(photo credit: REUTERS)
According to a recent report issued by the Diaspora Affairs Ministry, American Jews are responsible for 90% of all donations to the State of Israel. With the dog days of summer upon us, we are fast approaching the High Holidays, which for the non-profit industry is one of the most important times of the year. Israeli charities specifically take advantage of this period to appeal to the Diaspora for assistance in their missions. Their annual solicitations have become as much a rite of passage of Jewish holidays as overeating. So reliable are the requests that there is little need to think about charity for the rest of the year. We wait for the letters and the phone calls, we give and we forget.
The current Israel-Diaspora conversation is mired in controversy regarding the Western Wall and conversion. I would like to suggest that a problem of equal seriousness exists at the point where the global Jewish community and Israeli non-profits interact. Some Israeli organizations treat their overseas donors like a teenager treats their parents’ wallet. Move in, sweet talk, grab the money and run. However callous, the responsibility to change how this relationship functions lies with the donor.
While we should not belittle any amount or frequency of giving, perhaps donors should be striving for something more. Rather than deciding where to give based on the mail that happens to arrive at our house or which charities are working with our synagogues, we should be attempting to play an active role. We should search for the charities that most accurately reflect our concerns and values and we should care about how our donations are used after we give.
An active approach to giving could have an enormous impact on both charities and donors. Charities would face a demand for greater accountability, helping them to be become more effective. In addition, they would have access to more volunteers as enthusiasm is fostered for their causes. Meanwhile, donors would be more likely to internalize the mission of the charities to which they are giving. Their involvement in researching and thinking about the organization may also lead them to advocate for their preferred mission within their social circles. Giving would go from a chore to an active source of meaning in our lives.
Making the shift from a passive model to an active model will not be simple. The passive model is straightforward and doesn’t take time from our busy schedules. In order to overcome this obstacle we have to make active giving as fun and easy as possible. This approach was best demonstrated by the viral ALS ice bucket challenge which raised over $100 million dollars for a disease with which most people have not had direct experience by creating a fun and viral campaign.
To make the shift to active giving on a grander scale, potential donors should not have to spend hours searching for information on charities working in the field that interests them. In addition, a social-interactive aspect could create ways to share your causes with your friends which will encourage both you and them to give.
Finally, modern conceptions of transactions should be integrated in order to make potential donors as comfortable as possible. Shopping for a charity should be no different than shopping for a laptop. It should be online, comparison friendly and only require a few clicks of a mouse (or taps on a screen) to “buy the product.”
Luckily, the tool to create this revolution already exists. Jgive.com is a platform that provides charities a place to sell their missions and donors a place to search through a huge bank of diverse charities. The platform does not deduct service fees from each donation as it is itself a non-profit and ensures that the charities are transparent in their use of the funds.
Jgive.com provides a great example as to how the active approach to giving could have a particular impact on Israeli-Diaspora relations. Imagine Jews around the world using the Internet to search through a number of charities in Israel and choosing where to give their money knowing exactly how it will be spent. Not only will Diaspora Jews be more engaged in their charity, they would in fact be shaping Israeli society, lending their voice to the Jewish project that is Israel. In this way, charity would become more than just a moral imperative and could excite and engage more people.
Perhaps more importantly, the Diaspora communities would cease to be simply the “parents’ wallet” of Israel. Israeli charities would engage individual Diaspora communities through online and in person campaigns to make their case that they are most worthy of their generosity. If we can successfully shift our perceptions of how giving works, we will see a far more effective charitable sector and greatly improve the societies in which we live. Most importantly, individuals will gain the knowledge that our actions matter and influence society no matter the distance between giver and receiver.
The author is founder and CEO of Jgive.com – an Israeli start-up nonprofit aiming to change how Jews give to Israel.