I feel that tzedekah is an important part of "doing Jewish." (On this, it seems Jews of all denominations agree!) I aim to give the equivalent of 10% of my annual income to various causes, charities, and individuals in need. As a contemporary Jew, though, most of this tzedekah is in the form of contributions to non-profit organizations; that's just how philanthropy works today.
I presume that most of my fellow GereiTzedek members also give tzedekah through organizations, making donations online or mailing in checks of support. How, then, do you each use your tzedekah boxes?
I really enjoy having a tzedekah box in the our home (not just because it makes the apartment more Jewish, but also because of the obligation it represents), but dropping in nickels and dimes, while satisfying, only means fewer coins in my pocket to give to the many homeless folks in my neighborhood and, when totaling amounts inside to make donations to non-profit organizations, the total often represents very little (i.e., $10 here, $20 there).
What do you each do with respect to using your tzedekah box? Any novel approaches?
Post by mordantmaxim on Aug 22, 2011 14:53:09 GMT -5
How big is your box?
I ask because I just got mine and loose change didn't seem... enough to me. So in the last month or so, whenever I receive a brochure in the mail, I drop it (or a portion of it) in my tzedakah box. Or, if I just hear of an org in passing, I write the name on a scrap of paper and drop it in.
I, like you, have a set amount of income I give. At the beginning of the year, I divide it by 12, and the first of the month, I will pull an organization and send them that month's amount. I assume some months I'll put in something like twelve scraps of paper and only pull out one, but that just shows that one day I hope to get to them all.
I think your approach is ingenious! I will do the same. It also helps me deal with the issue of USPS solicitations; we're obliged to respond to need, but how can you respond to all of them, especially in this day and age when responding to one means your name is added to another 8 lists? I think your approach to giving to non-profits is wonderful, and I'll talk to my better half about adopting it.
We made a giving plan, identifying causes that are important to us, and then we searched out charities that do work in those areas, and checked them out to choose the 'best' or the ones doing most exactly what we wanted done with our money.
Some causes I donate to with monthly automatic charges on a credit card. Others get a check two or four times a year, depending.
Lately our biggest 'charities' have been the college tuitions we are paying, with three girls all in college at the same time! But usually we donate both to international and local causes, and both to Jewish and 'secular' causes.
The only thing special we do with the tzedakah box (I collect them, by the way), is, on the seventh or eighth night of Chanukah, we open the tzedakah box and count the money, and our children choose one charity/cause each, and we divide it between them.
(eight nights: little gifts first four nights, one apiece. Big gift or more gifts on Fifth Night. Sixth night is 'parents' night' and seventh night is usually the tzedakah box with a party on the eighth night - but we aren't real rigid on exactly which night for the party.)
(now that the girls are older and out of the house for the holiday, we just send them gifts and let them open them however they want. We are pretty quiet at home with all three gone).
I know what you mean about being troubled by having a donation turn into constant badgering for additional donations.
My husband once made a donation to a Native American cause when he was reminded of their situation around Thanksgiving. It was a total mistake because his name and address were clearly sold to other similar charities and we were flooded by requests---up to several a week---no exaggeration. After several years, it's down to "only" a few a month. He made only a modest donation, probably $20 or perhaps $36=twice "chai". And since then the other groups have certainly spent much more on that on postage, stationery, cheap fleece blankets, etc in all the various groups attempts to get more donations.
And then there is the Nature Conservancy. We make what for us is a substantial donation to that organization each year. However, my sister-in-law also made a donation to that organization on behalf of my son for a gift. So lately we've been getting two copies of their magazine and calendar and appeals to my son for more money. I need to give them a call to let them know that we'll continue to make an annual family donation to them, but that they should remove my son from their appeals list since he is only 14 years old.
More recently my husband opened a Fidelity Charitable Giving Account so that we can have checks sent to charities without giving our name and address to the recipient. A minimum of $5000 is required to open the account and donations to charities must be at least $50 in increments of $5. You can also give a "Gift4Giving" eGift so that someone else can specify the charity that the donation will be sent to. (Nice bar/bat mitzvah add-on in addition to a gift for the child).
Another option for anonymous giving (considered by Maimonides to be superior tzedaka compared to when the giver is known) which does not require a large minimum investment is through JustGive.org The minimum donation amount is only $10 and the charge by the organization for the processing is just 3%.
Note that with either of the above anonymous giving options, you still can take a tax deduction on the donation even though the recipient doesn't get your info.
One thing to keep in mind when deciding between fewer larger donations and many small donations is that there is a cost for processing any donation (opening the envelope and processing the check), so a larger percentage of a larger gift is used for the cause rather than getting eaten up by the processing costs. That said, my household makes a few larger donations, but quite a few much smaller ones simply because it feels nicer to make even modest donations to causes that seem good.
The reason we made a plan in the first place is because we were giving to practically everybody that asked, and our name and phone number was clearly getting widespread - we were getting five to eight calls a week! Result - we were handing out tiny donations to several hundred different groups and we didn't even know much about a lot of them - AND the causes we DID care about weren't getting much, because we couldn't afford it.
