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Giving Large

The cherry-paneled boardroom of Combined Jewish Philanthropies is humming. Many of the most powerful and influential members of Boston’s Jewish community are gathered to discuss the goals of CJP, a nonprofit that distributed $71 million last year. Four sleek black speakerphones flash green lights as disembodied voices jump in and out of the conversation. Myra Hiatt Kraft, a pair of spectacles dangling from her teeth, is sitting at the center of the action, in the familiar position of chairwoman of the board.

When the conversation turns to a hypothetical discussion of reducing CJP’s outreach to non-Jews as a way of streamlining the organization’s ambitions, Kraft, chairwoman since September, speaks. “This is a very important issue,” she says. “We live in this community. We’re Jewish, and most of the world isn’t. I don’t see how you can just summarily say, ‘Let’s lop one of these off.’ ” Instead, she suggests, CJP should pursue a new alliance with United Way and Catholic Charities, two other philanthropies with an interest in the disadvantaged. Outreach stays.

Myra Kraft is best known as the wife of New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, and she has enough money and friendships to be almost anywhere, but day after day, she immerses herself in the mundane business of overseeing nonprofits in Boston. By shaping strategic plans and raising huge amounts of money, often making the hat-in-hand phone calls that many of her super-rich peers avoid, Myra Kraft is modeling a new form of engaged giving that is transforming the relationship between philanthropist and philanthropy.

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