Giving Wisely and With Impact: Part 4

For many Jews, giving is a part of who they are. After all, tzedakah literally means “justice,” even though it’s often translated as charity. It’s a way to create a world where fairness is the rule rather than the exception. Since giving is a central tenet of Judaism, tzedakah is also a way to manifest the values Jews hold most deep.

But it is one matter to give. It is another to give wisely and with measurable impact. Achieving the latter goal is laudable but not easily attainable. To help with that process, Jewish Funders Network and the Jewish Communal Fund published “Your Jewish Philanthropy Roadmap,” a publication to help make Jewish philanthropy more strategic.

This four-part series is adapted from the “Roadmap” and focuses on milestones that funders and donors inevitably encounter on their philanthropic journey. Rather than provide a rote set of answers, the “Roadmap” offers options to address several issues that are the framework of any decision to give.

Part 4: The Unique Considerations for Jewish Philanthropists

Most philanthropic milestones know no religious or cultural boundaries. Still, some Jewish traditions add extra dimensions to the journey of giving. Tzedakah commands Jews to give as an act of justice, rather than to burnish one’s virtue. There is a rich tapestry of Jewish laws and customs linked to charitable giving. In turn, there are several considerations Jewish funders should especially consider:

  • How much for Jewish Giving. Look at how much goes to Jewish causes and organizations as opposed to secular ones. Examine how that balance is achieved and whether it needs to be adjusted
  • Communal vs. Individual Giving. There is a delicate between the individual and collective in Jewish giving. Jews often speak of the “safety net” provided by communal organizations for Jews in need of religious and social services. This is a strong part of Jewish tradition. Look at communal responsibility and what role it would play in a philanthropic portfolio compared to specific issues with no geographic boundary. Take a look at what proportion of giving is channeled through community organizations compared to what would be given independently
  • The Israel Connection. Jewish identity in America is often defined by support for Israel. But the question of how that informs philanthropy can be complicated. Supporting Israel is often mutually exclusive to what’s needed at home. It can be difficult to ascertain whether to provide general support or focus on a specific part of the country or a single issue. Given the nascent state of Israeli philanthropy, finding answers to these questions can be hard, especially when a cultural gap and thousands of miles separate potential partners.

Jewish tradition provides a valuable roadmap to give wisely and with impact, not just to the Jewish community but to secular causes as well. After all, “tikkun olam” means “repairing the world,” not just the Jewish world.

No doubt, there is much to consider when developing a philanthropic strategy. It is informed by discussions with family members and trusted advisors. It is influenced by values and beliefs. It is anything but easy. The path to successful philanthropy can be long and meandering. But when done right, it is rewarding, life-altering and, yes, fun.

Enjoy the journey.