Kosher philanthropy

There is no better framing of the philanthropic risks taken by international donors than highlighted in Ephraim Kishon's seminal 1964 film Sallah Shabati.

There is no better framing of the philanthropic risks taken by international donors than highlighted in Ephraim Kishon's seminal 1964 film Sallah Shabati. Starring Haim Topol as the scheming, patriarchal new immigrant, one famous scene shows him greeting an American millionaire as he comes to view his contribution to the Jewish people and the land of Israel. Shabati celebrates the guy's achievements as he proudly shows him the donor plaque sitting picturesquely on the hillside, then he shoves the millionaire back in his car, rips the plaque out the ground and replaces it with a new one as he prepares to greet the next American millionaire. It is this short segment of film that Ardie Geldman and David Roth, founders and directors of Donor Associates in Israel (DAI), use in their initial presentation to potential donors to convince them to use DAI as a way of protecting their philanthropic investments here. "I have been involved in so many ribbon-cutting ceremonies, where the wife gets a bouquet of flowers and everyone is happy, then the family or individual goes back home and within six months the building or project they've donated to is falling apart," says Geldman, who made aliya from the US in the early 1980s and has spent the last 30 years working for a variety of Jewish communal and Israel-Diaspora organizations. "It makes us very angry; the donor has a right to know that his gift will last." Calling it "kosher philanthropy," Geldman says that part of the problem is that the organization or local authority responsible for the project is so busy looking for the next donor that it fails to protect the investment of the previous one. "We let our clients know that we will be there after the ribbon cutting ceremony to check that the place is being looked after and is being maintained," he continues. It is nearly a year since Geldman and Roth, also an immigrant from the US who has a master's degree in nonprofit management from Regis University in Colorado, set up DAI, but both are aware that there is growing competition in this field. "We are not the only ones out there doing this," admits Geldman, adding that the growth of competition also "proves our sanity, that there is a need for this sort of thing." According to Prof. Eliezer Jaffe, founder of the Hebrew University School of Social Work and author of Giving Wisely, a list of non-profits in Israel, there are currently more than 20 private companies involved in protecting donor investments here. "Private direct donors want someone to tell them if a project is kosher or not," says Jaffe, who has already set up a database of such companies. "These kind of businesses grew out of a demand from charities to find funders and from donors looking for ways to keep track of their money." Geldman says that while non-profits are well designed to fulfill their professional goals, they are not set to provide information to donors. He also believes that cultural differences make it difficult for Israeli institutions to relate well to their international funders. "Sometimes people are left angry or bitter at how their donations are received and protected in Israel," he says. "One donor I approached said he would no longer give to any small projects but only to large organizations, such as the Jewish Agency for Israel. But even projects promoted by JAFI usually end up falling into the hands of the municipality at some point. Our plan is to drive these municipalities crazy until they keep their end of the bargain. If a donor is happy when he gives his gift then he will give again." Currently DAI focuses on donors such as private individuals, families, foundations or Jewish federations who are looking to make a gift of more than $100,000. And although the company only works with three private donors at the moment, Roth and Geldman spent time in the US last month promoting their business. "We try to tell our potential clients that their contribution is an investment, not a charity," says Geldman. "They should take their donation as seriously as a business venture." However, he notes that because it is a relatively new idea, people are hesitant to give money to protect their money. "Rather, they say, 'We just gave money; now we have to give more money to you too,'" he says. "But it does make sense, and major donors to Israel have a right to know in detail what is going on on the ground."