At first glance, Jgooders.com looks like any other Jewish organization's Web site. Lisiting a variety of social welfare and cultural projects in Israel and the Jewish world, encouraging surfers to "get involved" and volunteer, Jgooders could, in fact, pass for its own philanthropic organization attempting to rally the international Jewish community for support.
However, Jgooders runs no projects of its own and fund-raises nothing for itself, rather it is a Jewish philanthropic "start-up" offering individual donors and Jewish or Israeli charities the chance to raise money with ease via new technology and social media promotion.
It's a new take on Jewish philanthropy, says founding investor and board member Judith Stern Peck, one of five investors who established the initiative with Israelis Smadar Fogel and Ronit Dolev.
Indeed, since its launch in November, Jgooders already lists more than 110 Jewish charities and some 230 individual projects for people to donate to and has quickly created a new forefront of Jewish giving. Aside from basic fund-raising, donors are also invited to monitor the specific projects of their choice and it allowed lesser-known charities, which in the past might have been brushed aside by much larger organizations, to gain recognition.
Inadvertently, the Web site has also provided an answer to medium and smaller nonprofits struggling with the global economic crisis and those hurt by the antics of the now infamous Jewish investor Bernard Madoff.
"It's a platform that allows what I have called the democracization of Jewish philanthropy," explains the 60-something New York-based mother and grandmother, who describes herself as an "adventurous person addicted to her Blackberry."
"While in the past there has been focus on major organizations and large donors, Jgooders levels the playing field for donors and for the small project or organizations," continues Peck, who was here earlier this month to promote the on-line initiative's Rosh Hashana drive. "Our model is more for the smaller donors. We are looking to attract people who make between $5 to $3000. The emphasis on the larger donor is not as important as it has been in the past. On our Web site donations can vary in size; we are trying to find ways in which everyone can be part of this."
While in the past Jewish organizations focused on several key benefactors, Peck explains that Jgooders allows people of all financial means to get involved in Jewish philanthropy and it offers an opportunity for anyone to be involved in certain projects belonging to a wide range of Jewish and Israel-based organizations.
"For us it is an excellent tool," exclaims Yonatan Gher, executive director of Jerusalem's Open House, a Jewish gay, lesbian and bisexual community which joined Jgooders in recent weeks. "We have two projects listed on the Web site - our LGTB community center and a health clinic that will provide anonymous testing for the HIV virus. In each project, we as a charity can monitor its progress and our supporters can receive more involvement and transparency on our goals."
While it is still too early for Gher to asses how much he has raised by signing on to Jgooders, he has been able to gauge how much traffic has passed through his particular Web page. He is feeling extremely encouraged.
"This is a very innovative initiative," he says, "I think it would also be beneficial to larger organizations because it allows for a focus on specific projects."
"We have had a lot of interest from a wide range of nonprofits," says Peck, who also works as a family therapist and a consultant for family businesses, family foundations and family offices. "They have shown an interest in getting involved in our initiative, but they need some guidance on how it actually works."
So how does it work? According to Peck, charities can list any number of individual projects on the Web site - organizations pay $130-$250 a year per project to be listed - and they can monitor who is supporting them, send out personalized "thank you" notes to those who make a donation and even link the Jgooder page to their organization's Web site.
In addition, she says, Jgooders staff of seven, which is based here, utilizes a wide range of social media to encourage the flow of visitors to its page, including recent campaigns on Facebook and Twitter, as well as "old-fashioned" methods such as e-mail lists.
"Building up such a business is like anything else you do in the world," she philosophizes. "You have to market yourself, get your name out there until you reach the tipping point."
ALTHOUGH FOR Jgooders the "tipping point" has yet to come, it is clear that global Jewish philanthropy, especially after the blow caused by Madoff and the recession, needs to start modernizing itself and reassess its direction.
"Obviously no one can predict whether this is a new era of Jewish philanthropy," says Peck, who has been actively involved in the voluntary sector since the 1970s, including work for the UJA Federation of New York. "But even compared to my generation, my children's generation has a whole different view of how they give philanthropically."
Author of the book Money and Meaning: New Ways to Have Conversations with Clients about Money, Peck adds: "I really think this will be a successful venture because being on-line is the way of the future. Just think about how much time a person spends on the computer. My children, who have children of their own, do everything on their computers - they shop, they communicate and even buy tickets for events.
"There has already been a huge trend in on-line global giving by non-Jewish charities. The Jewish world is lagging far behind in this and it's about time we caught up."
As well as its practical function of improving the flow of fund-raising and donations, Peck envisions her project as a chance to provide a lesson in Jewish giving and tikkun olam (repairing the world).
"The Web site can most certainly be used as an education tool. It's a chance to transmit Jewish values and an opportunity for all of us to be part of the larger international Jewish community," she says, launching into a personal story of how Jgooders has already instilled Jewish philanthropic ideas into her own offspring.
"We launched the Web site in November. So, for Hanukka I decided to give all of my grandchildren a voucher for them to make a donation to one of the projects. Some of them used it immediately and others did not, they needed more help or direction.
"About three months later, one Shabbat morning, I went to synagogue services with my eight-year-old grandson. Afterward, there was a discussion about what was happening with Gilad Schalit. They asked the children [in New York] if they'd heard of him and my grandson raised his hand, he said he'd heard of Schalit because his grandma had given him a voucher to make a donation on the Web site Jgooders. My grandson had been taken with the Gilad Schalit campaign and had started learning all about it. I was totally dumbstruck; it had not yet occurred to me that I was able to transmit such an important life lesson.
"Philanthropy is no longer just about where you give or how much. Its about how you give and how you involve your children in the process."
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