Sunday, December 31, 2006

Bring Ye Tithes to The Temple

What are our philanthropic obligations? How much should we give to charity/justice? When? These aren't new questions. Tithing is the oldest known Jewish Israelite solution to this problem, though it is was practiced much more widely:
Tithes were common throughout the ancient Near East, as well as in Lydia, Arabia, and Carthage.
My goal is to have my annual tzedakah (philanthropic giving designed to bring a more just world) meet or exceed a tenth of my annual income. I will get into the details a bit more below.

As the Gregorian year wraps up I am considering whether I have met my tithe. I have only recently tried to structure my giving process and highly recommend it for a few reasons:

  • It makes it easier to give happily rather than grudgingly. For instance, if we budget a certain amount to give for the year, then every time someone we want to support asks us for some sort of donation, it feels like they are helping us meet a goal rather than depriving us of some other benefit.

  • It makes our giving conform to our values. Instead of the haphazard way I used to give, I now spend time considering the sorts of organizations I want to support before I consider individual organizations.

  • There are record keeping advantages that manifest themselves if we itemize our deductions at tax time.

  • It helps avoid icky solicitations. For instance, when an organization that doesn’t need our money asks for a donation (a wealthy elite college, a fraternity, etc) we can say that it doesn’t meet our giving criteria and that we have budgeted they money for third world development, HIV cures, etc.

  • I bet there are lots of other advantages, what do y'all see as benefits of this sort of approach?

Basically, the way this works for me, is that i have kept a google spreadsheet all year. Every time i made a contribution to a charity, political candidate, etc i entered the total, date, cause, and any additional notes. I compiled the amounts and compared to to my targeted giving budget. My target it 10% of my annual post-tax income. I use post-tax as i would prefer to count my income tax as neither a penalty or bonus towards my tzedakah. taxes are, as FDR said, are the price we pay for living in an organized society. That is separate from the spiritual obligation to give intentionally, generously, and without compulsion. One last thought on taxes, most sorts of tzedakah can be claimed as tax deducations (political giving being the big exception). As a result, if your tithe amount (adding other deductions) exceeds $5,150 (in 2006), you can do better than taking the standard deduction. That assumes you are filing as a single unit, the numbers are different for households. I have heard of an approach where you maximize the tax-benefit of giving by giving double your tithe, but only every other year. If anybody wants, i will elaborate on how this works in the comments, just ask. I ran ac cross an interesting look at jewish law and tithing written by R. Dovid Bendory, a Goldman-Sachs cs dude and orthodox rabbi.

Right, so that more-or-less describes the process, now who do i give to?

I am quite new to developing a rubric to fit philanthropy into. I think eventually i will want to sort the universe into geographic and cause categories. For now here is a very rough outline,

Who I am giving to (macro):

  1. local/jewish
  2. local/secular
  3. global/secular
  4. friends who personally solicit me (ima’s advice)
  5. organizations who have been kind to me

Who I am not giving to (macro)

  1. rich orgs
  2. orgs who solicit in dishonest way (non-annual pledge reminders)
  3. orgs who use creepy arguments to get me to give

Who I am giving to (micro)

This past year i gave to the following:

  • Political Campaigns
    • Tester (Elected, MT Senator)
    • Busby (Defeated, CA-50)
    • Ciro Rodriguez (Elected, TX-23)
    • Blog Pac
    • Ned Lamont (Defeated, CT Senate)
    • Fenty, (Elected Mayor, DC, gift solicited by several friends)
    • Jeff Toste, (Defeated, RI State Senate district 5, solicited by James Deboer)
  • Local/Jewish
    • Tikkun Leil Shabbat
    • DC Federation (will not give again due to a misleading appeal designed to trick me into giving twice in one year by misrepresenting the date of my last gift)
    • Jews United for Justice
  • Local/Secular
    • DC Vote
    • looking for another for this category
  • Global
    • AJWS
    • Project Muso, run by dear friends
    • Global Justice (in celebration of the Feinspans' first wedding anniversary)
    • Jubilee USA Network, which coordinates the US arm of the global debt cancellation for poor country movement (Jacob Feinspan suggests)
    • RESULTS - which is a domestic and international anti-poverty lobby (JF pick)
    • The Stephen Lewis Foundation, which funds small community organizations doing phenominal AIDS work (JF Pick)
  • Domestic (not local)
    • ACLU
    • Shape Up RI (donated in support of Rajiv Kumar's walk-a-thon)
    • Hazon (donated in support of Joe Gindi's walk-a-thon)
    • Brown Hillel, following a great choice to respect the muslim community and refuse pressure from the mainstream jew-crew to attack them. (perhaps a blog post will be forthcoming on this topic)
    • I have not yet given to an organization active on pro-choice issues, perhaps Naral?
  • Misc
    • Arava/Hazon (donated in support of my dad's upcoming bike-a-thon)
    • The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, they have been wonderfully kind to TLS--well beyond any reasonable expectation. They have been enormously generous and I feel great about supporting their work.
    • I gave a donation to the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation when i joined their Board. I will give some money at least as long as i am in that role.

