Monday, February 9, 2009

Rabbi's Benevolent Fund: '08-'09 Shareholders Annual Report

For the past four years, I have disseminated an annual report for my Benevolent Fund at the end of each fiscal year, via a synagogue mailing. This year, especially given the OU/Agudah/Young Israel Parnossah Initiative to build up community funds, I have decided to post the report on this blog as well, in case it might assist others who run such funds to prepare similar reports. (For more on my beliefs on the role and operation of a Rabbi's Benevolent Fund, click here.)

What is the Rabbi’s Benevolent Fund?
For thousands of years, Jews have maintained communal funds meant to serve local people and wayfarers in times of need. The needs of the community have been served, and these funds have preserved the anonymity of both donor and recipient; only the collectors and distributors have known who was helping and who was being helped.

Today, in America, we continue that tradition with the Rabbi’s Benevolent Fund. Donations to the Rabbi’s Benevolent Fund do not go to Congregation Sons of Israel and its direct needs, although a small portion of Benevolent Fund money is used to support Sons programs (see below under Program Services).

Does a Tzedakah Fund need to issue a Shareholders Report?
As part of our mitzvah of tzedakah, we are obligated to make sure our tzedakah is used appropriately. The Rama wrote in the Code of Jewish Law (Yoreh Deah 257:2) that one is not allowed to give to a Tzedakah Fund that is not administered responsibly, and he said, “One should present a public accounting.” Therefore, every tzedakah organization must provide its donors with the equivalent of a corporate earnings report, detailing how the tzedakah is spent. Of course, the anonymity of the recipients must be preserved, but general information should be disseminated. That is the purpose of this report.

Administration of the Fund
Our Fiscal Year runs from February 1 through January 31, to approximate the reading of Parshat Terumah on the calendar; Parshat Terumah records the first Jewish Tzedakah campaign, raising money for the Mishkan the Jews carried with them in the desert.

The anonymity of Fund beneficiaries creates a special problem: The Gemara comments that a Tzedakah fund should never be administered by just one person. If you are ever solicited for a fund which has only one person in charge, know that the Gemara tells you not to give!

To solve that problem, a person who is not related to anyone at Sons of Israel has access to the checkbook and is able to verify that I am using the money appropriately.

Over the past fiscal year, the Fund collected $26,770. This is down about $7,000 from last year. I attribute the drop primarily to the economic downturn, and to the urgency this year for contributions to tzedakah causes in Israel.

This money came from donations in honor of special occasions, money put in the Tzedakah box in Shul, donations in honor of services I was able to render to families, and money solicited for specific needs.

There were no overhead costs, administrative salary or fundraising costs this year.

Program Services
Program Service Expenditures: Over the past fiscal year the fund distributed $24,992, or most of our in-take – and down from last year’s distribution of $32,554.

$10,884, or about 43.5% of the total distribution, went to Special Collections run by the Benevolent Fund and collections by people who came to us for specific institutions and families. This is the highest total in several years, largely due to growth in our fundraising efforts for IDF troops and Gush Katif.

Another $9,435.75, or about 37.8% of the total distribution, was disseminated locally in loans and gifts for basic needs, including food, utility bills, and tuition. For comments on Local Aid, see the next section.

Another $3,907.25, or about 15.6%, helped local organizations like Jewish Family Service and the Lehigh Valley Kashrut Commission to meet community needs. For comments on Aid to Community Institutions, see the next section.

$565, or 2.3%, was distributed to almost one hundred organizations that sent the shul envelopes, requesting assistance. These institutions are generally schools or social service organizations. Many more such organizations are rejected, either because I am unable to verify their validity or for other reasons. This is the lowest total since I have been keeping records; I am cutting down on these contributions, in order to support local needs.

Finally, $200, or .8%, sponsored Sons of Israel programs. This is in line with past years’ support of the shul. We provided the normal $100 for a Chafetz Chaim Heritage Foundation video, $72 to a yeshiva in Baltimore for the calendar that we use to set the times for synagogue services, and $28 for the Yad l’Achim calendar the shul receives.

Comments on Program Services
Aid to local families was dramatically down, from $20,946.43 last year to $9,435.75 this year. However, this is largely because the previous year’s total included $14,000 in loans, and there were no such loans this year – so that direct, non-loan aid was actually up more than 25%. These gifts to local families constituted almost 38% of our spending. Tuition aid ($7785.75) was the greatest portion of this aid to local families.

Like last year, almost $4,000 went to help local Jewish community institutions. This is almost double the spending in this category for the preceding two years. Unfortunately, I expect to need to maintain this level in the coming years.

Looking Ahead
The needs of our local community are growing, both in terms of private needs for non-loan aid and in terms of the needs of communal institutions which come to the Benevolent Fund for aid. Our donors have been generous, but we will be pressed to increase our giving in order to maintain our ability to serve the community’s needs.

We managed to balance earnings and distributions this year. The Fund keeps a moderate cushion of two to five thousand dollars to allow for sudden needs, and we will have to be careful in coming years to maintain that cushion.

Thank You!
On behalf of all those who were assisted this past year, and who will be assisted in the future, thank you for being so generous toward the Benevolent Fund.