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Tuesday, November 30, 2021
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This essay deals with two ideas that have gained new prominence during this unprecedented era in fundraising. Nonprofit leaders have been putting on their inventors’ hats and cavorting with novel concepts to maintain their edge in the pursuit of scarce funds.

Virtual Race Platform

In 2020, during the height of the pandemic, the Jewish Home Foundation of North Jersey for the first time in its history held a virtual golf, tennis and card outing. This was the first time it wasn’t held in person. The Jewish Foundation counted on its great reputation and sponsors to carry the day. And it did.

Now, the use of virtual fundraising strategies is no longer unusual. But there is a relatively unique idea created by an up-and-coming company called Charity Footprints. On their website, they claim to have signed up more than 800 nonprofit clients and employers and generated over $10.5 million in funds raised. They show an impressive group of well known clients who used their virtual race platform to raise significant funds.

I have written before about challenges nonprofits have in initiating physical events on their own because of complex logistical requirements. Charity Footprints contends that their return on the investment (ROI) is five times what it would be in a physical event, and 80-85% less in expenses than a physical race because there are no infrastructure costs. Also, unlike physical races there is no limit to the number of participants, you can bring together a global audience, it can be set up quickly, and it engages participants in diverse ways. Very efficient, not labor-intensive and worth examining.

The founder and CEO of Charity Footprints, Rahul Razdan, told me: “I started Charity Footprints as an evening and weekend project after the Boston Marathon bombing shook the nation. My motivation was to create a platform that allows runners, walkers, bikers and others to collect, albeit virtually, and support a common mission.” He declared, “Don’t just walk … leave your footprints—this is my call to action to our community.”

Giving Circles—New Twist to an Old Idea

Grassroots giving is common. But Giving Circles is a fresher approach to a long-standing stratagem. While it has been around for nearly two decades, it is now coming more into vogue. It’s not complicated and it can bring in a large contingent of donors excited about being involved in the “nuts and bolts” of decision making. Their goal is simple—earmark funds to charities they wish to support.

According to the Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers’ More Giving Together, a giving circle “is formed when individuals come together and pool their dollars, decide together where to give the money (and other resources such as volunteer time), and learn together about their community and philanthropy.”

Philanthropy Together, a global organization, seeded by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, asserts that there are over 2,000 Giving Circles in the United States composed of more than 150,000 individuals that have given away more than $1.29 billion to charities they support.

It is clearly a budding movement in the Jewish community. Among a growing list of Giving Circles include those in The Jewish Funders Network, American Jewish University, the San Francisco Jewish Women’s Fund, the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Hartford and more—at least 200 Jewish Giving Circles in the United States.

The Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee has a Women’s Giving Circle whose mission is to enhance the lives of women and children who live in Israel and need help. In 2021 they awarded $34,000 in total grants to, among others, Dental Volunteers for Israel, Beit Ruth for Young Women and Girls at Risk and American Friends of Rabin Medical Center.

The Jewish Federations of North America has a website at amplifiergiving.org that released a “Guide for Jewish Giving Circles” worth reading. According to their website: “Amplifier began as a project of the Natan Fund in 2014 with a mission of starting and supporting giving circles inspired by Jewish values. Since then, Amplifier has helped to create 120 giving circles that bring people together to talk about their values, pool their charitable contributions and decide together how to allocate funds.”

The Talmud perhaps best summarized the idea of Jewish Giving Circles as follows:

“Just as in a coat of mail each and every scale joins the others to form one large piece of armor, so every small coin given to charity combines with the rest to form a large sum. … Just as in a garment each and every thread unites with the others to form a whole garment, so every small coin given to charity unites with the rest to form a large sum.”

—Babylonian Talmud, Baba Batra 9b

Albert Einstein once said, “When the solution is simple, God is answering.” Different times, different ideas.


Norman B. Gildin has fundraised for nonprofits for more than three decades and has raised upwards of $93 million in the process. Formerly a Teaneck resident for 34 years, he is the president of Strategic Fundraising Group whose singular mission is to assist nonprofits raise critical funds. He can be reached at [email protected]

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