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Hamptons Life

Mar 18, 2016 4:40 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Southampton Socialite Jean Shafiroff Pens Book On Giving

Jean Shafiroff signs her book for Alexander Dube and Anka Palitz at The Palm Beach Bookstore in Florida on March 16, 2016. PATRICK McMULLAN/PMC
Mar 20, 2016 5:20 PM

If you don’t recognize the name Jean Shafiroff, the prominent socialite and wife of Barclays investment adviser Martin Shafiroff, it’s probably because you don’t read Page Six—and not because you’re hiding in a closet. If it’s the latter, hopefully, it’s Ms. Shafiroff’s closet, which is reportedly 100 square feet of their Park Avenue apartment and stuffed with evening gowns that have price tags as high as $10,000, by designers such as Oscar de la Renta, Zang Toi and Victor de Souza.

Regardless, it may not be the exquisite gowns or the contents of her closet for which Ms. Shafiroff will ultimately be remembered. As she states—more than once—in her new book, “Successful Philanthropy: How To Make A Life By What You Give,” “Few of us will be remembered for the business we created or how many vacations we took.”

In a phone interview, she added, “We’ll be remembered more for what we’ve done to help those in need. And even if we’re not remembered, I feel it’s our obligation to try to do something to give back, and maybe the reason for being here.”

Talking to Ms. Shafiroff is, more or less, like talking to any other Southampton neighbor. She has no airs about being wealthy, though that is an undeniable fact. Clearly, her focus is on giving to others. She’s chaired fundraisers for Southampton Hospital, the Ellen Hermanson Foundation and the Southampton Animal Shelter Foundation, and serves on the boards of NYC Mission Society, The New York Women’s Foundation, and The Jewish Board. Recently, she’s delved into solving the problem of global warming. All of these sit atop an extensive list of philanthropic activities.

Given how busy she is with charity work, writing “Successful Philanthropy” was a project Ms. Shafiroff pushed off when publishing company Hatherleigh Press offered her the contract. Eventually, she decided to write the book to encourage others and to inspire future generations.

“I believe anyone can be a philanthropist—or just about anyone,” she said. “Most people are not able to write huge checks, but they have other important resources to give, and that is their time and knowledge.”

Addressing her message to empty-nesters and retirees as well as millennials, she advocates for grassroots community giving. To reach the younger audience, she invited Georgina Bloomberg, the thirty-something daughter of the former mayor of New York City, to pen the introduction. As Ms. Shafiroff explained, “People who get involved when they’re young can stay involved for a lifetime.”

As a road map and a small guide to getting people started on the “how” of philanthropy, her book offers pertinent tips, insights and strategies. Underlying it all is the belief that “true fulfillment can be achieved through the spirit of giving.” To the extent that Ms. Shafiroff repeats this idea often, reading her book can feel like listening to your mother. But that is the style of her persuasion—rooted, as it is, in life experience.

When it comes to sharing that experience, Ms. Shafiroff opens up graciously: “Since I was raised middle class and was happy and had a good child life, I remember everything about it and I never forget my roots. I think you can never forget your roots. If our life does change and we are fortunate enough to have an easier lifestyle or more affluent lifestyle, we are obliged to do something to help those in need.”

In fact, Ms. Shafiroff’s upbringing in a humble home—her father taught music because “he had to make a living”—speaks to her charm. About the Columbia University/Juilliard grad, Ms. Shafiroff recalled that he “spent his life teaching students, and that was very important to him: to teach the next generation.”

After attending Catholic schools for 12 years, young Jean learned amply from nuns the importance of giving back. As an author, she draws parallels with world religions, from Catholicism and Judaism to Buddhism, and with American heritage. Hearkening back to the 17th century, Ms. Shafiroff’s book includes brief biographies of early American philanthropists such as John Harvard, who helped found the Massachusetts university that bares his name by contributing his library and part of his estate.

While the first part of the book is written in an inspirational vein, the second half focuses on the how of becoming a successful philanthropist. Here, Ms. Shafiroff ’s business experience—she holds an MBA from Columbia University—pays off. She urges readers to identify what they’re passionate about, what they want to change, and where they think they can add value.

Citing websites that list charities by category and rating them on their performance, the author outlines parameters for measuring fiscal performance and responsibility. Her insights into management style, especially leadership and collaboration, lend validity to her message about the act of giving and caring about others.

It is precisely this sense of altruism that falls under a suspicious gaze in other recent publications, such as Linsey McGoey’s “No Such Thing as a Free Gift: the Gates Foundation and the Price of Philanthropy” and David Rieff’s “The Reproach of Hunger: Food, Justice, and Money in the Twenty-First Century.” In the latter, Mr. Rieff alleges that private philanthropy is superseding state-run anti-hunger programs, moving the power dynamic from the people to the hands of a few “philanthropcapitalists.”

When challenged to respond to that, Ms. Shafiroff is a bit taken aback but equally down to earth. “Philanthropists do a lot of work that the government can’t do or just doesn’t have the funds to do or the manpower to do.” She added that “as a board member on several charities I have to sign conflict of interest forms that mean that none of the board members are doing any business with the charity—that we don’t profit, or that any business we’re involved in isn’t profiting.”

On the level of her personal commitment and objectives, Ms. Shafiroff appears entirely forthright. Nor does she dismiss the excitement she gets from leading such a fascinating lifestyle. With a social calendar that involves chairing galas for NYC Mission Society and The Jewish Board in April, being honored by The American Cancer Society in May, and at the American Heart Association’s 20th anniversary benefit in the Hamptons in June, Ms. Shafiroff has become a galvanizing social force.

Asked what she most enjoys about her charitable work, she responds cautiously, and with an eye to the impression it may leave us with: “I enjoy putting together these events. And when they’re over, they’re successful. Knowing that we helped our constituency. That’s what you do it for.”

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Thank you, Jean Shafiroff, for all that you do to support so many local charities here on the East End!
By Robert I Ross (245), Hampton Bays on Mar 24, 16 6:24 PM