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Charities, You’re Leaving Money on the Table

Pickings in a mid-winter mailbox are slim: The holidays are over; it’s too early for spring catalogs, and a property tax bill that will raid my bank account hasn’t yet arrived. No better time for an envelope to get noticed.

So why did a Jewish non-profit that does good work come away empty-handed after grabbing my attention with its nice brochure?

Strike one: The appeal for funds was addressed to my husband, despite a previous donation, made in both our (different) surnames.

Strike two: The letterhead shows an all-male board.

Strike three: There was no reply to my email explaining why my wallet would be closed.

Did I expect a response? Not really. What did I hope to accomplish, except to deliver a message: You’re leaving money on the table.

As someone who has joined the ranks of targeted giving (donating to a specific project rather than to a communal pool of funds), I want quick victories for my dollars. That’s good news for certain non-profits, where even small checks can go a long way. So why favor my husband with an appeal and neglect me as a potential donor?

That oversight can be corrected. But with philanthropy so competitive, I want to give where women have a say in how that money is spent.

There’s a lingering perception, as old as Moses, that influential audiences are sometimes more receptive to men. Perhaps that explains why women are woefully under-represented or absent altogether from too many public events hosted by the Jewish community, as Jane Eisner wrote in this recent Forward editorial.

With two post-war generations of well-educated women, there is hardly a shortage of Jewish female scholarship or expertise. So when the Forward asks, “Where Are The Women?” we need answers to why a gender imbalance exists at the microphone in front of Jewish audiences.

Perhaps it boils down to being comfortable with whom you know, and who is considered acceptable to a particular crowd, especially when the subject involves matters of Jewish law.

But is there, conscious or not, an impression (in some quarters) that male speakers bring a certain heft? If so, it’s a short distance to diminished expectations: Can numerous female headliners attract the turnout of a testosterone-dominant podium?

At least one academic, Shaul Kelner of Vanderbilt University, has taken a stand, declining to take part in all-male panel discussions in the Jewish public sphere. (His refrain has been an effective remedy.) Hopefully, others will follow his example.

Kelner’s action has persuaded me to exercise greater scrutiny to ensure that non-profits, (Jewish or otherwise), include women in decision-making circles. Whether it’s the benefit of someone’s scholarship or a fistful of charitable dollars, perhaps nothing speaks louder than the word “no.”

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