OPINION: An urgent appeal for small Jewish charities

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OPINION: An urgent appeal for small Jewish charities

With the coronavirus causing an economic slow-down, Lionel Salama says small charities will suffer heavily - and they desperately need help

These are tumultuous times for charities. The roll call of cancelled fundraising events and challenges grows by the day. Consider also those charities heavily dependent on the income from their shops that has just evaporated.

Frustratingly, in a week that has seen quick intervention by a government keen to shore up the economy, there has been little focus on supporting the third sector. Yet it provides an enormous range services on which our nation depends to support those less fortunate. We should know; as individuals, we give charities around £10 billion a year. So you can imagine the shockwave that’s about to hit.

Lionel Salama

The Jewish community is an exemplar in the charity sector, both in terms of the quality of services provided and the funding that makes it happen. Our major donors set a standard that those outside of our community rarely come close to. `Major’ may actually be a Hebrew word that loses something in translation.

Virtually all the voluntary funding required by our communal causes is provided by around 1,000 families and, in fact, most of this comes from a smaller sub-group. It’s a unique scenario in the UK, where over 100 causes – charities, synagogues and schools – are funded by a group of largely unsung heroes. They are now quietly engaged in ensuring that our communal services don’t fall over. So whilst a number of big charity fundraising dinners have been postponed (the donors invited to tens of such events a year probably feel some relief), these causes should find a way through this.

The outlook though for the smaller Jewish charities is not so positive. They don’t have reserves to draw on, marketing and fundraising departments or engagement with major donors. Typically, they live from appeal to appeal and are therefore particularly vulnerable in this crisis. It is this group of charities that Sir Mick Davis, former chair of the Jewish Leadership Council, sought to aid with his Community Chest initiative a few years ago. The timing then might not have been right; now it is vital.

Initiatives are already underway at a national level: the Duke of Cambridge is leading fundraising efforts by the National Emergencies Trust for small charities and Martyn Lewis has just pledged £1m for small and local charities. We need our own emergency fund for small Jewish charities.

Remember this is a one-time-only appeal to ensure that these small charities can do their crucial work without worry. In fact, for some the workload is growing by the day, as they race to cope with the massive fallout from COVID-19. Their modus operandi has always been “we’ll do whatever it takes”. All of us now have a stake in enabling that to continue.

  • Lionel Salama is co-founder of HOPE, a brand consultancy for organisations that make a social impact.
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