Bad financial times could lead to charitable consolidation

The second annual Limmud FSU in this seaside tourist town attracted several Jewish philanthropists with deep pockets. But every day that the Dow drops, pockets around the world get a bit shallower.

This point was not lost on the donors here at Limmud.

"When the stock market’s down 40 percent and portfolios are giving away 5 percent a year, it’s going to affect us, no question about it," said Matthew Bronfman, chairman of the World Jewish Congress.

The current crisis has set itself apart from other economic ripples in the last decade because of its global scale. Collapses in Russia in 1998 and two years later in Argentina grazed the Jewish philanthropy world, but the current crisis has hit donor bases in the United States and in Israel as well as local supporters in struggling countries like Ukraine.

There is a two-prong effect of the deepening global financial crisis on Jewish charity, he said, one from the top-down and another from the bottom-up.

The donors will be reticent to give in the unstable atmosphere while the needs will be greater in places like Ukraine, where locals have been lining up outside banks this week to trade out their Ukrainian currency for the stronger dollar.

One of those local investors, Vadim Rabinovich, said the current financial atmosphere has lead to a crisis for the Chabad-run Or Avner school system in Ukraine.

"It’s undefined. Everything is frozen," said Rabinovich, a media magnate who bankrolled this year’s Limmud FSU event. "I can say concretely that we should have a meeting next week to discuss the problems."

Sandra Cahn, a New York-based philanthropist and co-founder of Limmud FSU, said the financial crisis is likely to force a series of "mergers and acquisitions" across the spectrum of Jewish philanthropy as redundant organizations seek to consolidate their pools of funds.

The consolidation will come with increased scrutiny of overhead starting with the expense accounts of the executives in charge of Jewish charities.

"There are way too many organizations with too many mediocre executives," Bronfman said. "Perhaps we can use this economic crisis as an opportunity to consolidate all the old organizations and have a higher percentage of money sent to the recipents. Maybe that can be the silver lining of this whole crisis."

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