Monday, February 1, 2010

Money and Klal

I know that a whole lot of members of Klal have majored in the finance related fields. Plenty of people out there who have both knowledge and experience of financial modeling. That being the case, why aren't we seeing any of that knowledge being put to work re solving some of the financial problems of Klal's organizations? Let me get specific here: the number one question that needs to be asked and that has not been asked or answered is: "How much money is there in Klal?" That's right, what is the specific number as relates to money?

But the questions should not stop there. If it might indeed be possible to come up with a specific figure--not some generalization made on the basis of who knows what--as to how much money Klal has, the next required question would be: "How much of that money is realistically available to fund the organizations of Klal?" (Yes, realistically. People have needs that they are going to take care of for themselves and their families, and those needs are going to be funded before any money goes out.) And a related question would be "How is any money realistically available apportioned in support of which organizations of Klal?" There is an assumption in so many of the solutions put forward that there IS enough money to fund all that is needed/wanted by Klal but it needs to be accessed better, distributed better. Wrong.

What we aren't looking at is cost versus income across ALL of Klal's organizations. We many times focus on only one particular organization, shoving all the others to the side. Certainly school tuition is a major concern to Klal. But it is not our only concern, certainly not if we judge by the number of tzedaka organizations in existence, the number of community help programs, the number of places people give tzedaka to. And looking at school tuition as isolated from all the other concerns of Klal means that we will have a skewed view of what is possible or probable in dealing with the money needs of our schools. The schools aren't "only children"--they belong to a large group of siblings, all with funding requirements.

I'm going to present this anecdotally as I do not have all the figures in front of me, nor are all the figures actually available. I'm even going to be very conversative in my apportionments. However, I believe my conclusions will still hold true. Klal cannot afford itself right now. In point of fact, Klal has not been able to afford itself for a while, but it's been able to punt on credit for some time now. What the bottom line is showing us now, however, is that the point of reckoning has arrived.

Let's say that we determine that X amount of money is actually available to fund Klal's organizational needs. And let's say that we come to the conclusion that our schools as they are presently structured need 1/2 of that X in order to continue. No problem, right? Wrong. What do the other organizations need in order to continue?

Not included in the discussions about school tuition are the expenses for any specialized schools dealing with physical/learning problems. There aren't all that many of these schools but they do exist and they do provide a necessary service to Klal. Let's say those specialized schools need 1/8 X to exist. Still no problem. We also haven't mentioned any schools of advanced learning, whether yeshivas or colleges. Just where is their funding coming from? Let's give them 1/8 X as well.

Well then, let's look at poverty. There are those in Klal poor enough to need outside help to provide just the minimum basics of a roof over their head and something to eat. They, too, need part of that X--let's apportion 1/8 X to them as well. 7/8 X has been allotted to Klal's needs and has only covered four areas where Klal needs to put in money for support. We're doing just great, right?

Nowhere have I mentioned any support for the vast number of organizations which deal with specific medical problems or health issues, and there are dozens if not hundreds of these organizations. Nowhere have I mentioned the various organizations which provide services to the shut-ins and elderly among us [note: with the boomers aging there are going to need to be more such services put into place, not less]. I haven't mentioned various community structures, such as shuls, mikvaot and the various regulatory groups. I haven't mentioned a whole slew of specialized organizations already in existence that provide worthwhile services and that require Klal's monetary support to stay in existence. Let's say that all these various types of organizations and programs need 2/3 X to be able to function right now, never mind expanding in the future as Klal grows. Guess what? The total of monies needed exceeds X.

And that is just with my guesstimating how much money is needed. I am quite sure that I am underestimating how much of X each organization is in need of, and it well could be that all these organizations need a total of 2X to function or maybe even 3X or perhaps even 16X.

To sum up, we in Klal are guilty of air-dreaming. We build community structures and start organizations, all of which provide necessary or desireable services to Klal, and we have no idea, none, as to whether there is enough money available to maintain them now and in the future. We don't know how much money is available in Klal to support what we have created. We create first and worry about money later. We assume there is plenty of money only we just haven't tapped it yet. We are guilty of ignoring a basic fact: money is finite, not infinite. It is more than just possible that there is going to have to be an across the board reorganization of the various structures of Klal. But we will never know just what we need and what is possible if we keep grabbing the wrong end of the stick.

Any balabusta knows that first you look at the budget, the funds available, and then you go shopping--you can only buy what there is money to buy. Klal needs to start acting like a responsible "purchaser"--just how much money is there to fund what we want? Until you answer that question the rest is all hot air and daydreaming.


Lion of Zion said...

"We also haven't mentioned any schools of advanced learning, whether yeshivas or colleges. Just where is their funding coming from?"

brooklyn/queens college get most of their funding from the state. why exactly is there a need for colleges under jewish auspices?

Anonymous said...

LOZ: The same could be asked about some other organizations/institutions.
There are many organizations that provide services to Klal that are also available through government and non-religious organizations.

Tuvi said...

LOZ, last I looked yeshiva gedolos like Torah Vodaas and the like don't get government funding like CUNY does. We can argue that not everyone needs to sit and learn in these places forever but I don't think we can argue that some people need to be in advanced learning for the benefit of Klal. We do need rabbonim even if not quite as many as we are preparing. And all of these yeshivas put out their hands to get funds from Klal, not just from their alumni.

