Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Making Sense of Tzedaka Giving

Frum Jews are charitable people. We are told to give tzedaka and we do. That's the simple, easy part. The hard part comes in deciding who/what will get how much of our tzedaka dollars. Prioritizing where our tzedaka money will go causes a lot of confused people.

There are any number of works that talk about tzedaka giving. One that sets things out in a fairly clear fashion is Priorities in Giving by Rabbi Moshe Goldberger. It's available in Jewish bookstores as well as directly from the tzedaka organization that sponsored the printing of the work--

But reading about tzedaka giving is only the first step. Next comes actually parcelling out your money to various organizations. How much do you estimate you will have to give away this year? Now, how are you going to divide that money over the course of the year? There are certain times of the year where feeding people becomes even more critical than other times of the year. There are occasions, such as a yahrtzeit and yizkor where it is traditional to be m'nader tzedaka. You need to allow for these times. What will you give weekly, monthly, yearly? How will you account for emergency fund raising campaigns?

Then there is choosing which specific organizations to give to. Sad fact, but all tzedaka organizations are not created equal. There are good hearted people who start organizations at the drop of a hat because they sincerely want to help, but the organizations they head are not run efficiently, and huge sums of money are wasted on overhead instead of for the purpose the funds were given for. There is also a lot of duplication of different types of tzedaka organizations, and that duplication means less money going towards a project and more towards overhead.

One question always comes up when you discuss tzedaka. Is it better to give more to fewer places or to give less but to more places? Should your money stay in your community or should you divide those funds between your community and other places? I once heard someone give a drasha on tzedaka who called this the "im ain ani li mi li" quandry of tzedaka giving. Is supporting only your local organizations a type of selfishness or not? For the last few years we have been allocating about 1/2 of our tzedaka money for "local" tzedaka giving and about 1/2 that goes out of the neighborhood and out of country. That seems to be working out well for us, but everyone needs to come to their own decision.

But like every other "budgeting" area, some thought and study needs to go into how to give tzedaka, to whom, when, where and how much. And like other budgeting areas, who gets what is going to be idiosyncratic. There is no "one size fits all" when it comes to allocating tzedaka funds. We give tzedaka using our hearts, but we also need to use our heads.


Anonymous said...

The local versus non local giving has caused a lot of discussion in our community. Some people, once their kids are out of the local schools, suddenly seem to forget they are there. When you aren't paying tuition any more then any money to that school is tzedaka. Then there are the grandparents who are shifting away tzedaka money to their grandchildren's yeshivas, out of the community. One of the shul ravs, which has a lot of these older mispallelim, gave a speech on a shabbos that unless these people continue to support thje local yeshivas there won't be any. And if there are no local yeshivas good luck in selling your house for what you think you can get for it. Frum people won't move into communities with no yeshiva available.

When the mikveh needed some work done every shul announced that this was a top level tzedaka priority, whether you need to use it or not. They made such a point of it that the funds were raised a lot quicker then we thought they would be.

You're right though, that every family makes its tzedaka decisions differently.

Anonymous said...

Even tzedaka spending has to be kept under some kind of control. That's why we do not give to any tzedaka auctions, ever. It happened to me just once and it was enough to teach the lesson. I entered one of those auctions. The booklet was full of great things I would have loved to own. So I bought a more expensive package then I originally intended to buy because I wanted more chances to win. When I realized what I had done, after the fact of course, I had used money that I would have given to a different tzedaka because I was gambling I would win something at the auction. No more. If the tzedaka is worth supporting I write out a check directly for the amount I can give/want to give and keep away from the auction temptation.

Anonymous said...

We divide our tzedaka giving into hers, mine and ours (although it is all ours really.) 1/3 we decide on together and we each get 1/3 to give to those tzedakas that we each personally have a committment to. For instance, my wife gives to a gemach set up in memory of a classmate of hers. I give to the yeshivas I attended. We have a computer file that lets us keep track of the giving and of who the money went to.