Your Daily Phil: A new Haredi philanthropic tool + Ethical investing
Good Thursday morning!
When most people think about giving a donation, they probably picture an online donation form. But in Haredi synagogues throughout the world, it’s common to see emissaries of various charitable causes — from yeshivas to someone fundraising for a wedding — circulating during morning prayers and asking attendees one by one for small cash donations. Now, Isaac Furth, a Haredi entrepreneur from Williamsburg, Brooklyn, is hoping to make the system entirely electronic.
Furth has created two products that transform the dollar-to-pushke transaction into one involving a card and a swipe. One of his products, called the Donary Pocket, is a small reader akin to a credit card machine that registers the donation. The other, introduced two months ago, is called Matbia (pronounced like matbe’a, Hebrew for “coin”), that looks like a credit card.
In a transaction involving both items, the emissary would have a machine, perhaps strapped to his hand, that is linked to his organization and can work in areas with no reception. The donor would use a Matbia card with four credit card chips — one on each corner — that automatically donate preset amounts when they’re swiped.
So instead of rummaging in one’s pocket for cash, the donor can swipe the card and automatically donate $3, or $180. The emissary can also track donations. “Until we started this project with hardware, people sitting at events were still writing receipts on paper,” Furth told eJewishPhilanthropy.
Why not just use a credit card reader, or an attachment to a phone, which sells online for $10? And why not use a regular credit card? Furth claims his reader is sleeker than regular credit card readers. And he says that with thousands in circulation in Haredi population centers like Borough Park or Monsey, N.Y., the reader functions “like a cap or a pin that says, ‘I’m collecting money.'”
Smartphone use, he added, remains controversial in Haredi circles. Separate from Matbia, he’s now preparing to sell a phone that offers access to features like email and maps, but not internet browsing. “A smartphone is itself a very debatable product when it comes to Hashem, when it comes to spirituality,” he said. “In my view, and that of a lot of people, smartphones should not be taken out in shul.”
Matbia is a donor-advised fund, such that all donations go to Matbia and are then disbursed to the emissary’s group. It generally makes money by selling the devices for $299 and charging a monthly fee to the organizations. It’s not the only such organization. The Orthodox Jewish Community (OJC) Fund, also based in Williamsburg, is also a DAF with a charity card. But Furth says the prepaid settings on the corners of his card set it apart.
“You don’t have to take out the cash, get change back, swipe the card, tell them the amount,” he said. “All of these complications and communication and hard feelings, it’s all removed.”
iNFUSION OF EUROS
$23 million from the Hungarian government will fund a Chabad-owned university and rabbinical school
Milton Friedman University in Budapest, Hungary, which is owned by the Chabad-affiliated Association of Hungarian Jewish Communities (EMIH), received a substantial grant from the Hungarian government last month that will be used in part to fund a rabbinical school and Judaic studies program, reports David I. Klein for eJewishPhilanthropy.
Bolstering Ashkenazi life: The school hopes to use the funds to expand its master’s program in Judaic studies. The program, known as Ashkenazium, employs educators from around the world. The curriculum is focused on “Ashkenazi life and letters,” and includes concentrations on Ashkenazi Jewish history, rabbinics, intellectualism and literature.
Allegations of antisemitism: For the Jewish community, the funding comes from a Viktor Orban government that for years has been mired in accusations of antisemitism. Orban, who brought his right-wing Fidesz party to power on a nationalist platform, has been criticized for his past alliance with the Neo-Nazi Jobbik party, and for his demonization of Hungarian-born Jewish billionaire and Holocaust survivor George Soros, that some say has crossed into antisemitism.
Continued state funding: That doesn’t mean government support for Jewish institutions has disappeared. Sociologist András Kovacs told eJP that about three-quarters of Hungarian government funding for Jewish groups goes to MAZSIHISZ, a liberal Jewish group that is Hungary’s largest, and that has clashed with the Orban government, based on its size. The remainder goes to two smaller Orthodox groups, including EMIH, which is friendly with Orban.
