Naomi Strongin in eJewish Philanthropy: “Tips for giving effectively to a country in crisis”

by Naomi Strongin, Vice President, Center for Designed Philanthropy

This article was originally published in eJewish Philanthropy. Click here to view the article on their website.

Since the barbaric terror attack perpetrated by Hamas on Israel in the early morning hours of Oct. 7, the collective response and support both domestically and around the world has been heartening. Even as we are overcome by a range of emotions, including a sense of helplessness over the atrocities, many of us feel compelled to help in any way possible. This willingness to step up and provide support is admirable. Especially in times of crisis — consider the war in Ukraine or, immediately prior to that, pandemic response and relief — Americans generously demonstrate a willingness to step up.

Aharon Ariel Lavi’s recent commentary (“Learn what is needed and how to give it efficiently,” eJewishPhilanthropy, Oct. 31, 2023) caught my attention, as it raises important questions about support for Israel in these challenging times. Lavi’s frustration over contributions of excess or ineffectual goods rather than pinpointed support, generally in the form of monetary contributions, is a common one. Let me build on those points with some additional perspective on how our Jewish communities, particularly in the United States, can best marshal resources.

Challenges to giving in a crisis are always considerable. On the one hand, donors often wonder, “How can I make effective contributions to address an emergency?” At the same time, they want to know, “How can I continue to support those affected in the long run? What will future needs look like?” Adding to this complexity during the current Israel crisis is the plethora of worthy organizations and areas of need, spanning trauma support, direct assistance, medical care, hostage support, aid to the people living in Gaza and combating antisemitism locally, among countless other categories. New needs emerge daily.

Donors seek confidence that recipient organizations are capable of managing the influx of funds coming to them, as well as awareness of which causes are most desperately in need of increased funds. It can feel overwhelming. With that in mind, the following recommendations are intended as helpful guidelines for how to give with purpose and efficacy during the current emergency. These are offered in conjunction with our experts on the ground in Israel, where in the last decade alone we have directed $180 million in funding to about 500 causes.

Pace giving to meet evolving needs. By all official Israeli and U.S. estimates, the war to neutralize Hamas will be long. Consequently, aid requirements are fluid and continue to evolve. The most urgent requirement immediately following the attacks focused predominantly on emergency medical treatment, food, and shelter for victims. There are also immediate and long-term needs for trauma and grief counseling — both for victims of the attacks and countless others affected across Israel. Longer term, still-unforeseen needs will emerge as the conflict progresses. Each of these stages will require specific support, so donors should take a long view and pace their giving accordingly.

Direct contributions through established organizations. Understandably, donors feel inundated right now by countless appeals for support. While the vast majority of these causes are worthy and deserving, it’s nearly impossible to properly vet them all. Charitable umbrella organizations possess vast knowledge of on-the-ground NGOs and nonprofits, keep their collective fingers on the pulse of where funding needs are greatest at any given time, and are often the best clearinghouses for efficiently deploying essential funds. They can also help with pacing expenditures, ensuring that a long duration crisis is funded at every stage.

People who want to support specific causes and areas of interest can direct contributions to a broad range of highly vetted, well-established organizations, getting the benefit of professional due diligence while still focusing on particular needs.

The attacks have spawned countless GoFundMe and other types of online crowdfunding campaigns. These efforts are often deeply moving, and if you personally know and trust the recipient, then consider directing to such causes a small amount of your giving. Bear in mind that they are generally not tax-exempt 501(c)3 organizations and consequently don’t qualify for charitable gift deductions allowed by law.

Engage in trust-based philanthropy. Vet and select organizations judiciously, but contribute without attaching strings such as tailor-made proposals or complicated reporting requirements. Trust that the organizations are responsibly deploying resources, and help them minimize red tape so that funding can be put into action as quickly as possible. Often you can expressly earmark your donation for emergency relief during the crisis or, alternatively, the recipient organization can use the funds for general operating or other purposes. We recommend allowing the nonprofit to decide where funds are needed most.

Contribute cash, not goods. Reiterating Mr. Lavi’s argument, while well-intended, physical items are not the most practical method for providing support, as they can be costly to transport and quickly become outdated or no longer needed. Better are cash contributions to humanitarian and aid organizations in constant touch with what is needed and where.

Each of us has the capacity to make a difference, to turn tragedy into action and, in the process, meet the urgent needs of the moment. As we seek to bring healing and solace to our brothers and sisters in Israel, it is imperative that support is timely and on target.

This article was originally published in eJewish Philanthropy. Click here to view the article on their website.