens our perspectives and gives us a new appreciation for the power we have to change things.”

As we all consider ways to contribute to the world today, Shafiroff is a shining example of the myriad of ways in which we can do so.


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