Many are asking how to best support Israelis right now. Emily Kane Miller sat down for a conversation with Seth Davis of Giving Group Community, a group on the ground deploying real-time humanitarian support. You can watch the discussion or read the transcript here.
This interview has been edited slightly for clarity.
Emily: Seth, let’s jump in, you and I have worked together for almost a decade. You have always been in the field working in the sort of nonprofit on-the-ground organizational model. I have been working with philanthropists and we've had conversations like these many times, but it's never been like this.
I'm hoping that we can tackle a few questions that I know I'm receiving on the philanthropy side and you are receiving on the nonprofit side about how to be as supportive of Israelis as possible right now.
Question #1: What do you see as philanthropies lane and what are things that philanthropic dollars really can't do today in Israel?
Seth: Yeah, I think that's really important. Because philanthropy in general should be a catalyst for things to get into motion when the government and other agencies come in -- I know Israel bonds just sold a very large load of bonds to send emergency funds to the government.
What happens, especially during crisis, there's a big gap until the government's able to assess and create policies and release funds. So what's happening now, what we're seeing is a lot of the donor funds are going for immediate needs to really fill that gap.
There are many examples – I will just give a small one for instance, some of the families that survived these atrocities have been placed in hotels and provided food, with some costs paid by the government and some paid by private donors. They need a little more funding to survive the day-to-day needs, so that's being covered by philanthropy for instance.
So would you say the philanthropic dollars are helping to create a speed boat right now while the other governmental or larger institutional dollars are coming?
Like in the South for instance, in Ashkalon, the city itself has to pay for things and then get reimbursed by the government. They just don't have the funds to do it.
90 people's homes were hit by rockets.
They needed to be sent to different areas. They need to pay for the buses. So philanthropy is paying those dollars.
So point number one, put your dollars where they can be catalytic and quick-acting, yeah?
And I'll just add in the longer term, obviously, it will be catalytic for matching funds or for complimentary things that the government gives but doesn't give the whole 100%, maybe gives 80% of a new structure, a new strategic plan, but that we could talk about after the war in the months and years to come.
Question #2: People want to be generous right now. They understand you need dollars, but want to do more - want to volunteer, want to send items to Israel. What are you saying to people who are coming with these other sorts of non-financial questions?
First of all, my most honest advice to people: It's not about you on the other side. It's about the beneficiary. The person on the front lines, the person that's been hit, the person that's the victim, who's been through the incident.
We have to think about them first. The most urgent, urgent thing is dollars to fulfill these gaps. But there are other things one can do after you gave dollars and you gave more than you thought you could give.|
You could go and join those different efforts online to share the truth, and make sure antisemitism is not growing.
You can look locally. There's a lot of efforts of collecting goods and shipping cargo planes to Israel, but you have to make sure it's official and not scams because there's also a lot of things running around.
But the one thing you shouldn't do is to go to the streets or local cities, asking for lists and driving people crazy because on the front line, hour to hour things are changing.
Rockets are falling, terrorists are roaming the streets at times, and it just creates more havoc. I've seen it firsthand. It's not helpful to be honest.
Instead, what you could do is start collecting it locally and assume there's obvious things that will always be needed. Dry foods and canned foods, medical aid products, toys and games for kids to reduce trauma. You don't need to call anybody to ask if it's needed. It's 100% going to be needed over the next year or so.
If that's the effort you want to do, go for it. But then wait one, two, three weeks until things calm down to find the way to ship it and get it to the right channels, which we can help with in time.
Question #3: So you used the term scam. There are gofundme pages and dot orgs that have popped up overnight. These stories are so compelling, but it’s hard to double-click and confirm there’s something real behind it. How are you helping people identify the real programs?
It's not a time when you can do robust due diligence, let's be honest, but all organizations should have an EIN number. For instance, GGC’s EIN number has been working for 20 years and is very active, and same with the institutional organizations you’ve known for many years. You should go online, and see if there's a 990, it's five-minutes of due diligence.
There's thousands of social initiatives. People came together, said okay we're going to buy vests for soldiers, we're going to get medical aid and start sending to friends and let's donate.
The problem with that: You don't know who's behind it, you don't know how they're really going to activate it, you can't monitor it, so I would be a bit scared. I tell those social initiatives --and we're helping some of them to put it under our organization with our EIN -- work with an organization that’s been doing it for years and partner with them.
