By: Melissa Bienenfeld
I will never forget the time that my local day school ran a big fundraiser for their brand new campus. They had a massive gala dinner and showed an inspirational video highlighting a few students and their families (you know, the ones who donated above a certain amount) breaking ground on what would be our new campus. I had no expectation to be included in any way in the fundraising efforts, but the message was clear- we celebrate the big donors. That message was strongly enforced throughout my childhood growing up in an affluent community and in my day school education.
Working in the field of Jewish nonprofit organizations and philanthropy, I have the privilege of speaking with dozens of Development professionals monthly and working closely with almost 100 Jewish organizations through the MyTzedekah.com platform. In our long conversations about charitable giving, development professionals are often weary of the amount of work that will be required of them for reporting and acknowledging smaller donors. Some have shared that if a donation is under $1,000, they simply do not have the time to thank the donor in a personalized manner (beyond a general thank-you letter).
Our community is at risk for losing an entire generation of donors. We have to learn how to bring the value back into charity beyond receipt of public recognition. We give charity because it is one of our most important mitzvot as Jews, and we give charity to be better and more worthy people. When we don’t properly celebrate all charity amounts, we send the message that the purpose of charity is communal recognition. This can be very isolating to so many people in our community and damaging to us on a whole. While it may have worked in the past, we need to do better and we need to teach our kids better. We need to put tzedakah back on the forefront of mitzvah and Jewish observance in a way that is sustainable and equitable for everyone in the community.