Jewish groups hope smaller donors will fill Madoff void

UJA officials say they've already seen slight uptick in number of new donors.

madoff after court 248.88 ap (photo credit: AP)
madoff after court 248.88 ap
(photo credit: AP)
Fundraisers for Jewish nonprofits and charities already hard-hit by the economic downturn say they are hoping that smaller donors and those whose wealth is still intact will step forward to fill the void left by the evaporation of billions in the Madoff scandal. Officials at the UJA-Federation of New York said they had seen a slight uptick in the number of new donors contributing to their annual end-of-year appeals, even though the average donation size was smaller than in previous years. "People realize this is a time for action," said Stuart Tauber, the organization's senior vice-president of financial resources. A charity dinner held earlier this week for Wall Streeters netted $18.8 million - slightly less than the $21.6m. raised at last year's event, organizers acknowledged, but significant given the damage from the stock market free-fall and the implosion of the $50 billion Ponzi scheme run by money manager Bernard Madoff. "A lot of people still walk around knowing we are the most privileged Jews ever to walk the face of the earth, and they recognize the wealth they've accumulated is unprecedented," Tauber told The Jerusalem Post. Response rates for telephone, mail and on-line appeals - targeting people giving less than $1,000 - have increased dramatically, though the average donation has gone down to $110 from $118 last year, said Leslie Lichter, the UJA's executive director of direct marketing. The organization took a page from US President-elect Barack Obama's hugely successful campaign fundraising playbook and suggested smaller donation amounts - $18 and $36 instead of $54 - to attract people who were feeling strapped. "We're asking for less money, but we've seen that you can raise more money in smaller amounts from more people," Lichter told the Post. Jewish donors give about $5b. annually, according to studies by the San Francisco-based Institute for Jewish and Community Research. Some wealthy patrons whose investments were wiped out have indicated they will nonetheless make good on promised funding. North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health Care system spokesman Terry Lynman said earlier this week that an unidentified donor intended to reimburse the system for $5.7m. that was lost from the hospital's portfolio. Others have not been so lucky. Dozens of nonprofits - including the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee - dependent on money from the shuttered Chais Family Foundation, which has provided about $12.5m. annually to Jewish initiatives in Eastern Europe, are scrambling to find other donors or cut initiatives. A foundation in Michigan that provides fresh food in urban areas said Thursday it was closing because its main donors, who were not named, had been bankrupted. Meanwhile, larger organizations are still combing through their books to determine the extent of their own losses. Hadassah, the Women's Zionist Organization of America, announced it had lost $90 million invested with Madoff - believed to be as much as 20 percent of its overall endowment. The organization, which is building a new $210m. tower at its campus in Jerusalem's Ein Kerem neighborhood, said it would likely have to make additional cuts in programs and staff beyond what it had already anticipated because of the economic downturn.