The Mgifts of giving

A website allows users to give small donations to a Jewish non-profit as an alternative to tangible presents.

Andi and Arron Saitowitz 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Andi and Arron Saitowitz 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
After a lovely Shabbat hosting guests in their Ra’anana home last year, Arron and Andi Saitowitz looked around at the gifts they’d accumulated – wine, flowers, candy dishes – and had a revelation. It wasn’t that they were unappreciative of their friends’ gestures, but the gifts seemed like a waste of good money.
“We thought, ‘What a shame.’ We didn’t invite people over to get gifts; but, on the other hand, people don’t like to show up empty-handed,” says Andi.
Not content merely to brood over the situation, they sat down and created (the “m” is for “meaningful”), a website that allows users to give small donations to a Jewish non-profit as an alternative to those perfunctory chocolates and roses.
The three-step process lets you choose an occasion, an amount ($5 to $100) and a charity. The system generates an email to the honoree and a receipt for the giver within minutes.
“We’ve both been involved in charity work our whole lives,” Andi explains.
She worked for 10 years at Beit Issie Shapiro, one of Israel’s leading organizations in the field of disabilities, and she and Arron volunteer at several charities and non-profits. “We thought, ‘What if the equivalent of the amount of money spent on hostess gifts could go to a worthy cause instead?’” Anyone can donate through an organization’s website, but small amounts barely cover the charity’s expenses for sending out a receipt, she points out.
“What if you could use your phone or PC to choose a charity and an amount that is affordable, and straight away get your receipt and a beautiful email informing the honorees – anywhere in the world – that a donation was made in their honor?” she says.
Arron, along with a programmer and a project manager, devoted many hours to setting up the website to seamlessly integrate with each organization’s donation system. For difficult integrations, the charity compensates the programmer for his time. Nobody else takes a percentage, salary or fee, so 100 percent of the donation goes to the cause.
“Mgifts is purely a portal where different charities can go on board, and it gives your gift a more lasting value,” says Andi.
They didn’t limit Mgifts to Shabbat hosting. Users may choose to donate for holidays, birthdays, memorials and other milestone occasions. The site is geared to English-speakers, with options in Israel, the United States, Canada, South Africa and the United Kingdom, with Australia soon to come.
“There hasn’t been a service like this before, and now anyone can give, no matter what their ability is,” says Andi.
Though the amounts are purposely modest, over the past year Mgifts has raised NIS 120,000 for the 20 or so charities currently on the site, the vast majority of which are based in Israel.
The Saitowitzes do their homework to assure that participating charities have a solid track record in terms of how donations are apportioned. Beit Issie Shapiro, for example, was recently named Israel’s most effective non-profit.
“Mgifts is such a creative and innovative way for us all to be part of a giving community,” says Jean Judes, executive director of Beit Issie Shapiro in Ra’anana. “For us, each donation is very meaningful for our children with disabilities and their families, and for the donor.”
Joseph Gitler, founder and chairman of Leket Israel: Israel’s National Food Bank, says his NGO is also pleased to be a part of this initiative. “As an organization that is very concerned about unnecessary waste, we support this wonderful project that encourages people to donate to a charity of their choice instead of bringing their hosts a standard gift,” he says.
“The biggest advantage with Mgifts is that charities can target people who don’t have a lot of money,” says Andi, a 33-year-old life coach and motivational speaker. Arron, 34, works in the Diamond Exchange in Ramat Gan. Both are natives of South Africa who have lived in Israel since their teens.
The biggest challenge is convincing people that it’s fine to show up without a wrapped gift in hand. “It’s very hard to change culture,” says Andi. “We still feel obliged to arrive with a physical present, and we must change the mindset of what is acceptable.”
The Saitowitzes are eager for other organizations to come on board, subject to vetting.
“It’s a win-win for everyone because the charity doesn’t have to do any work. And the user might not know which charity to support, but there is a link to each one’s website to learn more about it, and that exposes people to a range of charities they might not have known before,” Andi points out. “It’s such a great feeling to know you’re able to give, and your full donation is going to a charity you support. We want Jewish charities from around the world to come on board, and for schools, shuls and communities to enjoy and benefit from the site and share it with others so that Mgifts can be given and received worldwide.”