I agree with ProfK that we need to see the bottom line for ALL of the things that Klal is funding and then look at how much money is really out there. I also agree that we probably don't have the money for every group that is in existence. Like Anonymous said, we are duplicating some services that are already available through the government.

Anonymous said...

As a practical matter how could you possibly discover how much money there is available in klal? Wouldn't you need to do a highly detailed census of all Jews specifically asking about income and outlay? First, lots of people who would refuse to answer the questions. Then some people who would give you phony numbers either to make themselves look better on paper then they really are or to hide assets they don't want anyone knowing about.

The question of how much money we have is a valid one if you're trying to figure out how much is available to fund the programs we have in place but I can't see how you would ever come up with the figure.

Anonymous said...

Even if we knew how much was available to be spent, without a central authority to collect and allocate funds (kind of like how the Catholic church operates, at least within a diocese) I doubt there would be much agreement about priorities. People don't want to be told exactly where/how to give their tzedaka money. In fact, less might be raised if people couldn't give to their pet projects. For esample, some people will dig deep for a particular school or shul, wheras others want their money to directly serve the poor and hungry. Other people want their money to go to job training. etc.

Lion of Zion said...


i wasn't talking about torah vodas. i was referring to most divisions of touro and YU. (and not of particular ortho interest, but brandeis as well.)

Rachel said...

Lion, can't think of a religious group that doesn't have a college or two. Of course most of these colleges/universities aren't just registering students of their specific religion any more except maybe in a few of the college divisions of the universities. Plenty of frum kids who end up at Fordham or St. Johns here in NY. Even YU you can't say is all Jewish except maybe for the YU college or Stern college or the high schools. Their graduate programs except everyone. If you donate to YU you aren't just donating to the colleges--think Einstein and the law school etc.

I think Anon 9:04 may have a good point. How are you going to find out how much money is really available? But Anon 9:17 also has a good point. Even if you knew how much money was available how could you make sure that money was spread out over all the places that need it?

Anonymous said...

Rachel: Usually you can earmark donations for a specific program or fund.

Lion of Zion said...

"If you donate to YU you aren't just donating to the colleges--think Einstein and the law school etc."

that's the problem. (although anon is correct. i always earmark my YU donations specifically for revel, my alma mater)

Lion of Zion said...


"can't think of a religious group that doesn't have a college or two."

i don't care about other religious groups. we have justify whether we need them on the merits.

Tuvi said...

LOZ--we could argue whether we need YU or not or at least the colleges that are all frum. But we for sure could also argue that we don't need dozens of gemachs all servicing the same people in the same area. Or dozens of any of the other tzedaka organizations that are duplicates of each other. And we would have people arguing back that YU is a need for some or that all the different organizations should be there. Isn't that the big problem we face? A limited amount of money available and no one being willing or able to put the organizations of Klal into some kind of priority arrangement or being able to say that some groups have to merge or go out of business to free the money for the more important interests of klal.

Lion of Zion said...


what % of students at einstein, ferkauf, wurzweiler are even jewish?

"we for sure could also argue that we don't need dozens of gemachs all servicing the same people in the same area. Or dozens of any of the other tzedaka organizations that are duplicates of each other."

that would certainly be a valid argument, although i would distinguish between volunteer and professional charities/gemachs. i think it's beautiful that we have such a rich philanthropic network that relies so heavily on lay participation, but still all these orgs waste so much money and energy in duplication. (i recently read about a local tzedaka i was interested in, but i looked into it and saw that the director's compensation was well over 100k. if there are just 2 other orgs that do the same thing, each with a director making $150k, that's a problem. and we're only talking directors' expenses here)

Joseph said...

Isn't a lot of the spending that we do on Jewish organizations of the If You Build It They Will Come category? We don't look beyond our wanting or needing something to be there to how it will get paid for initially and how it will get sustained in the future. We don't think about a rise in expenses over the years. We for sure don't think about an economic recession and how that could affect things. I get so frustrated when the answer I get to how to solve the financial problems of our schools and other organizations is that we have to raise more money. From who! No one wants to face the fact that there may not be a lot more money out there and raising more money is not going to be the answer. Spending less money is certainly part of the answer but there may need to be other painful things such as closing down operations for some organizations temporarily or permanently.

Stuie said...

I don't think you'll ever be able to figure out just how much money is available in Klal. But I think asking the question has value. It would at least get people to think if just maybe there isn't enough money to fund everything the way we want to. If uyou don't know how much money is available then you can't spend as if you do.

We had a guest speaker on Shabbos a couple of weeks ago who seriously told us that in bad times like this we have to do more, give more. At shalosh seudos someone asked him how he knows that there is more that can be given. What if there isn't and we have to figure out how to work things out with what we have now. He answered that there is always more that can be given. We just have to want to give more. Leadership of a Jewish organization yet again out of touch with reality.

Anonymous said...

LOZ - i always earmark my YU donations specifically for revel, my alma mater

You do realize that the earmarks are meaningless? Because money is fungible and when they set the budgets they don't take earmarks into account AT ALL, then then the budget is done, they say X dollars out of the budget is from "earmarks".