newsIsrael at War

Wartime giving

So many needs—where do you donate, and how do you make sure your money gets there?

People gather and light candles to remember the victims who were murdered by Hamas terrorists, at Dizengoff Square in Tel Aviv, Oct. 14, 2023. Photo by Miriam Alster/Flash90.
People gather and light candles to remember the victims who were murdered by Hamas terrorists, at Dizengoff Square in Tel Aviv, Oct. 14, 2023. Photo by Miriam Alster/Flash90.

The proliferation of charities that have sprung up—seemingly out of nowhere—following Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack is mind-boggling.  Donations are at an all-time high.  

According to Arnie Draiman, a philanthropic consultant with The Draiman Consulting Group, potential donors should check the annual reports of these organizations and compare them on www.Guidestar.org. He suggests that donors ask why there appears to be a surplus of funds and what percentage of their money will go towards a specific project.

For donors from outside Israel, he advises that they make sure that there are valid organizations in both the country of the donor and in Israel to retain tax-exempt status.

JGive.com streamlines the process of giving to all Israeli non-profits with proper standing. JGive has close to 2,000 nonprofits active on its platform, with many campaigns recently developed just to collect emergency funds for urgent wartime Israeli causes.

In the best of times, organizations like Jewish Federations of North America and JGive.com serve as bridges between donors and Israeli charities. In wartime they galvanize their efforts to help givers find those in need.

JGive opened a situation room on Oct. 7 and created a “Together We Will Win” National Emergency Fund. “With everyone rushing to do good, we were receiving overlapping requests that needed to be consolidated,” explained Ori Ben Shlomo, CEO of JGive.

As for vetting, he recounted a story shared by one community organization in America that held a synagogue drive for ammunition and bullet-proof vests. He said the synagogue was inundated with consumer magazines instead of ammunition magazines and received many black ceramic bullet-proof vests, which cannot be used because they are the color Hamas uses.

“Knowledge is critical,” he said, adding, “and it’s hard to get the knowledge if you’re not on the ground.” 

Disbursement of the funds raised through JGive is overseen “by an allocation committee of highly respected individuals in the Jewish world,” said Ben Shlomo. “Chaired by former Israel Air Force commander Elyezer Shkedy and former CEO of the Jewish Agency Natan Sharansky, we have a close pulse on developing current needs so that necessities of the day are met.”

He added that specific criteria are used in the vetting process, whereby 100% of the donated funds are transferred daily to charities that need it most. To date, over 250 charities have received grants in this way, he said.

One organization on the frontline is Friends of the IDF (FIDF), which distributed over $40 million since Oct. 7.

According to FIDF CEO Rabbi Steven Weil, “The army calls us as often as three times a day, asking us to take care of the most critical primary needs for over 550,000 soldiers and their families. The list changes and we take direction from the IDF.”

Weil points out that the army tripled its number of active-duty personnel within 30 hours of the war’s start. FIDF collects plasma for soldiers; emergency medical equipment; operational ambulances with 4-wheel drive for traversing rough, mountainous terrain; DNA analyzers, Go-Pro cameras for search and rescue teams; hygiene kits; clothing and towels; snack packages; tzitziot; uniforms; respite and refreshment break cycles for combat units and more, he said.

As pop-up “grassroots” charities evolve, Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) created emergency campaigns to quickly vet organizations and match the changing needs to donors looking for a cause to support.

“Unfortunately, it’s not JFNA’s first time supporting Israel through an emergency,” said Amanda Goldstein, Vice President of Philanthropy and Financial Resource Development for JFNA, which since Oct. 7 has raised $638 million, allocating $175 million for the Israel Emergency to date. “While no one knows what’s going to happen today or tomorrow, we know the immediate humanitarian needs,” said Goldstein.

Goldstein said the war had produced an instant reaction to donate. But she cautioned that giving must be done with forethought, citing an example of a woman who bought 600 vests from a factory in Poland that turned out to be a fraudulent entity. She said that Magen David Adom (MDA) and United Hatzalah are organizations with a clear track record.

“Part of Federation’s value proposition is we are able to make these assessments based on our long-term relationships,” she added.

At the same time, JFNA is vetting newer organizations, and has expedited their RFP process with a committee that is directly in contact with organizations, speeding the donation process and making it as efficient as possible.

“We have a whole 360-degree picture of where our dollars are going—one that individual organizations can’t possibly have. There is a lot of collaboration,” she said Goldstein. 

Philip Bendheim, philanthropist and director of international relations for Yad Sarah, explained its own emergency campaign. “No one was ready for the thousands of injured within two or three days,” he said. “Yad Sarah relocated disabled people from combat zones in wheelchair-accessible vans, sheltered hundreds of evacuees at our Jerusalem health and wellness hotel, set up temporary containers loaded with equipment so hospitals can discharge patients to treat incoming patients,” he said.

“People are desperate to give and to help,” added Bendheim. “Ads appear on social media and people can donate instantly, but equipment can be wasted if the effort … isn’t organized and doesn’t have a clear distribution channel. Everyone is well-intentioned, but if you want to get the most out of your giving, it is very important to vet.”

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