Where do your donations go?

It's that time of year.  The joyous season of giving.  No, I'm not talking about Chanukah, Christmas or Kwanza.

It's the time of year when we are flooded with appeals for money, not just in the spirit of generosity in this holiday season but because there's just a few days left to write those checks and get a tax deduction for the entire year.

My phone has been ringing – usually around dinner time – and my mailboxes, electronic and snail, have been filled with appeals for donations.  All of them assure me that my badly needed money is going to help the neediest of the needy Jews, all for good causes.

Like most people this is the time of year when we make our donations and our folder of contributions requests is bulging.

Near the top of our list is the local volunteer rescue squad.  We've needed – and personally benefitted – from their quick-response EMS services.  As the name implies, it is largely operated by volunteers and on a small budget.

There are also many Jewish organizations on our list, or at least were until, as the pleas for money piled up, I came across reports in the Forward and elsewhere about what happens to those contributions.

Right off the top, a huge chunk goes to pay salaries and bonuses of the organizations' top.  [Another issue, for another blog, is how they distribute the funds they collect]

Some of the contributions to non-charitable organizations like the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC), the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), are not tax deductible, although I know many people think they are and try to claim them anyway. 

Most of the others are bona fide charities and tax deductible.  But, where does the money really go?

Compensation packages top half a million dollars annually at more than a dozen organizations, including Jewish Community Federations of Cleveland, Baltimore, New York and Chicago; Brandeis University, Yeshiva University, the Anti-Defamation League, Jewish Federations of North America, Simon Wiesenthal Center, Birthright Israel.  Paychecks at more than 30 others range from a quarter million to half a million.

And that doesn't include the bonuses and other benefits.

David Fisher, the top executive at the Birthright Israel Foundation, took home a $90,000 bonus on top of his $586,293 salary in 2014 plus other benefits, Forward reported.  Matt Brooks of RJC got a $93,750 bonus, the largest in the newspaper's survey in addition to his $591,105 salary; by comparison, the NJDC, which is on life support, didn't even show up on the list of the top 60 Jewish organizations.

Howard Kohr, AIPAC's executive director, was paid $638,000 in salary in 2014, plus an additional $760,710 in previously earned deferred compensation. The group's revenues that year were nearly $78 million. 

Yeshiva University president Richard Joel received a $1.6 million deferred compensation payout on top of his $738,180 salary despite the university's $150 operating deficit, the report noted.

According the Forward, Zionist Organization of America's total revenue in 2014 was just under $4.1 million, of which $440,440, over 10 percent, went to Morton Klein, its president, plus expenses and perqs. Jewish Voice of New York reported that Klein's income from 2008 to 2012 "exceeded 30% of the total donations" the group received during that period.

I'm sure every one of these Jewish leaders thinks' he or she is underpaid and doing the Lord's work, but how many of their contributors realize that their donations are going to pay salaries they could only dream of and bonuses that probably exceed their own income for at least this year if not more?

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.