In conversation with The First Lady of Philanthropy Jean Shafiroff


Jean Shafiroff is a philanthropist, humanitarian, TV host, writer, and the author of the book, Successful Philanthropy: How to Make a Life By What You Give. Jean is often referred to as “the first lady of philanthropy” by the press because of her generosity and extensive work as a volunteer fundraiser and leader in the philanthropic world. Shafiroff serves on the boards of 8 charitable organisations, and each year she chairs between 8 and 10 different charity galas. She also hosts and underwrites many parties in her homes for different charities. Jean Shafiroff has been honoured dozens of times for her philanthropic work and leadership. Among the many causes, she champions are those involved in women’s rights, rights of underserved populations, health care, and animal welfare. Jean hosts a TV show on philanthropy entitled, Successful Philanthropy where she interviews celebrities, politicians, executive directors of charities, and fellow philanthropists.

On September 22, 2022, Shafiroff received a Proclamation naming her the “First Lady of Philanthropy of New York” from NYS Assembly member, Rebecca Seawright, representing the New York State Assembly. On November 17, 2022, the 117th US Congress, recognised Jean for her works in philanthropy. This recognition was given by US Representative Carolyn Maloney of New York.

In addition to her philanthropy, Jean has a passion for fashion and style. Jean Shafiroff has been featured on different best-dressed lists multiple times. She has a large collection of couture and ready-to-wear designer ball gowns that she will donate to a museum in the future. With an MBA in Finance and a BS in Physical Therapy from Columbia University, she worked on Wall Street in public finance and partnerships. Prior to that she practiced Physical Therapy before becoming a full-time philanthropist.


ELLE : How did your journey of philanthropy begin?

Jean Shafiroff (JS) : My journey into philanthropy started at a young age. I have to thank my teachers and parents who played a key role in guiding me on the importance of helping those in need. They were good role models. I attended 12 years of Catholic school where the nuns taught us the importance of helping those who were less fortunate than we were. But all religions teach about the importance of giving back. I grew up very middle class. My father was a schoolteacher, and my mother was a stay-at-home mom. My father was very interested in the family, and then providing a good education to his students. He cared about all of our futures. My mother would volunteer at our school and our church. In my book, Successful Philanthropy: How to Make a Life by What You Give, I write about the importance of teaching philanthropy to children at a young age in both schools and then at home.
After high school, I continued my education at Columbia University where I earned a BS in Physical Therapy and then an MBA in Finance from the Graduate School of Business at Columbia University. My education played a key role in the philanthropic work I do. Education opens so many doors. In between college and graduate school, I worked as a physical therapist at the inner-city hospital, St. Luke’s Hospital in NYC. There I worked with patients who lived at or below the poverty level and who also had serious illnesses. I then decided to go back to school and pursue higher education. After earning my MBA, I worked on Wall Street for a number of years. I gradually got involved with different charities and then helped at my daughters’ schools. Today I serve on 8 charity boards and each year chair about 8 to 9 charity galas. I also host and underwrite charity events in my homes and elsewhere. My areas of focus are women’s rights, rights of underserved populations, animal rights, and health care. I also enjoy supporting the arts and causes that help to reduce discrimination.

ELLE : What does philanthropy mean to you? And what is your mission?

JS : Philanthropy is the act of giving to improve the lives of underserved populations. It also includes making the lives of animals better and improving the environment as well. My mission is to work hard to create change in the lives of others and then to motivate others to get involved in the philanthropic process. In my book Successful Philanthropy: How to Make a Life by What You Give, I write about how anyone can be a philanthropist. You can become a philanthropist by giving your time and knowledge. For those that have resources, we must also donate financially. Life is not created equal and those that have resources have an obligation to give. I am interested in spreading this message around the world. 

ELLE : As the First Lady of Philanthropy, your job demands being in a social space very often. How do you manage to constantly be on the go and also make time for yourself?

JS :  Time management is key. Also staying healthy and eating a healthy diet is important. I admit that my personal time for myself is limited. But the philanthropic work I do is so compelling and rewarding that it has become who I am. As a result, my philanthropic work and personal time have merged. I am very blessed to be able to do volunteer philanthropic work. It is most fulfilling. Of course, I enjoy doing other things as well, such as travelling, socialising with friends and family, and then pursuing my love of fashion and the arts. But my spare time is limited. My philanthropic work is a top priority along with spending time with my family. To the readers, once you get involved in the philanthropic process, you will experience how rewarding it is.  

ELLE :  Describe your personal sense of style.

JS : My style varies depending on where I am going and what event I am attending. I love getting very dressed up in formal wear. The fantasy of formal dress intrigues me. But I also love very casual wear. My style could best be described as eclectic.

At times, my style is very dramatic and then at other times more conservative or playful. It really depends on where I am going and what I am doing. For example, if I have a business meeting, I must dress more conservatively. But my real passion is dramatic evening wear. I have a large collection of ball gowns, some of which are couture. I plan to donate all of them to a museum one day. Right now, I loan pieces to museums when requested.

ELLE : The job comes with its fair share of responsibilities. Could you take us through some of your roles and duties, be it chairing an event or being a board member?

JS : The volunteer work I do is very serious and requires integrity and hard work. But when you love what you do, it becomes much easier. As a philanthropic leader others look to me for direction and ideas. Therefore, I must serve as a good role model. It is very important that I try to motivate others to get involved in philanthropy. I am especially interested in getting the next generation involved in charity work. I also try to encourage others who have become successful to get involved in the giving back process. Most of my days are spent at the computer, on the phone — or out at events. There are many board meetings that I must attend. Many of those meetings are now done via Zoom. 

ELLE : Tell us a little bit about your TV show ‘Successful Philanthropy.’

JS : I love hosting and producing a TV show. On my show Successful Philanthropy, I interview celebrities, politicians, executive directors of charities, and fellow philanthropists about their philanthropic work. I enjoy interviewing and giving others a platform to speak about their lives, ideas, and philanthropic work. When others watch the show, I hope it helps to motivate them to get involved in the philanthropic process. The show airs several times each week. I would love to grow the show and have it become national or even international. 

ELLE : Do you have any upcoming events or future projects that you are working on?

JS : Yes, I’m in the midst of finishing up a second book that I hope will be uplifting to those who read it. I also have plans to write the second addition to Successful Philanthropy: How to Make a Life by What You Give. I am excited about spreading the message of philanthropy worldwide and getting younger generations interested in giving to those who are less fortunate than themselves. If I could leave readers with just one message, that message would be to look for the beauty in helping those that have less than you do. When you help others, you will receive great satisfaction. Life is not created equal and those that have the ability to help others have a responsibility. It’s far easier than you think! To quote the great Gandhi, “Be the change you want to see in the world”. To take that one step further. Seek to change the lives of the less fortunate and become stronger and happier in the process.

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