What We Should Learn from Moses – the First Jewish Fundraiser

Chagall_MosesFor nonprofits to compete for the talented and professional employees they need to maintain the high business standards demanded of them, we need to allow them the room to offer competitive salaries.

By Yehudit Sidikman

On a recent Shabbat I heard a wonderful dvar Torah from Dr. Ruby Wolbromski of Efrat, Israel. He pointed out that in the week’s Torah portion, Terumah, God tells Moses to start collecting gold, silver and other necessities for building the Tabernacle.

The list is extremely comprehensive.

The project was immense and the plans were detailed, including every measurement down to the precise weight of the Menorah. This past week’s portion, Tizaveh, God sets up what the leadership should look like and how they should behave.

Later in Vayekal, the builders realize that they have collected more than enough. So Moses, after listening to his “board,” tells the people to stop giving. He understands that you shouldn’t take more than you need.

I have been listening to the reading of these Torah portions for over 30 years but this was the first time I heard this story and connected it to myself as a CEO of a nonprofit and a philanthropist in Israel.

Nonprofits today are being held up to a business standard.

This is a good thing. They are being asked to have a plan, a detailed plan, complete with measures and metrics. They are being asked to strategize and to report not only outputs but outcomes. This is progress.

Part of this is because philanthropists and foundations are tired of seeing money wasted.

They demand accountability.

This too is a good thing. Fundraising should not be done for the sake of fundraising. Yes, one could say, “Well, the more money we have the more good we can do.” But that has not proved itself to be true is part of why there is serious distrust between those who wish to give money and those asking for it.

Consider the Moses story again. He could have collected more and built a bigger Menorah.

Or made fancier garments for Aharon and sons. Doing this would have caused the people to lose faith in Moshe’s leadership. Take what you need, what is fair and no more, and do with it what you promised to do. The lesson is about moderation and accountability.

But there is another problem, one that I see as the CEO of a nonprofit: the dissonance between holding nonprofits up to a business standard and begrudging them the resources needed to maintain such standards. Not too long ago I was attending a funds allocation meeting where the name of a rather large nonprofit came up. Immediately there was a comment: “They don’t need our money. Do you know what their CEO makes?” With a quick Google search and a calculator I pointed out to the committee that said organization managed over 4,000 volunteers providing services for hundreds of communities all over the country.

Had this CEO been managing a bank, or coffee chain or any other “real business” of that size no one would have batted an eyelash at the salary.

For nonprofits to compete for the talented and professional employees they need to maintain the high business standards demanded of them, we need to allow them the room to offer competitive salaries. According to Guidestar (2010) the average salary of the top five employees for nonprofits was NIS 8,777. The national average salary in 2014 across the board was a little over NIS 9,000. While the average top salary in the nonprofit world was NIS 12,593 in 2010 the range was between NIS 20,523 for those who manage philanthropies to NIS 7,342 for those who manage religious nonprofits. Though I am smart enough to understand that within these numbers are part-time positions and “super-micro” nonprofits, and yes, even here we need better analysis, but what is clear is that by no means are nonprofit salaries ridiculous, or even competitive.

Those of us who believe in supporting social activism need to be demanding as to what is being done with our money. We also need to be fair.

Nonprofits, your job is to make sure that you use the resources given to you justly and with accountability.

Together, I believe, we can affect the change that we truly want to see in this world and make it a better place to live in.

Yehudit Sidikman is CEO of El HaLev.