“The Hamptons are often considered the playground of the wealthy, but make no mistake, philanthropy flourishes there. It is a vitally important part of the social fabric for many,” Jean Shafiroff told me from the library of her Park Avenue apartment, with her two rescue pit bulls, Bella and Daisy, napping by her side.
Perhaps more than any other New York society figure today, Shafiroff — who is currently rebuilding her home in Southampton — has made philanthropy her raison d’être. And now she has penned the ultimate how-to guide for budding humanitarians: “Successful Philanthropy: How to Make a Life by What You Give.”
A fixture of the New York and Hamptons gala circuit, high-profile guests line up for photo after photo with the glamorous Shafiroff and her billowing gowns. In April at the New York Mission Society’s gala at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Shafiroff’s ballroom couture attracted legendary New York Times fashion photographer Bill Cunningham, who snapped away at her and high-profile guests like Katrina Peebles and former Governor David Paterson.
At a recent cocktail party celebrating her book at her home, attended by the likes of Mort Zuckerman and other media bigwigs, she posed for photos with Georgina Bloomberg, who wrote the introduction to her book.
Shafiroff is working to explode the idea that philanthropy is just for those “at the top.” Through her book, she hopes to make charity approachable even in the most unapproachable of places: the Hamptons.
Shafiroff hopes to make charity approachable, even in the Hamptons.
“My book is not about telling people which charities to get involved with. I invite the reader to think about their passions and discover that on their own,” Shafiroff tells me. That being said, “In the Hamptons there are a few major events” that make an impact, she adds, giving me a rough guide to the East End’s philanthropic scene.
In June, Shafiroff will be an honoree at the American Heart Association’s 20th Annual Hamptons Heart Ball in Bridgehampton. She’ll then chair the Southampton Animal Shelter Fifth Annual Unconditional Love Dinner. “If you are interested in animal causes you would want to go to the Southampton Animal gala, or to ARF (Animal Rescue Fund of the Hamptons),” she says.
Shafiroff is herself deeply concerned with animal causes. During a recent lunch at Michael’s, she recounted a recent trip to Costa Rica where she rescued several malnourished dogs that were eventually adopted by celebrities in the States. Her daughter just rescued several more on a trip to Nicaragua.
Finally, Shafiroff is chairing the Ellen Hermanson Foundation Gala, in support of the breast center at Southampton Hospital. “I’ve chaired the [Ellen Hermanson Foundation] gala three times with record-breaking years for fundraising,” she says. In addition to the causes Shafiroff is personally involved in, other major events this season include the Parrish Art Museum’s Midsummer Party and the Robert Wilson Watermill Center’s annual benefit.
But whatever you support, on the East End or in East New York, Shafiroff’s message is to get involved on a community level. “It is important to support local causes in the Hamptons,” she said. “I think that if you are a resident of a community, you should support that community.”