About four years ago, professional investment manager and Maryland native Jonathan Schilit discovered Dollar a Day, a website that featured little-known nonprofits around the world. “I thought it would be great if the Jewish community would have something similar,” said Schilit, 36. An alum of Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School (CESJDS) and now a CESJDS parent, Schilit also served as a Hillel board member at University of Maryland and a Schusterman ROI member as well.
With support and encouragement from his family, Schilit and his younger sister Amy (a Brooklyn-based Jewish educator) launched the online tzedakah platform Righteous Crowd in December 2018. “Someone described us as a ‘philanthropy concierge,’” he said. “For about the cost of one Soul Cycle class, you can support organizations helping vulnerable populations, and also learn some Torah: Every Friday, Righteous Crowd members receive an email announcing the not-for-profit receiving the collective funds and how it is connected to the Jewish calendar.”
What led you to choose this model of giving for Righteous Crowd?
We wanted to tie tzedakah (charitable giving) to the Jewish calendar – either the weekly Torah portion or a Jewish holiday – so just before Shabbat we would donate the collective funds to a particular small, impactful nonprofit. A chosen organization might have a Jewish founder, or it might be located in Israel or have some connection with Israel, but the organization always is aimed at helping vulnerable populations.
What does it take in terms of infrastructure and staff to run something like this?
We reached out to rabbis and Jewish communal professionals for feedback as we were planning Righteous Crowd. From the beginning, our family has done all the work as volunteers, but we plan to have an advisory board. 100% of Righteous Crowd member donations go to the nonprofits. There are no credit card fees, no overhead, and all out-of-pocket costs are covered.
Why should people become donors through Righteous Crowd?
First of all, Righteous Crowd saves you time and effort from researching best-in-class organizations worthy of your donations. Second, it transforms your small donations into meaningful, collective giving. Finally, it brings lesser-known organizations that might not be on your radar to your attention.
We vet each organization to be sure that they are fiscally responsible. My family resides on the East Coast and Righteous Crowd’s members are based all over the country, so while the members of Righteous Crowd have supported a number of organizations based in the Greater Washington area, we are funding organizations world-wide doing real mitzvah work. The DC area organizations that have been funded so far by members of Righteous Crowd are: Nourish Now, TzedecDC, Sunflower Bakery, and I Support the Girls.
What was a recent recipient organization you were excited for Righteous Crowd donors to support, and why?
It’s a hard question to answer – like when we ask our mom who is her favorite child! We have been so thrilled that, as of April 11, we have been able to support 18 amazing organizations. This week, for instance, Righteous Crowd members will be funding The Blue Dove Foundation. The Blue Dove Foundation was created to help address the issues of mental health and substance abuse in the Jewish community.
Members often get inspired by seeing the organizations that Righteous Crowd funds and they will get involved with or donate to similar types of organizations in their communities. For example, an LA member who was pregnant asked friends to donate boxes of diapers after Righteous Crowd had featured Little Essentials, a charity in New York which offers at-risk families living in poverty urgently-needed children’s supplies and parenting education.
Mitzvah goreret mitzvah — loosely translated, one good deed will bring another good deed.
Do you have a target user for this platform?
The default level of giving is $1 a day, but we have people giving at all different levels. And the more Righteous Crowd members we get, the more money will go to the organizations.
We would love for interested philanthropists to sponsor those starting out in the tzedakah world. They could match funds given by a young family, bar/bat mitzvah celebrants, or recent high school or college graduates. There are lots of opportunities to explore.