By Amy Schilit Benarroch
Last year, I attended a Pop Up Giving Circle event in Brooklyn, hosted by UJA-Federation of New York, using Amplifier-provided resources. At the program, attendees were prompted to discuss personal giving with others at their table. Many admitted to generally giving only when asked by someone in their peer group, such as if asked by a friend running a 10K, raising money for charity or a co-worker posting a birthday fundraiser on Facebook. Of course, many gave proactively to an organization where they had a connection, such as the Jewish day school they attended or to Alzheimer’s research because of a grandparent’s recent passing. Giving was not an ingrained practice; often, it occurred before the end of tax season (to receive a tax deduction) or sporadically throughout the year. And it was generally not given a lot of thought or planning, instead, people often would give to the same organization year after year.
In part inspired by my attending the Pop Up event, I started wondering about different models of giving. The last time that I remember giving as part of any practice was when I was in Jewish Day School and we passed around a tzedakah box before Kabbalat Shabbat. It made me think of my other spending habits, specifically of my community supported agriculture (CSA) commitment. Each week, I now go pick up the ripest fruits and veggies of the season. Not only is the produce delicious, I also discovered that I like mulberries! CSA isn’t my only subscription service – from our Rum of the Month Club to curated wardrobe boxes – we get a lot of packages at my household.
In the philanthropy world, curated subscription services have also gained momentum in the last few years. One of Kickstarter’s Founders created Dollar-a-Day, that highlighted (and funded) a new not-for-profit every day. Millie recently launched an app that targets millennials with a tag- line – “make every Tuesday Giving Tuesday” – and matches organizations to your specific interest weekly. High 5 Fund began after the 2016 election to support progressive causes monthly.
I wondered if there could be a way to similarly create a “crowd-giving” subscription model focused on Jewish values and teaching. Since attending the Pop Up event in Brooklyn, I also participated in Amplifier’s incubator program, which led to my starting a rather untraditional giving circle. Along with my family, we reached out to friends and family to join us on a new Tzedakah adventure, called Righteous Crowd.
Each week, we pool our members donations to support a small, but impactful, not-for-profit connected to themes in the Jewish calendar (i.e., around Passover providing funding to a refugee-focused organization or connecting an important teaching from the Torah portion to the mission statement of an entity). With about 230 members – no longer just friends and family – we are currently donating over $1,700 weekly to each organization. It’s an opportunity for our members to discover new organizations, learn a little Jewish wisdom, and give more financial support to an organization than they could have individually.
And, we are so fortunate that Moishe House has partnered with us on the important journey, serving as our fiscal sponsor.
Every Friday before Shabbat, Righteous Crowd members receive an email about the tzedakah-recipient for that week and its connection to the calendar. We choose smaller organizations, partially with the goal of introducing our members to new or lesser- known impactful not-for-profit. We source many of our recipient organizations from the Jewish philanthropic world (thanks eJewish philanthropy!) such as Natan, Slingshot, the Good People Fund, Amplifier, Federations and Jewish women’s foundations. More recently, members have also been suggesting their favorite organizations to feature.
Since we are a start-up, we are still figuring a few things out. For example, we set the default giving amount to $1/day, but some give more and some give less. We did not want to create any obstacles to giving, but at the same time wanted to give meaningful amounts to our recipient organizations.
Personally, I still give when a friend is running a 10K, but what started off as a little family project has completely changed my view of philanthropy. Now, giving feels like more like a sacred Jewish practice, like lighting Shabbat candles. I know that each week I am giving with a community.
Amy Schilit Benarroch is a Jewish educator and founding member of Righteous Crowd living in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn.