The editor of Jewcy, Tahl Raz, wrote on Daily Shvitz last week that he is:
in the process of writing a piece examining the Jewish nonprofit world’s antidemocratic, intensely insular culture and how it’s impacting the larger community.
I’ll take up this issue later, but what perplexes me is one of Raz’s suggested solutions. He’s a proponent of moving philanthropy in the direction of DonorsChoose.org. This website allows teachers to post needs for their classroom and allows users to fulfill their wish lists. Raz believes that:
“Thatâ€™s the kind of philanthropic experience that will force the young to feel called to give, and as a consequence, help bring Americaâ€™s nonprofit tradition into the next generation. The central idea fueling Donors Choose is so powerful it has the potential to help flatten, democratize, and eliminate those petty nonprofit bureaucratic middlemen from many more philanthropic sectors than education.” (MORE)
Yes, it’s an innovative idea and is surely helping poor students across the country get their science books and reading packets. But this is not the revolution to change Jewish philanthropy by any stretch of the imagination.
The non-profit world cannot survive on small gifts alone. It needs megadonations from the extreme wealthy, operating grants from foundations, and government subsidies as well. In the Jewish non-profit world, few organizations would survive without the crucial donations of a small but significant group of funders.
And how do we attract the next generation of these donors? It’s not via an anonymous website. It’s by making personal connections between people and causes. Nearly everyone associated with the Jewish community has been solicited for money. But far fewer have sat in a room with an extraordinary fundraiser. Someone who is articulate and passionate about his or her cause. Someone who can convince you, not just to give money to starving children in Africa, but who can make you write a check to an already well-funded educational or cultural initiative. People like this can make us give because we too want to be part of something wildly successful. And trust me, these people do exist in our community.
What will change the Jewish philanthropic scene is not, as Raz calls it, “an eBay-like online marketplace,” but talented professionals who are committed to spreading the importance as well as the needs of our community.
Perhaps that’s where we should invest our money.