When it comes to philanthropy, Jean Shafiroff is one of the most respected names. Not only is she known for her financial contributions, she is also revered for her fundraising capabilities, leadership and hard work. Named “the First Lady of Philanthropy” by both Hello and !Hola! magazines, she has continued to distinguish herself time and again for nearly two decades and she remains someone to closely watch in the future.
As one of the most successful and visible volunteer fundraisers and donors on behalf of countless charities throughout Manhattan, the Hamptons and increasingly internationally, perseverance, attention to detail, and above all else, creativity are all adjectives that describe Jean who divides her time between homes on the Upper East Side and Southampton.
A graduate in Physical Therapy from the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University, Jean worked a physical therapist at St Luke’s Hospital in New York City , where exposure to human suffering sparked her desire to do charitable work. She then went to graduate school to earn an MBA in Finance from the Graduate School of Business at Columbia University before working on Wall Street in public finance and private partnerships. Her combination of business skills, empathy, powerful connections and social visibility are of unique benefit to the organizations she supports.
Some of the most recent work she’s been involved with includes helping the underprivileged, healthcare, women’s rights and animal welfare. She is also equally committed to continuing to help others become more involved in the philanthropic process with this month’s re-release of her book Successful Philanthropy: How to Make a Life by What You Give in paperback.
Originally published in hardcover in 2016 with a special introduction by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s daughter Georgina Bloomberg, Jean’s book has widely been lauded as one of the most informative books on giving. Addressing such topics as building a life around giving and how to choose a charity, it also redefines the word philanthropist, stating that anyone can become a philanthropist regardless of their financial means by giving their time, knowledge and available resources.
Of why she initially decided to write Successful Philanthropy: How to Make a Life By What You Give and why she feels so passionate giving back—something Jean credits to both her parents and teachers that was instilled in her as a child growing up in suburban Long Island—Jean says: “We have an obligation to see the need in the world and take action.”
While taking action has long been a mantra that Jean has lived by, the book’s re-release comes on the heels of what has perhaps been one of her busiest and most prolific years as a volunteer fundraiser and donor yet. On November 21, Jean co-chaired the French Heritage Society’s New York Gala Dinner Dance – the Black and White Ball. The day before this on November 20, Jean hosted and underwrote a community Thanksgiving dinner for 400 people at the New York City Mission Society Headquarters (Minisink Townhouse) in Harlem. Jean personally served meals to those who attended the free dinner, many of whom were homeless. In mid-November she served on the benefit committee of the New York City Rescue Dogs Rock Gala. On November 5, she hosted a gallery party at the Laverdin Gallery for Global Strays.
In October, she co-chaired the Dominican Women’s Development Center’s 31st Anniversary Gala in addition to chairing the Surgeons of Hope’s 7th Annual Charity Gala at the JW Essex House in Manhattan honoring stage actor Diego Luna, who currently serves as Surgeons of Hope’s Heart Ambassador. On October 7, she co-chaired the New York Women’s Foundation Gala , a charity that creates an equitable and just future for women and families by uniting a cross cultural alliance that ignites action and invests in bold community led solutions across New York City.
Before that in September, Jean co-hosted a large cocktail party for the New York Women’s Foundation at the New York Historical Society.
Jean’s leadership roles with several charities in the Hamptons every summer is exemplary. This past summer in the Hamptons , Jean chaired both the Southampton Animal Foundation’s Shelter Gala and the Ellen Hermanson Foundation Gala in July. In July also, Jean officially joined the board of the Southampton Hospital Association. Not only was this her eighth board appointment, but Jean—who has chaired the Southampton Hospital Gala three times—was also honored along with her husband Martin at Stony Brook Southampton’s 61st Annual Summer Party in August.