Who I am not giving to (micro)

  • Brown University: while i was on the ACCRI we proposed initiating a Social Choice Fund dedicated to avoiding morally speculative investments like military contractors and companies profiting from other incredibly disgusting perpetuation of human suffering. Until the university initiates such a fund i will not contribute. After that, my contribution will be quite small and mostly a token.
  • JNF, last year i contributed as i was asked to run for the World Zionist Congress and it was a necessary gift, they have continued to act in support of west bank settlement and as a result, i cannot give to them in good conscience.
  • Local Federations, as a i described above, the sent me appeal materials which were misleading (i think intentionally).
  • think there are others but none come to mind

As you probably noticed, about a half-dozen of these are labeled as being solicited by friends. When i was little, my mom told me that when people (especially young people) are involved in a cause (volunteering, doing a blank-a-thon, etc) and ask her to support the organization they are working on behalf of she makes supports it. Everyone should always be successful in raising funds for justice! I have followed this great insight. Anytime someone asks me, personally, to give to a cause they care about, i try to. I can't think of an instance where i didn't give. I have been blessed to have never received a rejection from a friend when i was raising money for a cause i cared about, and no one ever should.

I want to get better at this, which orgs are you giving to? Categories?


updates: my mom clarified that she always gives to people who are actively invovled in an organization, ie they volunteer or are doing a blank-a-thon or something. She doesn't feel as strongly about plain old solicitations.

BZ astutely pointed out that the deductibility of State and Local taxes on federal returns means many of us will be able to itemize our charitable giving and legitimately pay lower taxes.

I forgot a gift to the JRF and added a bullet point on that.



At 12/31/2006 , Blogger bpt said...

The spreadsheet idea is terrific. When I was starting out in life, a friend shared a great idea - whenever you write a tsedakah check, highlight the entry in your checkbook, so you can easily tally them up.
This is useless in these days of electronic transactions when checkwriting is so 20th century. It is hard to keep track of online donations - between credit cards, paypal, electronic checks, et al - so the spreadsheet is great. Anyone know if there is specific software around for tracking charitable donations?

At 12/31/2006 , Blogger BZ said...

Thanks for this post! I also keep a spreadsheet, which makes it easier to track how much I give from year to year. For Jewish organizations with a social justice focus, I also endorse Mazon and the New Israel Fund.

As a result, if your tithe amount (adding other deductions) exceeds $5,150 (in 2006), you can do better than taking the standard deduction.

Actually, it's a lot easier than that (at least for federal taxes), because the amount you pay for state and local taxes counts as an itemized deduction. I don't know about DC, but if you live in a jurisdiction (such as NYC) where the state and local tax rates are high enough, then it may not take many charitable donations to get above $5150.

I have not yet given to an organization active on pro-choice issues, perhaps Naral?

Do NOT give to Naral -- they endorsed Mitch McConnell for Senate Majority Leader. Planned Parenthood has been anti-choice as well. I'm not sure I have a better solution, other than electing Democrats at all levels of government.

At 12/31/2006 , Blogger EAR said...

Do NOT give to Naral -- they endorsed Mitch McConnell for Senate Majority Leader. Planned Parenthood has been anti-choice as well. I'm not sure I have a better solution, other than electing Democrats at all levels of government.

I disagree with BZ. Planned Parenthood may have messed up on this particular issue or they may not have. The fact remains that PP ALSO provides critical, affordable reproductive health care, counseling, and abortion services to people who aren't always able to access them anywhere else. They also exposed and publicized the pharmacist refusal movement, and from what I understand are really trying to do something about it. These activities seem worthy of support.

I know less about the political machinations mentioned in the article BZ cites, but I do know from my organizing background that in the world as it is, political compromise/making nice is necessary to get the things done that you need to get done. No permanent enemies, no permanent allies. It's about the cause. It's possible that this sometimes might involve kissing up to Republicans or those who might as well be. Again, I don't know the facts here, but I want more info before I condemn an entire organization that's also doing good work on the ground.

At 12/31/2006 , Anonymous Aharon said...

Paying taxes, seems to me more of a fulfillment of the tithing obligation, since the concept of the tithe is separate from the concept of tzedakah.

At 1/02/2007 , Blogger Ari said...

Thank you, holy brother, for the beautiful post inviting us to reflect on how we can give more, and more intentionally.

