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Tzedakah: How you and your charities stack up

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Canadian Generosity Map Site

So many worthy causes. So little money.

 

You’ll find many wonderful tzedakah organizations on the internet. I couldn’t possibly list even a fraction of them. Nor would I dare recommend one over another. However, I would like to examine a few sites with advice about how to give and what to look for in a well run charity.

 

How generous are Canadians? Let’s just say they could do better. In its most recent “Generosity Index,” the Fraser Institute reported that charitable giving in Canada had hit a 10-year low.

  • The size of Canadians’ charitable donations in 2014 was 0.56 per cent of their income—down from 0.78 per cent in 2006.
  • Just over one in five Canadian tax filers claimed charitable donations in 2014.
  • In 2010, Canadians donated an impressive $10.6 billion.
  • But according to Statistics Canada the median amount donated by Canadians that year was only $123.
  • However, those who attended religious services weekly donated $350.

 

Why the difference? Martin Turcotte writes in Charitable Giving by Canadians, “Studies have shown that people with strong religious convictions also often have stronger pro-social and altruistic values, which motivate them to give more of their time and money to others. Also, because they are integrated into networks of congregational members, they would appear to be solicited more often and to feel more social pressure to give and to meet the group’s standards.”

 

I couldn’t find information about Jewish Canadian donors’ giving habits but I did come across a fascinating website which plots out charity statistics geographically. Click on the Canadian Generosity Map and you can check out how your neighbourhood stacks up against the rest of your city. Also check out the chart, “Canada’s most giving communities.”

 

READ: PRAYING, CHARITY AND SELLING A USED CAR

 

If you are unfamiliar with a charity, you may want to research its goals, its overhead and the amount of money it raises. All registered Canadian charities file documentation which can easily be retrieved from the Canada Revenue Agency website. You are supplied with the Registered Charity Information Return for up to six years where you will find information about a charity’s aims, fundraising activities, paid staff and expenditures on compensation. When I typed in the word “Jewish” I got 231 matches; “Israel” had 130. Please note that the information in the database is provided by the charities themselves.

 

How can you make sure your dollars are being spent wisely? Charity Intelligence Canada uses several factors including financial transparency, program cost coverage, fundraising costs (best if under 15%) and administrative costs (best between 2% and 12.5%).

 

And if you are considering donating to a U.S. charity, Guidestar, The National Database of Nonprofit Organizations allows to you search online for information about more than 2.5 million organizations.

 

How do we get our donation numbers up? One way is to transmit the importance of tzedakah to the next generation. Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler writes, “Parents are obligated to help their children convert their self-centred orientation into an altruistic one — that is, to learn to love their fellow as themselves… The first step in this learning process is acquired naturally in the family, when parents accustom their children to do things for them and for each other.”

 

Jewish Parenting Today has several suggestions for getting your kids thinking about tzedakah. How about “Cleaning out your kids’ closet for clothes to give away before the new school year starts? Let your children know about the mitzvah of Halbashat Arumim providing clothes for those who are in need of them. Make sure your kids are aware that this Jewish tradition stretches back many centuries.”

 

How do you teach kids to give regularly? B’nai Brith Interactive recommends colouring in a Jewish calendar with plenty of tzedakah reminders. For example, “Write ‘Pocket Change’ on every Friday on the calendar. On Erev Shabbat, put your remaining change in a pushkeh, (tzedakah box) just before lighting candles.”

 

And finally, a tzedakah lesson for children and their parents, too. “Hidden in each Hebrew word, is a three letter root which reflects the idea behind the word. … Did you know that the root of the Hebrew word ‘to give’ is ‘Natan’ – ‘Nun, Taf, Nun?’ Notice that you can read it backwards and forwards. What does that tell us? That through giving, you get back.”