November 14, 2018

DIY philanthropy

Six months ago, when Michal Taviv-Margolese started working as the Western Regional director for AMIT, a nonprofit operator of 108 schools in Israel, she started thinking more seriously about charity.

“For the first time, I was involved in a charitable organization and in doing fundraising, and I began thinking a lot more about giving and the requirements of the mitzvah,” she said.

As an observant Jew, Taviv-Margolese, 34, knew she should be giving 10 percent of her income to charity, but she had never really held herself to it. For starters, she never bothered to track what 10 percent of her income would amount to, in dispensable dollars. And even though she had always held salary-paying jobs — including as the former executive director of JConnectLA, the Jewish networking group for young singles — she never considered herself rich. “Philanthropist” seemed out of the question.

“I felt like I would give a little charity here, a little bit there, but I knew I wasn’t giving the requirement,” she said.

So late last summer, Taviv-Margolese decided that the best way to ensure the fulfillment of the mitzvah would be to create a tzedakah fund. 

She began by opening a separate account at her bank that was linked to her checking account and into which she could automatically transfer 10 percent of each paycheck. As a salaried employee, she could easily designate the exact amount for each bimonthly transfer. She nicknamed the account: “Tzedakah.”

“Now, whenever I want to give to charity, I can go and see how much I have in that fund and transfer from my tzedakah fund back into my checking account to pay for it.”

The tzedakah fund serves as a kind of charity holding cell; save now, give later.

“The main thing that’s so interesting about it is how quickly that money builds up,” Taviv-Margolese said. “Before this, I was never really clear on how much I had to give. Now I feel much more generous. Anytime anybody asks me for anything, I can say, ‘Yeah I can give a little bit.’ Actually, I can’t give it out as fast as it’s accumulating.”

After she makes her bimonthly transfers, “I don’t count it as my money anymore,” she said.

Since Taviv-Margolese opened her tzedakah fund in August, she has been able to contribute to a wide variety of organizations, including the Etta Israel Center; Chabad Center of the Five Towns’ Hurricane Sandy Relief Fund; Darche Noam, the yeshiva where she and her husband studied in Israel; the Chai Center; Friendship Circle; Maayon Yisroel on La Brea, the Chasidic center where she attends classes; and Meir Panim, the hunger relief organization based in Israel. She said she has given in increments ranging from chai, $18, to $660, and added that she is currently saving so she can join AMIT’s Chai Society, the organization’s second-highest giving level, which requires an annual contribution of $1,800.

“In my life I had never considered the potential of being a big donor in an organization,” she said, practically gushing with excitement. “I always considered myself not capable of that kind of giving, but now that I have the fund and money is increasing, it’s made me feel wealthier.”

One of the pleasures she derives from having the fund is cataloguing her giving. And the way Taviv-Margolese describes her process almost makes it sound like an addiction: “Every time I make a transfer, I write what it’s for, and it’s so nice to see all these little causes. I wonder, ‘What else can I give to?’ ”

Even though she sounds like a cheerleader on this topic, she admitted that giving didn’t always come naturally. “By nature I’m much more of a hoarder,” she confessed. But the tzedakah fund has helped to alter her perception of her own economic power and changed her overall relationship to money. 

“This has made me feel wealthier, more generous and more desirous to give,” she said. “I mean, yes, I worked hard for that money; but that money doesn’t belong to me. It belongs to the world. And it’s my job to contribute to the world. Having a bank account just makes it much, much easier to facilitate the process and helps me feel I’m doing God’s will in this world.”