Jean Shafiroff

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A Life of a Philanthropy and Glamour


Cover: Dress by Oscar de la Renta, Bracelet by Buccilatti Right: Gown and Earrings by Oscar de la Renta,

Glimpsing into Jean Shafiroff’s world, it may seem as though the philanthropist’s life revolves around the glimmer and glamour of society balls. But that’s the trouble with glimpses; they are too fleeting to give you the full story. A wider view would show you that the humanitarian and author devotes herself to causes, not parties. It is simply that the parties drum up others’ excitement for those causes.

Shafiroff is not merely prancing around in breathtaking designer gowns and cocktail dresses. She is setting fundraising goals and achieving them, leading conference calls, making site visits and doing everything necessary to ensure that she makes an impact on New York charities. Hence, the parties—which are fundraisers for the New York City Mission Society, the French Heritage Society and other nonprofits near to Shafiroff’s heart—must go on.

“I’ve come to the conclusion that we’re here for a reason. We’re not meant to just consume,” says Shafiroff in an exclusive interview. “We have to do what we can to improve the lives of future generations. We have to be socially aware and we have to do something to enact change.”

Gown by Oscar de al Renta, Bracelet by Van Cleef & Arpels

Shafiroff’s career as a volunteer philanthropist is inspiring, if not a little intimidating. The multi-potentiate serves on several boards. These include the boards of the New York City Mission Society, New York Women’s Foundation, French Heritage Society, The Couture Council, Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services, Southampton Animal Shelter Honorary Board and Southampton Bath & Tennis Club Charitable Foundation.

Yet it is not enough to just sit on those boards. One must do so adroitly in order to make a difference. In doing exactly that, Shafiroff has earned notice after notice and accolade after accolade. Her philanthropic efforts have been mentioned by The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Gotham Magazine, New York Social Diary, Avenue Magazine, Hamptons Magazine, The Huffington Post and other outlets. Multiple organizations have honored her work, as well. The American Heart Association, American Cancer Society, Youth Counseling League, Surgeons of Hope, The Ellen Hermanson Foundation, Pet Philanthropy Circle and Animal Zone International are among them.

It’s impossible to just sit back and not do anything.

Shafiroff’s fundraising prowess and leadership capabilities did not blossom overnight. Prior to becoming a philanthropist, she worked full time and raised a family. But first came her impressive education. Before she became wife to investment advisor Martin Shafiroff, she earned her B.S. in physical therapy from the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and worked as a physical therapist. When she realized that was not her life goal, she applied to and was accepted by the Graduate Business School of Columbia University. After earning her M.B.A., Shafiroff worked on Wall Street, which sharpened the financial know-how she gained from business school. She also became the mother to two daughters, Jacqueline and Elizabeth, who share her dedication to charitable causes.
These experiences inform the fundraising and event planning she does today.

Gown by Carolina Herrera, Earrings by Oscar de la Renta, Flowers by Fellan

Causes Near and Dear

As much as she may wish to spread the wealth and joy, Shafiroff is selective about which organizations receive her time and attention. She has chosen to hone in on three causes in order to maximize her impact in particular fields: animal welfare, women’s rights and underserved populations.

“Very often, you’ll see people with extraordinary wealth—say, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett—doing targeted giving in an area where they feel they can make an impact,” says Shafiroff, explaining that she wants to employ the same strategy. Shafiroff has long cared about achieving equality for women and bettering the lives of homeless and low-income people.

“I don’t think women are treated equally around the world,” she says. “Pay parity is an issue that’s very appealing to me. In so many places around the world, women’s rights are being compromised in a big way.” She adds, “We need to have concern for future generations. If we don’t make a big effort in our lifetime to give back, then we’ve really wasted a lifetime.”

It was only later on that Shafiroff, who was recently appointed an ambassador for the American Humane Society, began to truly understand how interconnected humans and other animals are as earthly neighbors. In the United States, pets are particularly popular, though pets are not always treated with the respect they deserve. With this realization came the desire to add animal welfare to her carefully curated list of causes.