Putting assets in service of mission
“Traditionally, philanthropists give money away and investors make money. The former want to create change and the latter want to pocket it. You’d think that the two goals would be incompatible, but a new hybrid of philanthropy and private equity investing blurs the lines, allowing foundations to do well by doing good,” writes Jeffrey Haskell, chief legal officer for Foundation Source, in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.
Funder conundrum: “It’s a common conundrum for private foundations: Many that are established to solve society’s most pernicious problems have investments as their lifeblood. Their assets need to be invested in profitable businesses in order to sustain operations and grow. So what happens when a foundation’s mission is directly contradicted by its own investments? What if the very ills a foundation fights are exacerbated or even caused by the behavior of business entities found in its own portfolio?”
Assets vs. grantmaking in conflict: “It can sometimes seem as though the foundation’s assets and its grantmaking programs are in direct opposition to each other or at the very least, failing to work together to accomplish a charitable mission. And since many foundations invest 95% of their assets while distributing about 5% for charitable purposes, it’s even conceivable that the damage done by the investments exceeds the good accomplished by the distributions!”
Choices: “As private foundations ideally aim for 100% of their endowment assets and grant funds to serve the greater good, we examine four distinct approaches they can take for impact investing, ranging from fiscally conservative to financially risky.”
Culture of Collaboration: Dedication to the cause, creativity, humility and the desire to gain more knowledge are among the traits necessary to be an outstanding board member, Krista Martin writes in NonProfitPRO. “Offering information and answering questions is expected of any board member, but the most engaged members will bring new thoughts, ideas and solutions to the table without hesitation. When your board is built on a culture of listening and collaboration, even the most anxious member of your board will feel comfortable pitching ideas that will benefit the entire team…Someone truly dedicated to your organization’s mission will set their own ego aside for the sake of the nonprofit. A great board member can always be trusted to do the right thing, and will always search for new ways to help the organization grow. This might look like volunteering additional hours or encouraging other board members to voice their own thoughts and opinions.” [NonProfitPRO]
What’s Up with Koum’s Philanthropy: Tax returns reveal that publicity-averse billionaire Jan Koum — who sold WhatsApp to Facebook for $22 billion in 2014 and has a fortune estimated between $9.8 billion and $13.7 billion — is one of the world’s largest donors to Jewish causes, Asaf Shalev reports in the Jewish Telegraphic Agency: “Due to the secrecy marking his charitable giving, as well as his personal life, Koum’s profile as a philanthropist over the past several years has gone almost unnoticed… His foundation gave nearly $140 million from 2019 to 2020 to about 70 Jewish charities working in the United States, Eastern Europe and Israel… At this level of giving, Koum has an outsized impact on Jewish communal life but without any of the public awareness that often accompanies major philanthropy.” [JTA]
Stopping Trafficking: Philanthropy must assist Ukrainian refugees to prevent them from being trafficked, Suzanne Hoff writes in The Chronicle of Philanthropy. “Traffickers approach refugees at the border, in shelters, or online with false promises of accommodation and work, or requests for sexual or other services in lieu of rent. Many refugees turn to social media to seek assistance, revealing information about their location and circumstances that traffickers and abusers can easily use to recruit people for work or services — and then exploit them for financial gain. Targeted fields include not only the sex industry but also agriculture, and hospitality and domestic work, where staff shortages are high and working conditions often poor, especially for foreigners… [Philanthropy can] [h]elp provide accurate and accessible information. Our research found that displaced people were unable to make well-informed decisions because they lacked consistent and comprehensive information about potential trafficking risks. As more refugees start looking for work, official websites and other central hubs of information are needed to provide verified job opportunities and reduce the risks of labor exploitation.” [ChronicleofPhilanthropy]
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Word on the Street
Rabbi David Wolpe is joining the Maimonides Fund as a senior advisor to the newly created viewpoint diversity portfolio. “As the world gets ever more polarized, it is incumbent upon us as Jews to channel the spirit of Talmudic debate and not shy away from hearing views that differ from and challenge our own thinking,” Wolpe said in a statement to eJewishPhilanthropy announcing the move.