Also, on the flip side, there's people that don't really know philanthropy at the organizational level. I know an organization that's really great on the ground. They got a call, “you're getting a million dollars.”
So, we went and tried to help and collect the funds, because they needed a place to send it through. And then we found out it wasn't even a million dollars, it was $10,000. The person that got the pledge simply didn’t understand.
One other point – you cannot start sending an organization now, in the middle of war, 50 questions, you know, send me ABCDE. It’s too much right now.
Ask for an IRS determination letter, go online to Guidestar, check their 990. It's very simple. Maybe see who is on their board, and look at their website, and that's it. That's what I recommend at this stage.
And of course, work through people you know.
Question #4: Seth, GGC (Giving Group Community), the group that you founded and are leading and doing this work on the ground in Israel with. I would describe it as an agile organization, incredibly entrepreneurial, very little red tape. You get funds within hours, sometimes minutes, they're deployed. There are also larger institutional groups. They have scale. They have a lot of people. They have a lot of reach.
What would you describe as work that is best handled by an agile organization right now, and what is work that you think the institutional organizations really are best situated for?
It's always a big question. But I think, at the end of the day, if you want to [quickly] get dollars to what's needed the most, that's what we're about. There's a few other organizations do that as well.
We're speaking to the mayors, to the leaders on the ground of the emergency needs of the cities every single day.
And we're getting WhatsApp messages: We need a thousand hot meals today. We need seven buses to send people out of the city, whatever it is. So we're working off lists and we're wiring funds every business day.
What comes in goes out - 100% of what's received. That's our approach on multiple fronts for victims of some of the communities that were viciously attacked, for people from the cities that are enduring rockets. In Ashkalon almost 300 rockets fell - direct hits, not intercepted by Iron Dome.
The needs are vast and there's other grassroots initiatives, but they're with formal nonprofits that exist in Israel like Ashkalon Foundation or in Ofakim that have been working for years.
We know the people, so that's how we can commit fast, and we know exactly what the money is going to.
The institutional, large organizations are collecting money, and it’s beginning to trickle down as well. Some, they want to do more midterm, some more long-term. It's going to be needed as well. So you have to ask yourself as a donor, what kind of donor am I? You know, do I want 100% of it sent and sent quickly?
Do I want to mix my portfolio, give some through here, some through here? And that's basically the choice of the donor.
Question #5: All right, last question that I'm getting: Immediate funds versus long-term funds? Donors know there's acute, desperate need today. They also know there will be a rebuild in years to come, it's going to be critical. How are you as an organization thinking about staging this work?
It's hard to think about that because we don't know how this whole thing is going to scale and escalate. So it's very, very challenging. We're really going at this day by day. But we also have experience doing this, I've personally been engaged in the South since 2007 when the first rocket hit Ashkelon.
We know there are things for the midterm, like more bomb shelters, more emergency rescue vehicles, more security protective gear, and even things that could cost a lot more money, like protecting whole hospital buildings in the South, that's been hit with two direct rockets already and only a small percentage of it is underground protected. That could be $150 million USD. So there are different levels and different needs. And also we still don't know at this stage what the government's going to fund and where the gaps are going to be. That's going to take time.
So I tell people there are two ways to do it. Put all you can do now in an emergency fund and trust those with the emergency funds like us or another institution, like your local Federation, to allocate what's really needed now and in the long term, or put aside an amount and see what's needed in a month or two and give more.
But just understand now people really need it for fixing shelters and for feeding people or getting them out for respite. Don't hold back too much. Hopefully, more money is released, we're close to the end of year also, so hopefully other people have other income sources they can release. But these are times of war. These are times of distress, of danger for the whole Jewish people. And it's not a time to really calculate, you know, did I give my 5% this year or not in my opinion.
Yeah, and in mine too, which is why I respect you so much, and I'm so grateful to be able to work with you. Seth, final word, what do you want people who are thinking about how to be generous to know right now to do right now?
First, your money counts. Any dollar amount you give counts. After you give, you can share the details with your friends. You can put in your social media. You need to pray for our people, and you need to stay resilient and believe we will prevail, and we will stay resilient and we will bounce back.