And in the beginning of 2019, Jean co-chaired the Southampton Bath and Tennis Club Charitable Foundation Gala and also chaired the 64th Annual Viennese Opera Ball in Manhattan. In addition, Jean hosted a large cocktail party in her New York City home for the New York City Mission Society Gala, as well as co-chairing their gala in June at Capitale. Last spring, Jean hosted two other separate cocktail parties; one at her Upper East Side apartment for Surgeons of Hope and the other for Stony Brook Southampton Hospital at her Southampton home.
She also has many high-profile events planned for 2020, including co-chairing the Southampton Bath & Tennis Charitable Foundation Gala in January and co-chairing the Viennese Opera Ball in February just to name a few. In 2020, she is also slated to chair many of the same galas she chaired in 2019, including galas for New York City Mission Society, the Ellen Hermanson Foundation, Surgeons of Hope and the French Heritage Society. Several others are in the works.
For her philanthropy and dedication, Jean has also been honored by countless different charities, just some of which include the American Heart Association, American Cancer Society, NYC Mission Society, Stony Brook Southampton Hospital, JBFCS, Southampton Animal Shelter Foundation, Youth Counseling League, the Dominican Women’s Development Center, the Hadassah, the NYC Film Festival and Surgeons of Hope.
Beyond her impeccable academic credentials, philanthropic prowess and the fact that she’s an author, there’s another dimension to Jean that people revere: her sense of style. So much that she’s equally well-known as one of the best-dressed hosts who is also regarded as among America’s top party givers. Having received top rankings on many best dressed lists for her style and extensive ball gown collection, she was listed by the salloniere.com as one of 2019’s top 100 American party givers this past January and as one of the 12 best dressed women of the world by LookOnLine.com in 2018.
Though her number-one priority is to help support the many diverse charities and organizations she’s involved with, she also loves to have fun with fashion while hosting these galas. Summing up her passion for fashion and style, she explains: “Style is an expression of oneself. When I’m well-dressed, I feel good. Fashion is a highly creative form of art. I am in awe of the incredible vision of so many of our present-day fashion designers. My involvement on the board of the Couture Council of the Museum of the Fashion Institute of Technology has expanded my knowledge and love of the world of fashion.
“To wear and own the creations of some of our great fashion designers is a great privilege. For the past several years, I have also been collecting ball gowns. Most are the creations of American designers such as Oscar de la Renta, Mary McFadden, Zac Posen, Zang Toi, Carolina Herrera, B Michael and Victor dE Souza but she also collects the works of Malan Breton, Valentino and other fashion designers not based in the United States. Many are couture pieces. One day I plan to donate my ball gown collection to a museum. I look forward to that day. In the meantime, I am enjoying the experience of wearing them.”
Jean’s two daughters and her husband Martin are also very involved in philanthropy. A few years ago, her youngest daughter co-founded her own charity called Global Strays, which strives to promote and improve animal welfare in countries that don’t have the proper resources to do it on their own. Jean is an active board member of Global Strays, which currently funds animal rescue groups in Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic and Columbia. Internationally, Jean is also a supporter of the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women. In 2019, Jean traveled to England to lend her support to Walking With the Wounded, the British Charity founded by Prince Harry in 2010 designed to help former British Armed Forces servicemen and women in their career transition from the military to civilian life.
Recognizing the need to promote philanthropy through multiple planforms, Jean views social media as yet another important vehicle for garnering support of various charities and encouraging others to donate their resources and volunteer their time.
Towards that end, she currently has over 450,000 followers on Instagram alone. Besides supporting her favorite causes though social media, yet another passion of Jean’s is helping to promote up-and-coming designers in her social media posts. Her humanitarian philosophy is apparent in everything she does.
“I believe we are not just put on this earth to just to consume and to provide for ourselves and our immediate families,” she concludes. “We have an obligation to help those that have less than we do. When we share our resources, we come closer to understanding the true meaning of life.”
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Hair: Henry de la Paz, Creative Director at Warren Tricomi
Make-up: JP Ramirez for Angelo David Salon | Giorgio Armani Beauty