Many people have made it a practice to give their time, talent and treasure to make the world a better place. They often give to the same organizations year after year, to annual campaigns, specific programs or certain interest areas.
They have become comfortable with their patterns of giving tzedakah whether it is sharing their assets, skills or by volunteering. But this is an unprecedented time – every individual and segment of society is grappling with how to pivot to a new reality – loss of resources and sometimes even loss of loved ones.
If tzedakah has been an important part of your life, you are already thinking about how you can help others during this crisis. Maybe you have made masks, given blood or ordered dinner carry-out to support a local restaurant. Maybe you are wondering what your giving should look like this year. How can your financial donations have the biggest impact, where are they needed the most?
Have you thought about changing how, when or even whether you should give?
Some people may hold back and not make any donations now, waiting to see what happens to the organizations and businesses with the reopening of the country. Some people will streamline their giving into a single organization to help those specifically affected by the pandemic. Most people fall somewhere in between these positions and are wondering where and how they can give their limited resources to both help the most needy, as well as help move our community forward.
There is no magic answer, no one specific solution and no right or wrong approach. Hopefully, you can give something, even if less than before. You may want to give some consideration to these questions that will help you decide what to do.
• Which organizations have relied on my gifts in the past?
• Which organizations align most closely with my values?
• Which organizations do I trust to make the most impact with my gift?
Hopefully, you have directed your tzedakah in the past to those organizations aligned with your values and in whom you have trust. If that is true, stay the course. Now is not the time to abandon them even if a particular program is on hold or if the organization is temporarily changing how it operates in response to the current crisis.
Each of the nonprofits you care about have suffered losses in revenue, increases in costs and is facing much uncertainty. If you determine there is a new organization you want to support, consider adding them but without forsaking those you still care about and who are depending on your support. Most charities and the people they serve are vulnerable right now. There is a danger, due to the current crisis, that people will shift their giving to serve immediate needs and inadvertently cause harm to the charities that they have supported and held dear for years.
Now is the time to stay the course.
Ann Garson is assistant vice president of funds and foundations at the Jewish Federation of Cleveland in Beachwood.
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