Extending this line of thought, what do you think could be a modern-correlate to the corner of our fields, and the threshings that fall as we harvest?

At 1/03/2007 , Blogger midlife mussar said...

this was truly an inspiration to read.
our family custom is to use Christmas Day as our Tzedakah Day. We sit down with our spreadsheets(read: piles of scattered checks,visa bills and assorted other stuff) and write checks to bring ourselves up to the target. It seems an appropriate way to mark the holy day that is not ours religiously, yet still calls to us to join in the Messianic hopefulness of the season.
Also, since Netflix we do not go to the movies anymore.
All the best,

At 1/03/2007 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for your support of Jubilee USA Network. Can we mention that 2007 is a Sabbath Year?

This is a time when people in the U.S. and all over the globe will be focusing attention on canceling unjust debts owed by impoverished nations in Africa, Latin America and Asia to wealthy countries and institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. One of the first events of the year is Jubilee Sunday on January 21, 2007 when congregations across the country will be praying on international debt relief and reading from Luke 4:14-21.

Text in the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament call for debt cancellation and the righting of relationships every seven years with a super Jubilee every 50th year. In Biblical times, Sabbath Year observances required that debts be cancelled, those enslaved because of debt be freed, and equal relations among community members be restored. (Deuteronomy 15:1-18) (Luke 4:18-19)

In modern times, Sabbath Year observance means that our prayers and actions must be focused on righting the relationships between nations and alleviating the extreme poverty that pervades the southern hemisphere. In the 1970s, developing nations borrowed money often with unfairly high interest rates and sometimes to the benefit of dictators rather than their people. For example, Sub-Saharan Africa is the world’s most impoverished region but carries $201 billion in debt, despite repaying more than 90% of the $294 billion received between 1970 and 2002. Today, they remain burdened with paying $14 billion annually in debt service.

It is easy to see how developing nations got into a downward spiral of servicing their debt obligations rather than providing clean water, adequate housing, AIDS prevention, basic health care, and schooling for their people. Every day, 30,000 children die of easily preventable diseases due to malnutrition and lack of adequate medical care. One person in seven has no access to clean water for drinking, cooking or washing. Around the world, 104 million children do not go to grade school because their parents cannot afford fees, books or uniforms for their children.

The quickest and most just solution is debt cancellation. Domestic spending in countries that have received debt relief has increased by 75%. For example, Tanzania received $3 billion in debt relief, enabling the country to increase funding for poverty reduction by 130 percent over the last six years. Almost overnight, an estimated 1.6 million children returned to school. Debt relief enabled Mozambique to make strides in combating HIV/AIDS. By 2002, 24 testing and counseling offices were opened; 50 offices will be operating by 2007.

Twenty nations in Africa and Latin America have had their debts to the IMF, World Bank and African Development Bank cancelled, but this is only the beginning of what is needed. Only one in ten people in the developing world will benefit from the debt cancellation provided to date.

That is why Jubilee USA Network will be praying and advocating for debt relief for additional countries as part of the worldwide observation of the 2007 Sabbath Year.

Thanks, again, for your support for this important work.

At 1/04/2007 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Might i suggest the DC Rape Crisis Center - - for candidacy in your local/secular giving category?

I know of the organization because its former director is featured in the compelling documentary "NO!" (by Aishah Shahidah Simmons).

Also, know anything about the DC Employment Justice Center?

At 1/04/2007 , Anonymous alan said...

Have you questioned the DC federation to make sure that their appeal to you was consciously dishonest?
Also, whats with the Brown Hillel muslim thing?

At 1/05/2007 , Anonymous Aharon said...

Ari asked: "what do you think could be a modern-correlate to the corner of our fields, and the threshings that fall as we harvest?"

The practice of gleaning relies on some laxity of the value of ba'al tashlich (not wasting). In today's mass-production of goods, especially agricultural ones, there are literally (and litteraly) tons of food which are left behind by the mechanical and in some cases, automated equipment. In the film, The Gleaners & I, Agnes Varda looks at gleaning in France, in agricultural (gleaning), urban (dumpster diving), and creative contexts (having awareness of - and taking - pieces of time as they pass by for art). Keeping in mind what we "leave behind" and intentionally leaving material and created goods behind is as important as practicing gleaning to help mitigate the pointless waste our society produces. To glean, and then to leave behind or give away what we have gleaned, to other needy persons -- that is noteworthy.

At 1/07/2007 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Society of St. Andrew is devoted to gleaning and distributing agricultural surplus to the hungry.
I don't know the significance of their name, not being versed in Christian saints' bios.

At 12/27/2007 , Blogger BZ said...

With 2007 drawing to a close, any recommendations for this year?


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