Yom Kippur’s apathetic giving

Originally published as: Andre Oboler, “Yom Kippur’s apathetic giving“, Jerusalem Post Blogs, 12 September 2013

jpostWriting this article is probably a bad idea. Challenging the status quo usually is, and least for the person doing the challenging. Something, however, needs to be said. On Yom Kippur Jews around the world will pledge millions in Tzdakah – we need to do so with a little more thought.

Some of Jews give out of a belief that repentance, prayer and charity (Teshuvah, Tefillah and Tzedakah as our prayers that day so often repeat) can change what is being inscribed in the ledgers for the coming year before they close. Others give out of a sense of ritual; it’s just another part of the service, no different to standing when others stand, sitting when they sit, or having that obligatory free medical check up with the doctor to the left, investment review with the broker to the right, and providing a business update to the investor in front. There’s also the social pressure. It’s possible to be a convinced atheist, still go to services on Yom Kippur, and still feel that pressure to give – who wants to be the odd one out when the cards come around?

In some communities the funds raised go to a federation or communal appeal and from there they will eventually be allocated by a committee. In others, the President and Board decide in advance which charities the community will support and the lucky few get their pledge cards left on people’s seats. Whether it’s from the communal appeal or part of the selection of supported charities, on some way Israel will be allocated a slice.

The people will come, the people will pray, the people will talk, and the people will give. And this is where the apathy comes in. How many of us really know where the money we give is going? Or more significantly, what percentage of the dollar we give actually gets there? More importantly, how many of us have felt the allocation of funds, which has remained unchanged for decades in many communities, is out of step with the communities current needs? We know there is a financial crisis that is impacting on essential communal services – not all of which are supported by the Yom Kippur appeals. We know there are new needs and new charities to meet those needs, who just aren’t part of the equation.

The research shows us that people want to be more connected to their giving. Major donors are giving more of their allocations to projects rather than as general giving to the organisations who may run those projects. In the non-Jewish world the internet has revolutionised giving, new causes are created and the ones people back quickly meet and exceed their targets. The wisdom of market is based on the wisdom of the crowd, and on average, the crowd will get it right far more often than most individuals. That, however, isn’t the really special thing about crowd funding.

What sets crowd funding apart, specially from the traditional Yom Kippur appeals, is the thought each giver puts into the process. A crowd funding platform gives an almost unlimited number of opportunities to give. The question a donor is left with, and rightly so, is “what impact do I want to make in the world?” Then they find a cause that looks to provide that impact, they read about it, and they back it.

How much more powerful is that thoughtful act of Tzdakah than the apathetic act of giving to a charity their card is there, because of their brand, because of their excellent and expensive marketing, because of their long history and the good deeds they did decades ago, because they were in touch with the needs of the community when they were founded a generation or so back, or worst of all, because the card is there and moving the marker from here to here is what we do while the Rabbi gives his sermon and before we once again stand up.

Don’t get me wrong, the ‘established charities’ plays an important role and need to be funded. The communal appeals and federations support the very fabric of our communities. They aren’t, however, the only way to give and perhaps it’s time we as a community took a conscience decision to renew ourselves. There are many Jewish start ups for social good that are efficient, effective and focused on emerging needs major organisations simply aren’t in touch with. There are many types of activity, such as tackling internet antisemitism and online hate, where new approaches from new organisations are essential.

Earlier this week, after 18 months of highly successful operations, the Online Hate prevention Institute launched its first public appeal and we did it through a crowd funding site. Perhaps the week before Yom Kippur was not the best timing. Perhaps people will be all ‘donated out’ once they have gone through their regular Yom Kippur giving ritual. So far, however, the response has been strong with 18% of our funding target met in the first 36 hours.

As a charity approved by the Australian government on the basis that our work reduces the risk of suicide, self harm and emotional harm that can result from online hate and cyberbullying, problems that particularly impact on children and young people, perhaps we started from a strong position. Our track record of success, and the fact we haven’t asked for money before in our 18 month history probably helps as well, but in crowd funding, donations are really based on what you intend to do with the money.

There’s no doubt the support and dollar for dollar matching from the ROI Community is having an impact. Our new video explaining the danger of online hate helps as well. Perhaps it also helps that the money we raise will be used to develop online tools, or that these tools will empower the public directly and will enable us to all work together to hold social media companies like Facebook and YouTube to account when they wrongly reject our reports (a problem so many of us have faced).  If that sounds like somethig you would support, you can of course still join us and suport the appeal.

Whatever the reason, the market place of ideas is backing us, but it’s doing so though the individual and careful consideration of individuals before each donation is made. When you give this Yom Kippur, don’t do so apathetically. When you fill in the cards, think about also visiting a crowd funding site after the holidays are over and matching your donation to establish causes with a donation to smaller cause, something were your donation no matter its size will take the cause a major step forward and have disproportional positive impact. This year, don’t just give, think about making things happen.

Dr Andre Oboler is CEO of the Online Hate Prevention Institute and an international expert in online Antisemitism and Online Hate.