Assisting in Strengthening Israel’s Social Fabric in a Time of Need

We are now in the midst of the third week of Israel’s war with Hamas and the Kasam rockets not only continue to bombard the Israeli communities along the border with the Gaza strip, but they are also falling up to 40 kilometers within the State. This means communities such as Ashdod, Ashkelon, Yavneh, Kiryat Gat and others have felt the long reach of Hamas’ terror. As has been the case throughout Israel’s history when there is a crisis people are more than willing to respond to pressing needs.

Questions are always raised by people who want to continue contributing to vital services as they have done in the past. There are also new donors who do not really have a sense of how their funds can best be put to use when there are so many organizations requesting support. There are a number of guidelines to contributing to Israeli organizations that might be helpful.

First and foremost, make sure the organization has all their paper work in order with the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Finance. This can easily be done by requesting a copy of the “nihul takin”, the form stating that all the administrative paper work has been submitted and approved for the current year. By the way, just because an Israeli agency has an “American Friends” group in the United States and is a registered 501C3, tax deductible organization, does not mean all the forms have been filed in Israel. Both sets of forms should be requested on a yearly basis.

Israeli organizations are required to have a yearly audit of their finances and if their paper work is in order then a financial audit would have been submitted. It might be interesting to request a copy of the audit for your perusal. If there are any concerns about transparency then this should be reviewed with an accountant.

There is also a category in Israel for organizations that want to be able to offer a tax incentive for Israeli donors. It is referred to as qualifying for “46” and although it is not as generous as the tax deductible status in the United States, it does provide some incentive for donors to contribute. If an organization has this status it means they have passed another level of approval from the tax authorities in Israel.

Of course, the formal registration of an organization and receiving a “clean bill of health” from the Israeli government is important, however, there are other indicators of an agency being worthy of philanthropic support. What are the indicators of the “added value” of supporting one organization over contributing to another organization? This moves us into the realm of qualitative assessment.

We should look at how a non-profit collaborates, coordinates and cooperates with other groups in providing needed services. How is the organization leveraging their strengths with those of other agencies in times when needs are great and resources are limited? First and foremost the agency has to demonstrate they are working together with other organizations.  They should have developed creative ways of sustaining their assistance to those in need, and this should allow them to expand their services through partnerships and collaborative efforts.

In this realm of providing services with other groups it is also important to explore how the organization is cooperating with the public services provided by the local municipality as well as the Government of Israel. In times of national crisis, as was learned from the Second Lebanon War,  the Government needs to be working in tandem and cooperatively with the non-profits and not independent of it. If an organization has close ties with the municipal departments and the ministries, as well as having all the paper work in order, then this bodes well for their ability to use needed funds effectively.

One example of such an organization is the Israel Trauma Coalition and it is a partnership of more than 45 non-profit organizations, municipal authorities, and a number of ministries. It has been in existence for almost 8 years and is responding to the present crisis as it has throughout the years since the second “intifada” (uprising). This is not a request for support (however, there is not doubt they need funding) it is an example of an organization that fulfills the criteria and there are many others that are also able to coordinate their efforts.

As we strive to meet the current and emerging needs in this most difficult time it is important to use our limited dollars in a wise way. The choices will be difficult to make and this should motivate us to ask more questions and not fewer questions. This is the best way to insure the philanthropic resources will achieve the greatest impact.

Stephen G. Donshik, D.S.W. is a lecturer at Hebrew University’s International Leadership and Philanthropy Program and has a private consulting firm focused on strengthening non-profit organizations and their leadership for tomorrow. Stephen is a regular contributor to eJewish Philanthropy.