The central premise behind Daily Giving is part of a wave that has changed the face of fundraising
ne bad middah of which I’m blessedly free is jealousy. Sure, I’m frequently dissatisfied with myself. But I never saw any point envying others for qualities I’m lacking rather than simply seeking to improve myself in those areas.
To this general rule, however, I recently discovered an exception, in the form of Dr. Jonathan Donath, a chiropractor in White Plains, New York. Why? He found a way to give away $3.7 million annually, despite having no personal fortune of his own. That ability to donate vast sums is something I have frequently dreamed of.
It may even be an inherited desire. I can remember my father once telling me, “The only thing that bothers your mother about the decline of her family’s fortunes is that she doesn’t have more money to give.” Well into her nineties — and long after there had ceased to be money in her account — my mother’s mother used to sit at her desk every afternoon, elegantly dressed, wearing her pearls, writing “checks.”
Some of her choices were a bit odd — e.g., the National Sheriffs Hall of Fame. But my grandmother was of the firm opinion that anyone who asked was in need, and even if they weren’t, soliciting money was so inherently degrading that they should receive.
I FIRST READ about Dr. Donath and his organization Daily Giving in Moe Mernick’s 5 to 9 column that recently ended in these pages. Dr. Donath came up with the idea of soliciting gifts of one dollar per day, and currently has well over 10,000 subscribers. A far better idea by far than my fantasy of finding a multimillionaire looking for someone to head his charitable foundation.
The central premise behind Daily Giving — small amounts add up — is part of a wave that has changed the face of fundraising. While candidate Hilary Clinton still favored the traditional model of raising money in Hyannis Port and Hollywood, at gatherings where the minimum couvert for shaking hands with the candidate was $50,000, Barack Obama and Bernie Sanders were both able to compete via small gifts online.
News soon reached the Torah world. Crowdfunding campaigns have increasingly become a feature of every organization’s fundraising plan. And organizations such as Adopt-a-Kollel have pioneered forms of collective giving in which one does not have to be a major philanthropist to feel that one is making a difference in the world.
Daily Giving’s wrinkle is that those who sign up end up contributing not to one organization, but to over 60, something only the very wealthiest would be able to do under normal circumstances. And even for those with the resources, the challenge of investigating so many organizations is beyond the capacity of most.
Every single day, contributors to Daily Giving receive a Thank You highlighting the work of the day’s recipient organization. I open almost every Daily Giving Thank You to find out what gift of over $10,000 I have shared in that day. The daily exposure to the vast panoply of organizations seeking to change lives, and in so many ways, leaves me inspired.
My guess is that much, if not most, of the $3.7 million Daily Giving is now collecting annually is “found money” — i.e., money that would not otherwise be going to tzedakah. The average donor (again, a guess) is not taking away from his regular giving, but is rather attracted by the Daily Giving feature — the knowledge that he has fulfilled the mitzvah of tzedakah every single day — and by the ability to make a contribution in so many different areas.
THE CLASSIC MODEL for Daily Giving is the Korban Tamid, the daily offering brought first thing in the morning and last in the afternoon. The most obvious connection is that the Korban Tamid was brought every single day. The second connection is that the Tamid offering was purchased collectively from the half-shekel pieces contributed by each adult male. It was taken from public monies to which all contributed. As a korban tzibbur, purchased from public monies, writes Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch, the Tamid “teaches that the individual can find G-d only by attaching himself to the community, and that he will find favor before G-d only by fulfilling G-d’s Word as entrusted to the community.”
I do not wish to extend the analogy between the giving of the half-shekel and Daily Giving too far. The over 10,000 contributors to Daily Giving at present are obviously far short of the totality of Klal Yisrael. But each daily Thank You reinforces the idea that one is giving in conjunction with others, and that the impact of that giving is primarily a function of putting together one’s own daily contribution with those of many others. That itself provides a jolt of achdus.
I WAS RECENTLY speaking to Mrs. Tzila Schneider, the director of Kesher Yehudi, about Daily Giving. One of the learning modules for the thousands of ongoing chavrutot sponsored by Kesher Yehudi and the one-on-one learning with 1,200 participants in pre-induction academies is on the mitzvah of tzedakah, and I felt Daily Giving might be an example for inclusion in those materials.
Mrs. Schneider became teary-eyed at the idea of Jews taking on the consistent, repeated giving of small gifts. She explained the memory behind the tears. As a 15-year-old, she was sent from Jerusalem to Bnei Brak to live with her elderly grandmother. Her grandmother’s only source of income was 3,000 shekels monthly from national insurance.
Every month, she would go to the bank to remove 300 shekels in maaser gelt, and then subdivide those 300 shekels into 25 agorot contributions, which even four decades ago was a small amount.
Mrs. Schneider found her grandmother’s manner of giving out such small amounts to anyone who asked painfully embarrassing. One Erev Shabbos, her grandmother was napping, when someone came collecting for hachnassas kallah. Tzili told him that her grandmother was resting. But her grandmother had heard the front door open and close, and hurried to summon the man to return.
He no doubt assumed that a large donation awaited him. But he only received the same 25 agorot as everyone else. When he had left, Tzili asked her grandmother what she felt she was achieving by giving such a pittance, which would have zero impact on the poor kallah.
Her grandmother replied, “You think I’m giving for the poor kallah. I’m giving for myself. When he finishes his collecting and the mitzvah of hachnassas kallah goes to Shamayim, why should I be denied a portion just because I’m poor?”
Tzedakah is certainly meant to arouse our empathy with our fellow Jews and instill recognition of our responsibility for other Jews. And the more frequently we give, even small amounts, the better those lessons will sink in.
But at the same time, Rav Moshe Shapira used to say, we must be careful that the motivation behind our giving not be to remove an unpleasant feeling of guilt at seeing someone less fortunate than ourselves, or to imagine that we are the source of salvation for the poor person seeking help. We must never lose sight of the fact that we are fulfilling a Divine command when we give.
That’s what Mrs. Schneider’s grandmother taught her. And it is reason that daily giving is so important.
FORTUNATELY, I had a chance to meet Dr. Donath for dinner on my last trip to the States. And doing so was enough to cure my jealousy. I had imagined that once the website was up, and donors started multiplying by word of mouth, he could just sit back and play the Millionaire (a fictional TV series of my youth in which each week a new recipient received a million-dollar check from an anonymous donor).
I found out that Dr. Donath has to raise a separate budget to maintain a back office, to help ensure that every cent that is donated goes to the beneficiary organizations. He has a team of dedicated volunteers around the globe and a few paid staff to handle the myriad details of credit cards, and promote contributions to www.DailyGiving.org via social media, concerts, and speakers to grow the contributors list, and with it the number of beneficiaries. Most of Dr. Donath’s efforts take place after a long day of work and well before the fun part of giving the money away.
Laziness, unfortunately, happens to be one of those bad middos that I have not yet gotten the best of. But at least in this instance, it helped me overcome any jealousy of Dr. Donath.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 922. Yonoson Rosenblum may be contacted directly at email@example.com)
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