“65 percent of all American households have a pet,” says Shafiroff. “In this country, our pets are very important to us, which is why I’m focusing on animals more.” As a self-identified animal activist, she believes pet owner education is essential and wants to put it at the center of her fundraising efforts for adoption organizations. “We need to make low-cost or free spay and neuter programs available to people in underserved communities,” she says. She also opposes puppy mills and at-home breeding. “People end up with ten dogs and no one to buy them, so they end up in shelters. Overpopulation is the root of the problem. If we had an education program [in this and other countries], we’d be much further ahead,” she says.

Speaking of other countries, Shafiroff has been instrumental in mentoring her daughter Elizabeth and her friend Lindsey Spielfogel as they build their nonprofit Global Strays. This brand new 501(c)3 organization has rescued several dogs from developing nations. The dogs are then placed in foster homes until they can be adopted. The organization’s main thrust is to fund rescue groups in developing nations and to educate pet owners about proper animal care. Global Strays currently partners with animal rescue organizations in Nicaragua, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic to help expand their spay and neutering programs.

It is worth mentioning that the organization only distributes grants to organizations it has visited. “Going and actually seeing the work that a charity does can really reinforce your passion,” says Shafiroff. “Seeing that the work is making a big difference has reinforced my passion for the work I do.”

Gown by Carolina Herrera

Brain Meets Heart

As emotionally invested as Shafiroff is in her causes, she takes a practical approach to fundraising. A party is never just a party. It is an opportunity to elevate a cause in the minds of New Yorkers and others.

“The primary purpose [of a charity event] is to bring funding to the charity,” says Shafiroff. “Then, bring visibility and then of course people, although yes, the event needs to be fun and exciting.”

One way she makes the events fun and exciting is by wearing larger-than-life gowns. “Fashion and philanthropy can often go hand in hand,” says Shafiroff, who sits on the board of the museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology. “When people go to an event, they get dressed up and it raises the level of the occasion. That’s why we dress up for weddings, for instance.”

Though she has amassed quite a number of gowns, cocktail dresses and other enviable attire, she does not plan to keep them forever. “I hope to donate my gown collection to a museum one day,” she says of the garments from both established and up-and-coming designers. “I do love style and fashion and I will wear these interesting pieces for as long as I can.”

Though Shafiroff puts on memorable, often dramatic affairs, getting there is less than glamorous. Planning a successful gala requires true strategy, business acumen and an eye for detail. These are skills that Shafiroff developed while studying at Columbia Business School. She schedules planning meetings—usually conference calls—to discuss and finalize logistics well before the special occasion. Participants will go over an outline point by point, whether that means debating the pros and cons of certain locations or brainstorming about potential donors and corporate sponsorships. In addition to smoothing out these and other details, Shafiroff will try to generate enthusiasm about the associated cause by keeping everyone informed of relevant trends and current events.

Photo by Billy Farrell Agency, Red Gown Victor de Souza, Gloves by Milly

“A charity event has to be run like a business,” she says. This means that Shafiroff stays acutely aware of finances throughout the planning process. She explains that the expenses for a charity event should never exceed one-third of the funds brought in for an event and should really be much less. Thus, the expenses for an event that raises $1 million should not exceed $333, 333.33 (to be precise). Ideally, Shafiroff says event costs would be lower so as to “raise as much money as possible.”

In addition to planning and arranging fundraising events, Shafiroff makes introductions for charities. These introductions put charities in touch with key figures,
such as potential board members and donors, who can also contribute their time, money, and knowledge to non-profit organizations. Shafiroff used her extensive philanthropic expertise to author her first book: Successful Philanthropy: How to Make a Life by What You Give. The title, which has an introduction written by Georgina Bloomberg and has earned five stars on Amazon, has become something of a bible for those on the charity scene. Shafiroff plans to write another book and continue making television and radio appearances to speak about philanthropy and fashion.

“I enjoy the work,” says Shafiroff. “I wouldn’t want to be playing golf or Bridge. I’m an empty nester. My children are out of college. I find this so rewarding.”

Beth Stern and Jean Shaffiroff

Photo by Patrick McMullan
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