By Bennett Marcus
Photography by Michael Paniccia
The philanthropist Jean Shafiroff is a longtime leader on the New York-Hamptons charity circuit, chairing numerous fundraising events each year and donating to countless causes with which she is not directly involved. Holding an MBA in finance from Columbia University and having worked in both public finance and private partnerships on Wall Street, Jean’s business acumen and fundraising capabilities are in high demand among charitable organizations, and she sits on the boards of multiple foundations.
A humanitarian and author hailed as New York’s First Lady of Philanthropy by both Hello and Hola! magazines, Jean is also a fashion lover, known for her iconic sense of style. She has built a museum-worthy collection of designer and couture ball gowns that she plans to donate to a museum one day, and has often appeared on best-dressed lists. In 2018, LookOnLine recognized Jean on its international best-dressed list alongside Anna Wintour and Meghan Markle. “I was in good company!” she says with a laugh.
Now that the global Covid-19 pandemic has brought changes to every aspect of life, the in-person galas which are a major source of funding for nonprofit organizations have come to a halt. Yet Jean has not slowed her philanthropic work, but has adapted to the situation, nimbly shifting her charitable activities by advocating publicly on national TV and radio for causes such as food banks, organizing virtual fundraisers, and even hosting a television show that highlights various philanthropic organizations and their leaders.
Jean has also somewhat refined the focus of her donations to help alleviate the immediate needs associated with the pandemic, including hunger and animal welfare, as Americans suffer widespread illness and unemployment due to the coronavirus. “This is a year of tremendous transition for everyone,” says Jean, who has been sheltering at her Southampton home. “We’ve never lived through a pandemic; we’ve all had to switch gears.”
TV Show Focusing on Philanthropy
SUCCESSFUL PHILANTHROPY, Jean’s new weekly television show, debuted on LTV in the Hamptons. Each episode features Jean interviewing charity-world leaders from the community and beyond. Based on her book of the same name, the show, which airs four times per week, promotes the premise that anyone can be a philanthropist by donating time, knowledge, and available resources.
The project came together quickly. Early in the pandemic, while appearing on a variety of national TV news programs to advocate for various causes, it was suggested to Jean that she consider hosting her own television program, and she was immediately intrigued with the idea. Producing and hosting the new show is hard work, but she loves it. “I don’t think there’s a talk show like this,” she says.
Adapting Philanthropic Work: Food Pantries, Covid Funds
As soon as the Covid-19 restrictions took effect and in-person fundraising galas were no longer feasible, Jean began making several national television and radio appearances to advocate on behalf of food pantries, racial justice, and animal causes. Regarding the recent concern about Covid-19 and animals, she often discusses the very few cases where animals contracted the virus, and also explains CDC guidelines for pet owners. “I did a lot of research, and continue to do so,” says Jean. “As of this date, there has not been one confirmed case of an animal giving a human the virus. So I report this in the media, and talk about how adoptions are up.”
In recent months, Jean and her husband, Martin, have shifted some of their charitable donations to Covid-19 funds and to food pantries like Heart of the Hamptons in response to the pandemic. “I am impressed with the work of the food pantries during this crisis, and I feel compelled to donate,” she says. Some organizations with which Jean has long been involved, and whose covid-19 funds she has supported include American Humane, New York Women’s Foundation, Stony Brook Southampton Hospital, Southampton Animal Shelter, NYC Mission Society, Global Strays, and Surgeons of Hope. With social upheaval across the country, Jean has also been advocating for racial justice via her social media channels. “I believe that racial justice must be achieved very soon.” She also uses her social media platforms — she has some 490,000 Instagram followers — to promote several charitable causes.
New Role at American Humane
A longtime animal welfare advocate, Jean was recently appointed an American Humane ambassador, and then the national spokesperson for American Humane’s Feed the Hungry program, which gives grants earmarked for food to animal shelters across the United States. “Many animals are going hungry because a tremendous amount of funding for rescue centers has dried up,” she says. “It is a great program and I am honored to serve as the national spokesperson. Our goal is to raise $1,000,000 to feed 1,000,000 animals. We have already raised more than half that amount and given out grants to feed 550,000 animals.”
Jean serves on the boards of the Southampton Hospital Association; the honorary board of the Southampton Animal Shelter Foundation; the New York Mission Society; the French Heritage Society; the Couture Council of the Museum at FIT; The Jewish Board (honorary trustee); Global Strays, an animal welfare nonprofit founded by her daughter. For her philanthropy, Jean has been honored many times by organizations, including the Stonybrook Southampton Hospital, the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society, New York City Mission Society, Southampton Animal Shelter, Surgeons of Hope, and even Al Sharpton’s National Action Network. Jean is a former board member of the New York Women’s Foundation, and she remains extremely active with this foundation. A Catholic, Jean has also been honored for her work by The Jewish Board and Hadassah.
With in-person charity galas for such worthy organizations off limits during the pandemic, virtual fundraising has become the norm. Jean recently served as a host and chair of virtual galas for the Stonybrook Southampton Hospital and the Ellen Hermanson Foundation, respectively. She believes that these alternative types of fundraisers are a good way for people to stay involved with the causes they support. “We all miss the big galas, but we are grateful to stay virtually connected.”
The day we spoke for this article, Jean discussed her role as the chair of the Southampton Animal Shelter’s Matching Fund Program, for which the shelter hopes to raise $500,000. We are not holding an event. We are a group of people who have formed with a common goal; we have weekly conference calls, and we are dedicated to the cause.” In the fall, she plans to be involved chairing and hosting other virtual galas as they are planned.
Jean loves the Hamptons and is grateful to be here. “We have six adults and five rescue dogs in my home. I’m being very careful because I would not want to get the virus or spread it, and I also would not want to be a burden on the hospital system,” she says. She and her family have been entertaining a bit, outside in their backyard with small groups who are all socially distanced and masked. Jean loves to entertain — in 2018, she was listed as one of the nation’s top 100 hosts as reported in Town & Country magazine — but, of course, this is not the year to hold big parties.
Jean and her family have been ordering takeout meals from area restaurants to help support the local business community. “We have so many great restaurants in the Hamptons and new ones are always opening up. I especially love Sant Ambroeus, Nick & Toni’s, Tutto il Giorno, Bamboo, and Naia.”
Despite the difficult challenges facing us, Jean is hopeful. “I am very pleased to see how people in philanthropy have come together to assist during this pandemic, especially since it is very difficult for many charities to raise funds at this time. It is wonderful to see so many people supporting one another and showing compassion. It is key to reach out to others and show compassion. If we all work together and support one another we will have a much easier time getting through this pandemic.”
Photography: Michael Paniccia
Hair: Henry de la Paz for Warren Tricomi
Make-up: JP Ramirez