The move comes two months after Wolpe, a writer and speaker with a national profile, announced his impending retirement from Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, where he served as Max Webb senior rabbi. At the time, Wolpe told eJewishPhilanthropy that he hoped to focus on “Judaism and Jewish life, more than speak about political stuff… I want to talk about religion and society.” …
Jill Abbey-Clark, Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer and Yigal Kotler are the recipients of the 2022 Covenant Award…
Deborah Baer Mozes is retiring from her longtime position as founding artistic director of Theatre Ariel on Philadelphia’s Main Line…
Young adults seek out the weekly ritual of Friday night Shabbat dinners to build social connections, mitigate loneliness and deepen ties to their community and Jewish identity, says a new report from OneTable…
A group of rabbis gathered outside the British Parliament on Wednesday to protest a proposed school bill that is being described as “a threat to alter fundamental facets of Jewish practice” because it will increase government regulation of Haredi schools…
As part of his annual plan announced more than a decade ago, Warren Buffett has donated shares of Berkshire Hathaway valued at approximately $4 billion to five foundations, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation…
The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative announced an $11 million commitment to a research program at the Berkeley, Calif.-based Innovative Genomics Institute that uses genome editing to enhance the natural ability of plants and soil microbes to capture and store carbon from the atmosphere…
Pic of the Day
Israeli and Moroccan hoopsters face off during an invitation-only women’s basketball game in the city of Sale, north of Morocco’s capital Rabat, on Wednesday. This was the first time Arab female players competed against an Israeli national team in Morocco.
Former dean of Yeshiva College, former U.S. ambassador to Egypt and to Israel, Daniel C. Kurtzer (left)…
Former Democratic member of the Florida House of Representatives, in 2015 she became the president of Plaza Health Network, Elaine Bloom… Brigadier-general (retired) in the IDF, then a member of Knesset, and later chairman of Ha’aguda Lema’an Hachayal, Avigdor Kahalani… Professor at Nanjing University and China’s leading professor of Jewish studies, Xu Xin… Rickey Wolosky Palkovitz… Chief investigative correspondent at Yahoo! News, Michael Isikoff… UC Berkeley professor and WSJ columnist, Alison Gopnik… Professor of Jewish studies at the University of Freiburg (Germany), Gabrielle Oberhänsli-Widmer… Distinguished fellow in Jewish studies at Dartmouth College, Shaul Magid… Southern California resident, Roberta Trachten-Zeve… President of GEM Commercial Flooring Company in Overland Park, Kan., Matthew Elyachar… Pulitzer Prize-winning business reporter and bestselling author, he is a past president of Washington Hebrew Congregation, David A. Vise… Former chair of the Broward County, Fla. JCRC, Keith Wasserstrom… Actor, screenwriter, producer and director, Daniel Zelman… Senior correspondent for military and intelligence affairs for Yedioth Ahronoth, Ronen Bergman… CEO and founder of NYC-based Marathon Strategies, Philip Keith “Phil” Singer… Geographer and writer, Joshua Jelly-Schapiro… Singer and songwriter, Benjamin Lev Kweller… Associate portfolio manager at One8 Foundation, Alyssa Bogdanow Arens… Pitcher for Team Israel, he is now on the roster of the Salt Lake Bees in the Los Angeles Angels organization, Zachary D. “Zack” Weiss… Admissions counselor at 2U / edX, Perry Chencin… Catcher on Israel’s National Baseball Team at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Tal Erel… Israeli artistic gymnast who won a gold medal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Artem Dolgopyat… National Product Manager at The Jewish Federations of North America, Dani Kupfer…
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