So I wrote up a little spiel and put it by the phone. It said 'we have decided not to donate any longer to any cause that phones us. If you want to send us something in the mail we will consider it.' I thought it would take a while to stop the calls, but honestly they dropped off to nearly nothing in less than a month.
Then we sat down and thought about the kinds of causes we wanted to support and why, and we looked into charities that did work in those particular fields, and chose ONE (or sometimes a couple) for each. And that's what we still do - over the years, we have changed charities occasionally, or changed our focus and given more HERE and less THERE, plus as our daughters grew up we added some of the main causes they cared about, to our original list.
We still also give to LOCAL causes and fundraisers, but the bulk of our charitable giving goes to fairly large multinational or national organizations. Why? Because they are a) already active and have a track record and b) they have enough resources to actually DO something.
I am all in favor of everybody having a Giving Plan. The Charity Navigator site has good advice for making one. I'm going to post some links to various places that are helpful or useful.
networkforgood.org has fees ranging from 4.75% to 5% (or 3% if the charity uses a subscription service and handles the donation through its own website), and a $5 fee for gift cards.
I really like charitynavigator and I'm glad that Simcha mentioned it because I had forgotten how useful it is. It's pretty shocking how little money goes to the cause for the worst charities, so you certainly want to avoid giving to those organizations.
One thing Network for Good does, is shield you from the charity itself, if you want to - that is, you can give 'anonymously'. Also they will send you an annual record for your tax return, which is convenient. Anywhere you use a credit card, there is a charge for its use - usually the vendor pays it - that is, the charity picks up the cc fee. With Network for Good, the charity gets the whole amount and YOU pay the fee (which isn't all that large, after all).
Charity Navigator not only rates charities, the site also has excellent advice for the best ways to give and how to make plans.
JustGive.org also allows you to shield charities from your contact information and it charges only 3% for the service. (I believe that 3% is approximately the amount that a typical credit card transaction will cost the vendor, which suggests that JustGive is just asking donors to pay that fee and is using direct donations and other funding for its own organizational expenses.) I read an article that said that Networkforgood.org used to also charge only 3% for the service a few years ago, but then raised the fee to 4.75-5%. As far as I can tell, for an individual small donor, both of these organizations do pretty much the same thing, so unless the charity you want to donate to is listed with one and not the other, you might as well save service charges and use JustGive.org.
Or check each out and find the charities you like - I think both places let you add charities. I don't expect anybody to work for nothing, so I don't mind paying a fee for service, as long as it is transparent and I know about it.
There is an online maaser calculator that makes it easy to figure out how much to give on a yearly basis (by using lines and figures from your tax return).
In spite of being strapped for cash myself, I put in a contribution every week before I light my Shabbos candles. Sometimes, it's only been a nickle...but it's something. The laws of tzedakah are pretty extensive, but the first obligation is to take care of your family and then your community needs. In this way, my tzedakah box has come to benefit my mother, my boyfriend or my sister (all of whom earn less than I do) when they've needed money.
Tzedakah can also be given in time and effort. When you don't have the money that you would like to give to an organization, volunteer...give your efforts and talents. Also, it is important to give with joy and without reservation. Don't make it into a big deal.
The Rambam (Maimonides) also lists 8 levels of tzedakah. They are:
8. When donations are given grudgingly.
7. When one gives less than he should, but does so cheerfully.
6. When one gives directly to the poor upon being asked.
5. When one gives directly to the poor without being asked.
4. When the recipient is aware of the donor's identity, but the donor does not know the identity of the recipient.
3. When the donor is aware of the recipient's identity, but the recipient is unaware of the source.
2. When the donor and recipient are unknown to each other.
1. The highest form of charity is to help sustain a person before they become impoverished by offering a substantial gift in a dignified manner, or by extending a suitable loan, or by helping them find employment or establish themselves in business so as to make it unnecessary for them to become dependent on others.
All good advice - especially the Rambam of course!
Some practicalities: most people make a practice of making a donation to their tzedakah box prior to Shabbat - an easy way to empty the pockets of loose change!
For years, I had a little rule that said, if I found change in the washing machine, it went in the tzedakah box (if somebody can't be bothered to take the money out of their pockets before dropping their clothes in the hamper, they must not care very much about it, right?)
'Found' money - the penny in the street - goes in the tzedakah box.
other kinds of tzedakah (not monetary) - when I have an opportunity and time, I will sometimes buy extra food at the grocery store, and give it to that homeless guy that sits by the corner several times a year. The one about my age or a little older, in the khaki jacket. He always says 'God bless you'.
There's a man in town who visits the local homeless 'community' - he tells us they aren't really entirely safe to approach, but they are needy - so we give him coats, or blankets, or warm socks, and utility candles and matches, and he makes sure they get to the ones who need them most.
(this isn't a big town - and it's darned cold in winter - so the homeless community here isn't large either. After a while, you have seen most of the regulars: the guy who thinks he's Jesus. the guy who is waiting to be beamed to - England (I truly do not understand that one at all. If I could imagine getting beamed somewhere, it would be somewhere a lot more interesting than England). And the woman who apparently wears all the clothes she owns at once, who keeps claiming the postmaster is holding back thousands of dollars in checks she's supposed to be getting from the government for the past five years. Those make my little elderly veteran look practically normal by comparison.)