When Giving Tzedakah is a Criminal Offense

8 Jan

Or: “How to give charitable funding so that everyone truly benefits”

by Arnie Draiman

It is easy to give a contribution to Tzedakah, particularly with online giving – just a few clicks and you’ve done it. And it is still pretty easy to write a check and mail it off.

But, in reality, it is not so easy to know who to give to, and how to give. Many non-profits in Israel (and elsewhere) have high overheads – 25%, 35% and some, with even more than 50%! – meaning that more than half of your charitable contribution goes to things other than what you really thought or wanted.

For example, you want to support feeding people in need. Non-profit “x” spends 28% of every shekel you contribute on overheads, so only 72% actually goes to feeding people in need. If you had a choice between supporting “x” or a different organization “y” with overheads of 14% (assuming that, for the most part, they were relatively equivalent), which one would you choose? And add to that expenses incurred by the “American Friends of,” and your Tzedakah monies continue to dwindle.

Don’t you really want to help the people you are trying to help? Don’t you want as much of your hard-earned and holy Tzedakah funds to go where they are supposed to go – and not to the pocket of someone who is earning significantly more than you? (Many non-profit CEOs earn very respectable incomes).

What can you do?

You need to be more careful than ever – especially in these troubled financial times – about how you give your money away. Ask every organization you give to (or want to give to), to send you a copy of last year’s audited financial report (in Israel, this is submitted to the Registrar for Non-Profits (Rasham Ha’Amutot) and a copy of this year’s operational budget. (This information can also be found online at websites like guidestar.org.il for Israeli non-profits, and guidestar.org or charitynavigator.org for American ones) and review it carefully. (This information can also be found online at websites like guidestar.org.il for Israeli non-profits, and guidestar.org or charitynavigator.org for American ones) and review it carefully.

How does one give properly?

Maimonides and the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law) make it crystal clear: people should give between 11% – 20% (with 10% considered “average” and less than 10% considered “not seeing the needs very well”).

How can one give that amount away properly?

Maimonides’ second level (of his famous “Eight Levels of Giving”) says that the person/organization you are working with must be wise, have impeccable credentials, and really know how to run a Tzedakah organization.

So, is it really a crime to giving improperly?

Judaism is clear about not giving properly: it is as if you are stealing from the poor person himself, since “your” Tzedakah money is really his. We are taught (in Numbers Rabba 5:2, based on the verse in Proverbs 22:22) that Tzedakah rightfully belongs to the poor person – we are just the trustee. And if we misspend this holy Tzedakah money, we indeed are culpable of stealing from a poor person.

Arnie Draiman is a Philanthropic Consultant. Visit http://www.draimanconsulting.com

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