29 November 2012

Philanthropic Considerations #2: Curiosity About How & Why Jews Give (or Don't)

As I stated yesterday, my wife and I make financial donations every year to numerous organizations because we are fulfilling our obligations as Jews to make financial contributions to our people.  Working in the non-profit world, however, I have come to realize that this notion of obligingly giving is not common.  In the last several months, my curiosity as to how Jews consider philanthropy has been greatly piqued.  Granted, Jews think about many things in quite a variety of ways, so I imagine that there are myriad ways in which Jews consider their charitable donations.  Nevertheless, I imagine there are at least groupings one can generally sketch outlines of to better grasp how and why Jews give. 
      One interesting way of hearing about how Jews consider their giving came last month while I was attending an educational forum run by the American Jewish World Service and Shawn Landres made a side comment that some Jews with whom he has interacted bifurcate their giving.  They consider their synagogue dues, Jewish school fees, etc. as tzedakah and all their other giving as philanthropy.  I don't know how widespread such sentiment is, but I imagine it hints at complicated notions of Jewish giving.
      Because I have to raise funds for my operational budget in my current position, I thought other people would give as I do: giving to organizations they either have benefited from in the past (or currently) or on account of ideological affinity.  I further thought that people would see what I was doing and would realize that my work was worthy of receiving donations (Jews do have to give, after all).  However, that absolutely did not occur.  A better way of understanding this is, as stated by Stephen Donshik, that "an agency’s purpose and programs are not enough to guarantee the closing of a gift". 
      I also had been baffled as to why I was contacted for a  small donation I made to a local Jewish Studies Program, not only to be thanked for my donation, but even to be asked out to coffee by someone in the fundraising (I refuse to call it 'development') department to chat.  I had just given them some money (not even much, at that), so what does meeting up with me accomplish?  I can understand voicing some interest to them that I might be interested in giving, and then they would want to meet with me to try to explain what the cause is.  However, I had already given!  Moreover, it made sense as a place for us to give (especially since I had enjoyed a couple of talks and symposia there), but I didn't have any need to chat with someone or be recognized for my gift.  But, as Marc Chardon and Hal Williams have written,

Today, individuals have a driving need to be connected, to be engaged, to participate in a conversation around their lives and experiences, to drive the conversation from wherever they happen to be. To engage them, nonprofits need to take a broader view. The back office must leave “donor management” behind in place of creating and cultivating a far more complex and interactive supporter journey. Donors need to be cultivated and thanked. Supporters need to be engaged.
It may sound strange to me, since I am not that type of donor, but I realize that many people do need to be thanked and have that more personal touch. 

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