Charity Cases

Now that it’s the month of Elul and we’re officially pre-Yamim Nora’im mode, you’re probably going to find many calls for increasing charity. As we say in the liturgy, along with repentance and prayer, charity can undo the negative decrees, and we get to help out those less fortunate in the process. It’s a win-win for everybody.
Fortunately (or unfortunately), there is no shortage of charitable organizations out there. The problem from the giving end is figuring out which charities are more deserving than others. Not only is there the near impossible question of what causes to support, but also which organizations best fulfill their stated mission.
While we can’t answer the first question for you, we can help out with the latter thanks to the good people at Charity Navigator.
Based on their detailed methodology, Charity Navigator uses tax returns to calculate the economic efficiency of a given organization. For example, they take into account how much money goes into fundraising vs. how much they receive, total expenditures towards programming, and administrative costs. Frankly I’m a little confused with the numbers myself, but the logic behind them seems to make sense.
As a public service and sheer curiosity, here is how some well known Jewish organizations rank in their system. Just remember that this only evaluate organizational efficiency and NOT the quality or merit of their mission.


In the “Religious Activities” category I was surprised to see AISH NY take the top spot among all organizations with 4 stars and an overall rating of 68.92. Say what you will about their programming, but it does seem like it’s a really well-run organization reporting almost $3 mil in excess for 2003. Interestingly, the Jerusalem Branch ranks near the bottom (224) getting only one star for their score of 30.08.
The worst ranked Jewish organization in the category award goes to The Masorati Movement which placed 235 of 237 listed charities with a dismal 24.24 rating and a whopping 0 stars.
In the “Religious Media and Broadcasting” category, the only overtly Jewish representative is the Mesorah Heritage Foundation (better known as Artscroll) whose 4 stars 62.71 score nets them the number 6 spot in the category.
Some other notables:
Yeshiva University has a respectable score of three stars but its overall rating of 57.83 puts it behind all of its peers.
Aggudath Israel gets only two stars (46.14), but Ohr Torah fared worse with one star and a 38.75 overall rating.
Interestingly, the Orthodox Union isn’t listed. I’m going to assume it’s in the same category as The Salvation Army:

    The Salvation Army is exempt under Internal Revenue Code from filing Form 990 as a “church or convention or association of churches.” As a result, we lack sufficient data to evaluate their financial health. We know many donors are interested in this organization and have asked the Salvation Army to submit their financial data to us for review, and they have elected to decline, as they are allowed under federal law.

Though I wonder why Aggudah wouldn’t have the same classification, or what the advantages are of calling yourself one or the other.
Another interesting tidbit: not all Jewish Federations appear under the religious category. So I did a search for “Jewish Federation” and the Joint Distribution Committee impressively scores 4 stars (69.27). The best local Jewish Federation seems to be in Washtenaw County, MI (4 stars and 68.74), and the worst being Westport, Weston, Wilton & Norwalk CT (0 stars and a pathetic 18.27) . The federations of New York and Metrowest come in at 14 and 15 respectively out of 61.
I don’t have time to really look into any of these numbers to figure out how much they mean in the real world. But the next time you get a random flyer in the mail or you hear about a really good opportunity, it’s probably worth checking out. If you don’t see a charity listed, you can register and request that they look it up for you.

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