Thursday, October 21, 2010

Show Me the Money

We keep a detailed accounting of all of our tzedaka donations: date of donation, amount, name of recipient. For one thing, it allows us to see how much tzedaka we are giving and to make sure that we are giving what we need to give. We have been keeping the records for many years now and I recently took some time and looked back through those records. I noticed something quite interesting that has happened over the past 20+ years. The way we give tzedaka has changed.

What do I mean by this? The first year that we started keeping formalized records I showed 78 different charitable organizations getting a donation from us. No charity got a particularly large amount of money, although some got a bit more and some a bit less. The organizations to whom we gave ran the gamut as far as what type of service they offered. We still had our children in high school so there were also checks made out for PTA functions. The organizations were not all local but spanned the globe. And yes, there were more than a handful of secular organizations that received donations from us.

A glance at this year's donation list shows that it is radically different from that first list. For one thing, there are far fewer organizations to whom we donate, about 15+ as compared to the original 78. Also obvious is that 20 some odd years ago we had less in salaries coming in ergo less money available for tzedaka. We are giving more tzedaka today than we gave decades back. More money coming in plus fewer organizations being donated to equals more money being given to each organization.

Given the economic situation right now we made the decision to keep the majority of the money given local; our goal is to help our community first before giving to anyone outside of the community.

But what has also changed is that we have become more knowledgeable over the years and more informed. All tzedaka organizations are not created equal. Some are far better run than others and make better use of the monies collected. There is a duplication and overlap for many organizations which are all basically purporting to provide the same service to the same clientele. This duplication of services produces more overhead and reduces the actual amount of money going to those who need it. Then there is this. In some cases organizations under frum auspices have come into existence which basically are offering the identical services that are already provided by secular organizations already in existence, and these secular organizations are better run and provide better services.

And then there is this point that we came to realize: there is only X amount of money in Klal that can go for tzedaka. Even if you donate 10% or 20% or 30% you are never going to be able to cover all the organizations that are in existence. The budgets of all the frum organizations alone exceeds the amount of money that we in Klal have available to support them. No, I haven't counted all the money in Klal, but I have been keeping track of the number of tzedaka organizations and they number in the thousands. Just run down a list of yeshivas and day schools alone and you will account for hundreds of organizations. Know of any yeshivas that will tell you that they don't need donated outside money just to keep afloat? Now add in all the various other types of organizations and I believe you will come to believe as I do--we haven't got enough money to adequately support them all. And perhaps what is worse, there are certain types of organizations that we don't have enough of to meet the needs of Klal--think services for the elderly. How will we pay for these services to be put into place when we cannot afford what we already have in place?

We have plenty of talented and knowledgeable financial mavens in Klal. What we need them to do now, and I do mean NOW, is to run an analysis of all the frum tzedaka organizations (even a general one will do) and come up with the 1)how much is Klal is spending to keep up these organizations and 2)how much of the donated money actually goes towards the objective of the tzedaka organization. I believe that the analysis will show that it is not only individuals who are deficit spending but that Klal as a group is doing the same.

Everyone needs to learn to live within their means, and that applies to our Klal in general. We cannot afford to support as many organizations as we have in place. The obvious answer should be reduce the number of organizations. But that would be logical, and frankly, the dealings of Klal are anything but logical.


Abba's Rantings said...

"The obvious answer should be reduce the number of organizations."

there is a constant stream of articles in the general press about recommendations for (non-jewish) charities to merge.

i think in general it makes sense to merge in order to avoid duplication, waste, etc.
but one should keep in mind that the bureaucracies that inevitably form in large organizations bring in its own problems, financially and otherwise. i also have to say that in a way i think its beautiful that we have so many small and overlapping charities--wasted resources, material and human, notwithsanding--as it is expression of the basic desire we have to be active charitably on such a grassroots level.

btw, i'd love to see a list of which charities have made the cuts on your list over the years. i don't have the time or knowhow to investigate charities and i'm always willing to listen to what responsible people recommend.

Micha said...

We've also cut down and it was hard to say no but we only have X amount of money. Mostly we cut out the organizations sending or calling from Israel. Don't say it was easy but if someone in my neighborhood needs the help to eat or someone from Israel needs the help to eat, we chose the ones in our neighborhood. Also cut out any organization from Lakewood. If they want to be a real community they have to learn to take care of their own.

Anonymous said...

This assumes two things: One, that there is a "Klal" rather than many "Klals," often overlapping. Two that tzedaka organizations exist just for tzedaka. While many operate solely through volunteers, they can also be an important source of jobs, just like schools.

JS said...

I'm not sure if I agree with your basic premise. If there really isn't enough money in klal to support all of these organizations, how exactly do they remain afloat year after year? Yes, maybe a yeshiva has a large mortgage, but smaller organizations don't have access to such credit. Someone must be giving money to keep them around.

I think the real issue is none of these organizations have as MUCH money as they would like. Sure, if you ask some local shteeble or yeshiva if they need tzedaka they'll say "yes" but that doesn't mean they actually need it, they just want it. They'll use it to make a nicer kiddush or paint a room or take a pay raise. But very few need the money to pay the rent check.

That said, there definitely are too many overlapping organizations, and I don't see it as "beautiful" as abba's rantings does. I see it as wasteful and I see it as yet another example of some shlepper with nothing better to do presenting himself as a tzadik by setting up a tzedaka organization and taking a salary and God knows what illegal deductions.

