Crowd Sourcing Charity


Published May 29, 2012, issue of June 01, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Mazel tov to Congregation Beth Elohim, the hip Brooklyn synagogue that likes to call itself “the little congregation that could.” After the ceiling in its century-old building collapsed in 2009, CBE has been scrambling for funds to make repairs, especially to its 400-square-feet of stained-glass windows. Now, salvation is around the corner, thanks to a savvy social media campaign and the largesse of a credit card company.

Congregation Beth Elohim
wikimedia commons
Congregation Beth Elohim

The synagogue is one of four winners in the American Express Partners in Preservation program, which awarded grants of up to $250,000 to nonprofits in New York City based on votes from followers on social media platforms. Contests like this lift the hot trend of “prize philanthropy” to a new level, where victory is based not only on worthiness, but on popularity. Chabad has used this to great advantage, garnering hundreds of thousands of dollars in corporate contributions for its schools and programs by capitalizing on its vast, devoted online presence.

Forgive us for asking, but is this the best way to distribute charity? Has philanthropy turned into “American Idol”?

Some critics worry that this is more about branding the corporation than about serving the needy. “It’s a cheap way to get a lot of advertising,” James English, a University of Pennsylvania professor, told public radio a couple of years ago. It’s also illustrative of the steady decline of trust in expertise, which has been replaced in so many venues — including, let’s be honest, journalism — by an overarching embrace of the crowd not for its wisdom, but for its passion.

Even some within the philanthropic community are questioning whether a successful social media campaign is worth the cost. Such contests can distract charity executives and exhaust supporters without building a core of long-term donors, say some consultants.

Crowd-sourcing charity does present a welcome challenge to a system that may have been too insular for its own good, allowing smaller nonprofits access to funds that were otherwise unattainable. But like everything else in our wired world, the disturbing consequences may only be a few clicks away.

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.