Behind The Ball Gown: Jean Shafiroff Opens Up About Philanthropy For The Next Generation
On a very uneventful Thursday in New York City, Jean Shafiroff, known for her philanthropy, unique style, and kind heart invited us into her impressive Park Ave apartment.
“Do you need anything?” asks the agelessly glamorous, red headed Shafiroff, with a personality that shines bright like the Chrysler building and a name as recognizable as the Statue of Liberty. “Water? Cookies?” she says. “I’ll be just a minute!”
Jean is an astute philanthropist, businesswoman, fashion lover and author, but at her home she is very casual and relaxed. Her home library is stacked with family photographs and awards she has earned for her charitable efforts — there is even an award she received from the American Cancer Society on a frying pan! Jean has received a slew of other such honors from American Heart Association, NYC Mission Society, The Jewish Board of Family, Children’s Services, The Surgeons of Hope, the Ellen Hermanson Foundation, the Pet Philanthropy Circle and Animal Zone International, just to name a few.
Don’t mistake Jean as just another Upper East Side socialite, she holds an MBA from the Graduate School of Business at Columbia University, and a BS in physical therapy from Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons. She has worked both in public finance and private partnerships on Wall Street, and values the meaning of hard work.
Prior to that, she was a physical therapist at St. Luke’s Hospital in New York City. Jean is happily married to Martin Shafiroff, an investment advisor, and together they have two wonderful daughters, Jacqueline and Elizabeth, who share their mother’s interest in charitable causes.
Jean’s gala ball gowns are as notable as her high-profile charity work. Whether a custom-made gown from B.Michael or Victor de Souza, she makes a splash on the red carpet at any event she attends. “Fashion is fun and I love supporting local and young designers.” Shafiroff, who isn’t afraid to repeat an ensemble, shares, “I’m just like everyone else and I’m on a budget!” Jean continues, “Fashion is a hobby, and employs many women, and without people supporting the fashion industry many of those women would not have jobs. Fashion is a form of art and I believe that it’s fine to enjoy it.”
She wants to make it clear that while she loves to have fun with fashion, her priority is to help bring attention to the charities and organizations that she is affiliated with. She works tirelessly to achieve her fundraising goals, attending board meetings, and responding to emails and telephone calls.
“Visibility is important and if I can bring visibility to the charities that I’m involved with it is beneficial to them and the work they hope to accomplish,” says Shafiroff in this exclusive interview, “we have to do what we can to improve the lives of future generations. We also have to encourage the younger generation of today to get involved and to give back. Even young children can learn about philanthropy, simply from learning to be kind and to share from their parents or guardians.”
Jean is viewed by many as a professional philanthropist, and she has definitely earned the title. She offers her time, resources and reputation to the several boards that she sits on. These include the boards of New York Women’s Foundation, New York City Mission Society, Couture Council (Museum of the Fashion Institute of Technology), French Heritage Society, Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services (20+ years), Southampton Animal Shelter Honorary Board, and Southampton Bath & Tennis Club’s Charitable Foundation. In addition, she is an Ambassador for the American Humane Society.
“One of the most important goals of a charity gala or event is to bring funding to the charity,” says Shafiroff. “Then, you have to have visibility, visibility encourages new people to get involved, volunteer or donate. The work that the charity does is most important and fundraising.”
Jean shared her tips for navigating the world of philanthropy in her first book, Successful Philanthropy: How to Make a Life By What You Give. The book is an inspirational and comprehensive guide to giving. Jean aimed to inspire the future generation while redefining what philanthropy means.
“You don’t have to be a millionaire to contribute, I recommend that people get involved by giving time, knowledge and available resources,” Jean explains. “I also recommend that people do their homework and research as much as possible before they decide to get involved with any charity. Several resources that I recommend are, Guide Star, Better Business Bureau and Charity Navigator, but, I also suggest meeting the players and see how they work and manages their fund.”
“Those who have resources have an obligation to give.” — Jean Shafiroff
There is no doubt that Jean is at the top of the philanthropic class. Year after year, Jean’s star shines more brightly and garners a sufficient amount of attention and press. But her busy social calendar and attendance on the charity and gala scene can sometimes lead to unflattering publicity. Mrs. Shafiroff doesn’t let other’s opinion get in the way of her work. “If they want to write stories about a dress, or whatever, what can I do?” says Jean. “I accept that there are going to be people that won’t accept or understand what I’m doing. Maybe they can’t see how interested I am in the charities that I support and maybe I need to work on that more.”
When Jean is not attending a board meeting, soliciting donations or responding to emails, she enjoys quality time with her husband, Mr. Martin Shafiroff. The two have been married for almost 35 years and he supports his wife and all of her philanthropic endeavors.
“Balance is important. When I’m working on an event that I have coming up, I have less time. My husband works a lot and I’m not interested in playing golf or being on a tennis court. I’m thankful for that I’ve been able to get involved in philanthropy — it’s given me a life and it’s a great privilege,” declares Shafiroff. We make the time to attend many charity events. I spend less time socializing with friends or attending a lot of luncheons or social dinners. My daughters have their own lives now and the balance is easier because it’s just my husband and our wonderful pets at home.”
Jean’s message and platform is clear: give, share and be kind. Something she believes needs to be taught at a young age. Now, Mrs. Shafiroff wants to share her message with millennials. “The younger generation is the future and they are going to inherit this,” says Jean. “Also, I’m very fortunate to work with a group of diverse individuals, groups, and organizations and I couldn’t do the work that I do without diversity,” exclaims Shafiroff. “Now is the time! Time to get involved and to give back.”
Mrs. Jean Shafiroff is: hard-working, generous, kind and forgiving. All qualities that enable the Catholic Long Island native to spread her message of compassion, thoughtfulness and giving. She acknowledges that our current political climate is a sensitive subject, “I’m not a political person, so I never want to say anything to offend anyone because I have friends on both sides,” says Jean. “However, I find the #MeToo movement incredibly inspiring and that women are speaking up about abuse and are actually being heard, it’s incredible!”
Shafiroff had a very eventful 2017 and is looking forward to an even more rewarding 2018, “I’m a regular person, a person who has made mistakes, but I’m thankful that I’ve been placed in a position to give back,” shares Jean. “In 2018, I am going to continue to serve all of the charities that I support and begin writing my second book to encourage future philanthropist. It’s my hope that the future generation believe in themselves and that the future is theirs to conquer.”