To your last point about taking care of the elderly, I think you're spot on. We pray every Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur, "Al tashlicheini l'et zikna, kichlot kocheinu al taazveinu" - Don't cast us away when we're old, when our strength wanes don't abandon us. And yet, we do exactly that to our own elderly. If you look at the number of tzedakas and the kind that get the most press and publicity, it's all for young people - gemachs for weddings, hachnasat kallas, gemachs for children's toys and clothing, etc. Look at how klal spends it's money internally, not counting tzedakas: people bankrupt themselves paying for the young on tuition and weddings and gifts and continued support for the couples and leave nothing for their own retirement and security in old age. I think the piper will have to be paid eventually on this score.

Abba's Rantings said...


"and I don't see it as "beautiful" as abba's rantings does . . ."

i'm just as much a cynic as you are with regard to many aspects pertaining to organized and individual jewish life. and i didn't mean in any way to dismiss the waste and dysfuncational affect produced by many of our tzedakas. nonetheless, i think it is sad that you don't recognize the inner drive that so many jews have to engage in tzedaka. and while yes there are many tzedakas that serve as employment agencies for their "owners" and workers (and some that engage in outright fraud as well), there are probably even more that are completely volunteer or otherwise operate on a shoestring budget. unless you've lived in a RW/haredi community (because this is one area where lakewood beats teaneck), you can't begin to imagine the network of grassroot gemachs and volunteer charities that exists. (i've used these gemachs a few times, thank god only for convenience sake and not financial need.)

and it's not just contemporary. this is part of our historical subconsciouness. for example, i've waded through thousands of pages of documents pertaining to nineteenth-century american jewish charities. while jews only comprised about 5% of new york's population at mid-century, almost half of the city's incorporated charity confraternities were jewish!

regarding the elderly you mentioned, someone once commented to me that no one shuts up their elderly in old age homes the way jews do. a sad commentary.

JS said...

The desire to help others is a noble one and if it takes the form of organizing a charity or recruiting volunteers to help others, all the better. But, I don't think the inquiry ends there. Just being idealistic and wanting to help people isn't enough when other people's money is involved. If you're incompetent or inefficient, but you're just wasting your own time and money, no harm no foul. But, when you're soliciting funds and getting others to volunteer their time and effort, it's not okay to be disorganized, inefficient, and unprofessional.

Someone who starts a charity and wastes 20% of all the money that comes in due to organizational and other problems isn't a "good" person or a "tzadik" - they're mismanaging communal resources and we'd be better off without his services (I am of course presuming that the money going to him would go to better organizations which I think is fair given the tremendous overlap of charitable services).

Frankly, I'm pretty sick of how these types of people are lauded when really all they're doing is squandering money, time, and effort. If there are multiple businesses doing X and one charges more money, pays its bills late, mistreats employees, etc. people would be up in arms. But, replace "businesses" with "yeshivas" and suddenly not only do people not care, but they view the people running the yeshiva as tzadikim - never mind that they're mismanaging the yeshiva, not paying employees, and squandering communal resources (check comments on posts detailing the yeshivas that closed right before the school year, they're full of such praise for these incompetents).

In terms of the elderly, my grandmother was first in assisted living and then a nursing home due to Alzheimer's. It was a Jewish place. Can't comment on it relative to non-Jewish places, but my father and uncle each visited at least 1-2 times a week so that not more than a day or two passed between visits (and note that she didn't even recognize them towards the end). The nurses there repeatedly told them the vast majority of people don't ever receive a visitor at all.

Miami Al said...

Abba's Ranting,

In my world view, one that gives money to charity is a Tzaddik.

One that collects money for a charity that he controls and derives benefit from his at best a salesman, and at worst a closet beggar... At least a real beggar knows that they are begging and wants to do better, the closet beggar avoids working for a living and instead lives off the productive work of others.

Working at a charity is a job, no more or less noble than any other. Elevating it is why we have so much squandering of resources.

Poor people locked up in buildings to never be visited while we donate money to make elaborate weddings is immoral, and violate's Judaism's obligation to honor your mother and father, one of the 10 biggies...

Aviva said...

JS, the answer to how some of those organizations manage to stay afloat is that they are doing less for the people they are helping. A local group that takes care of people who are in sudden need and don't have the money for food, or not enough money for food has cut down what they give these people because the money they got in donations went down and because the cost of the items they buy went up even at wholesale. They don't have any paid employees and they don't rent offices so there was nowhere to save there.

I would guess that other groups have been doing the same thing--giving less because they got less. I just wonder though if those groups that have paid employees and rented offices and overhead like that have cut down the number of employees or tried to cut expenses that way.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the comments on care for the elderly. One never hears about programs to visit the elderly or help care for the elderly. I live in another part of the country, but had a very distant poor elderly disabled relative with no family in NY near (but not in) some frum areas. I paid for a caretaker to come in twice a week to do some cleaning, laundry, grocery shopping, check on him etc. but he really needed meals on wheels. I tried to arrange for kosher meals on wheels, but was told there was a 1-2 year waiting list due to lack of funds and volunteers to make deliveries. I'm sure there are thousands of stories like that.

Anonymous said...

We don't give to any fund that has kallah or wedding in the name. As long as the frum olam continues to consider all the shtick that goes on with weddings and engagements as must have and refuses to understand that none of what goes as necessary for weddings is really necessary we won't give them a dime. Certainly not when there are cases of people who are really in need and can't get all they need to help them.

Some poor elderly person can't get a kosher meal because someone else has to have silver candlesticks or a fully stocked kitchen?!!! We sure have our priorities screwed up.

Anonymous said...

Re the comments on priorities and the elderly, I was skimming VIN and saw over 125 comments on an article about homosexuality and ZERO comments on an article about NYC cutting the budget for services to the elderly by 40%. Wouldn't it be nice if just 50% of the time, energy and money spent by religious people on the gay marriage issue was devoted to serving the needy elderly.