Bintel Blog

Wither the Mega-Donor?

By Gabrielle Birkner

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In the wake of Bernard Madoff’s collapse, Forward alumna Lucette Lagnado looks to the decline of the Jewish mega-donor — and the return of a more humble form of philanthropy, replete with a higher volume of “little checks” and pushkes:

“For the past several years, Jewish nonprofits had been relying on “fewer — but larger — gifts,” according to Jack Wertheimer, a professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. United Jewish Communities, which represents 157 Jewish Federations across North America, has seen a steep decline in its ranks of donors in the past 20 years — even as the total funds raised have continued to grow.

… Thanks to Mr. Madoff, Jewish charity may have to return to its roots, becoming once again a widespread communal effort, instead of being concentrated in a few powerful hands.

But would that really be so bad? I don’t have a great solution to the Madoff problem or to the damage that it has wrought. I have a more limited suggestion: I would like to see the comeback of the pushke — the little collection box that was once in every Jewish home. To be sure, I don’t want Jewish charities to suffer; it is simply that in our post-Madoff universe I find myself longing for the kind of more humble, more individual tzedakah, or personal charity, that took place before the rise of the uber-Jewish foundations and zillionaire philanthropists.”

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