We Aren't Reinventing The Wheel

Going back to Talmudic times, we find references to the idea of “kuppa,” which loosely translates to a “community chest” to which members of the Jewish community were required to contribute to help the local poor. This concept and various iterations have been the basis for many of our modern-day fundraising institutions.

Recently a lot of excitement, and, frankly, some fear have grown around the idea of giving circles as a new way to engage people to give “Jewishly.”  As a member of a giving circle and an attendee at a recent giving circle brainstorming session in New York, I am excited about the energy that giving circles provide to our community as we work to invigorate current donors and engage a new generation of givers more focused on results and hard numbers.  Today’s donors want to feel like they are directly making a difference by understanding where their dollars are going and often by contributing to defined projects with measurable outcomes. 

While this might seem worrisome to traditional Jewish fundraising institutions, these concerns are mostly misplaced.  We shouldn’t be afraid of these new initiatives unless we are unwilling to allow some innovation within our traditional frameworks.  They aren’t an either-or proposition.  These new tools can be used independent of the established organizations, but with some open-minded thinking they are also just as valuable within organizations to excite new donors or further cultivate existing ones.

A well-run giving circle can spark funding for new initiatives or identify constituencies that feel passionately about specific projects run by the organization.  Further, under the theory that a rising tide floats all boats, they can also excite participants about strengthening their engagement with other organizations, which benefits the whole community.

To borrow some language from a new global Jewish giving circle initiative spearheaded by Natan, a New York-based giving circle: “There is a growing understanding that giving circles transform both givers and recipients -- they inspire philanthropy, build community, and connect people both to Jewish values around giving and to the many exciting things happening in Jewish communities around the world.”

If new giving circle initiatives can achieve a fraction of that lofty goal, our community will be better positioned for a strong and positive future.

 Jay Chernikoff, a JFN board member, is a founder of Young Jewish Funders of Arizona, a giving circle.