Charity - Here's how you can help from home if you want to

It is always recommended to give as directly as possible, with as low overhead as possible. My advice in a crisis is to wait a few days or weeks, if possible, to see where money can be best used.

Israeli shekels (photo credit: Courtesy)
Israeli shekels
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Every year there are hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes and other natural disasters. Then there are terrorist attacks that leave shattered families in their wake. And now there’s the coronavirus pandemic! Everyone wants to help but what is the best way to help during a crisis?
Tzedakah is more than just giving charity. The root of the word “charity” is from the Latin “caritas,” meaning love, and in modern English, caring. Tzedakah, however, comes from the Hebrew root TZ-D-K, meaning right or just. Unlike charity, which one does because of caring about the situation, giving tzedakah is one of the commandments from God in the Torah. We give because we must. It is an obligation to do so, whether you personally care about a particular situation or not.
But how you give tzedakah is up to you, and understanding the root of the word helps us give in the right way, justly and fairly. In other words, giving tzedakah is about doing the right thing. During a crisis, we should use the same rules we would use the rest of the year. These include knowing and understanding the non-profit to which you want to contribute. It is never a sufficient criterion to say “but they do such good work.” I would hope that all non-profits do good work, after all, that is why they were founded.
When giving, one needs to look beyond the good work being done. It is possible for non-profit X and non-profit Y to both be doing the same good work, for example, in feeding hungry people. If you only used the criteria of “they do such good work” then you could comfortably give to either one. However, perhaps organization X wastes too much of its donations on poor management, high salaries, outrageous fundraising costs, high rent and other items, while organization Y is much more efficient.
Unfortunately, most organizations fall into the first category, with waste and overhead expenses ranging from 20% to 50% or more. That is, of every 100 shekels you donate, only NIS 50-NIS 80 actually go to where you thought they were. The good news is that there are many good, efficient organizations where the overhead expenses are 15% or less, hence, allowing more of your hard-earned precious tzedakah shekels to go where you want them to.
Overhead is a crucial part of any business or organization. Most need to pay rent, utility bills, administrative salaries, bank and accounting fees, and more. The important thing is trying to define what is reasonable overheard. In my 30 years of experience of working for foundations that support non-profits, I have seen that 10%-15% of all expenses used for overhead is reasonable. Be aware, however, that not every organization can fit into a prescribed model of exact numbers. Some organizations might have had an unusual previous 12 months, with significantly fewer or uncharacteristically higher expenses.
Another important area to review about a non-profit before you donate is their net assets. A fiscally responsible organization should have some cash reserves to help carry them through difficult times. Some experts in the field say these reserves can be as few as three to four months worth or as much as a year or two. However, an organization with exorbitant cash assets does not need your contribution. There are many organizations with cash assets of tens or even hundreds of millions of shekels. Why would you want to give them your 180 shekels when there are others in real need?
SALARY IS another area deserving of examination. This is always a very sensitive subject and needs to be examined carefully. If the top salary earners of a non-profit are earning 30,000 shekels a month or more, is that reasonable or too high? What about 18,000 shekels a month? Are these figures the cost to the non-profit employer, the gross wage of the employee, or the net wage?
I generally use the average national wage as a guideline and try to determine how the salary in question compares for comparable work both in the private and public sectors. I also take into consideration that a CEO might have a slightly high salary, but if there are no administrative support staff then perhaps it might be justified. For example, a CEO with no support staff who earns NIS 25,000 a month, versus a CEO earning  NIS 18,000 a month with two secretaries earning NIS 7,500; each requires NIS 33,000 every month!
Financial information about non-profits is available online for free. In Israel, the government Registrar of Non-Profits (Rasham Ha’Amutot) works with Guidestar Israel (, and all of the details are presented there, most of it in clear and concise language - no background in accounting necessary! Most countries have either or both governmental and privately run websites with this information.
During a crisis, people often respond quickly without knowing too much about the organization to which they are donating. It might be a well-known place with lots of government funding and a great PR campaign. The potential contributor still needs to be very careful.
It is always recommended to give as directly as possible, with as low overhead as possible. My advice in a crisis is to wait a few days or even a few weeks, if possible, to see where your money can be best used.
In the past few weeks, foundations I work with have contributed over a million shekels for immediate, direct relief for people in need during the coronavirus pandemic. All of the donations were distributed very judiciously, making sure that people and families in need received what they needed at a time that they needed it. All requests for funding are thoroughly vetted, with a high level of due diligence; in other words, doing it right and ensuring that precious shekels are not wasted.
The writer is a philanthropic consultant helping people, philanthropists and foundations from around the world give their tzedakah money wisely, efficiently and effectively. He has worked in this field for more than 25 years.