Chabad is scrappy and disorganized so why do donors love it

Two mammoth Jewish gatherings were held recently: the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America and the International Convention of Chabad Emissaries. While both are awe-inspiring in their grandeur and focus on Jewish continuity, the Chabad movement continues to grow rapidly while the federations appear to be largely stagnant.

The JFNA is a well-oiled machine with an established infrastructure, smooth mechanisms and operational hierarchy. By contrast, although there are a number of supporting bodies, Chabad from an organizational perspective appears in some ways to be a band of ragtag rabbis independently operating without an authoritative organizational body, central CEO or board of directors, and with no endowment, trust fund or investment portfolio.

As opposed to the federations, few — if any — studies, polls or annual reports are conducted or written within the Chabad movement, and no center can quantify the precise number of its members. One would be hard pressed to find a flow chart or academic assessment of Chabad’s growth — but agreement essentially is unanimous on its rapid rise.

Chabad institutions have attracted some of the most sophisticated and advanced business and industry leaders as donors. At the concluding banquet of the conference Nov. 7, the guest list included the likes of Michael Steinhardt, Lev Leviev and Ronald Lauder.

The International Convention of Chabad Emissaries in Brooklyn attracted 4,500 emissaries and supporters. photo/jta/meir alfasi/

One may wonder why the informality doesn’t drive away savvy investors that are used to detailed reports, due diligence and rigorous accountability. The answer is simple: Those who give money to Chabad know they will see the fruits of their contribution. Donating to Chabad embodies what has become known as true venture philanthropy or entrepreneurial idealism.

Chabad delivers instant tangible results, which is what any shrewd investor appreciates or giant of industry demands in today’s fast-paced world. Donations are not swallowed up by antiquated mechanical financial infrastructures; there is no red tape, application processes, panels or mazes of bureaucracy. The Chabad institutions are focused on the immediacy of the task at hand and are adverse to anything that will slow them down.

Additionally, donors can be sure that a donation to a Chabad establishment will support a Jewish cause. The federations, by contrast, earmark large contributions for general humanitarian causes in the spirit of “tikkun olam,” or repair of the world — but with so many modern-day Jewish challenges with which to contend, many donors are saying that our own should come first.

Much of the donor interest in Chabad can be crystallized further by making a comparison to the tea party movement. The movement’s primary concerns include, but are not limited to, cutting back the size of government, reducing wasteful spending, reducing the national debt and adherence to an original interpretation of the Constitution.

Chabad’s primary concerns include cutting back the top-down, parochial mode of Jewish practice, maximizing the use of every philanthropic dollar (there are no earmarks or pork barrel spending), lifting the pride and confidence of the Jewish people, and adherence to an original interpretation of Jewish law.

Chabad is a purist, entrepreneurial, visionary and versatile, action-oriented and results-driven organization. For venture philanthropists seeking immediate high returns, there is no better investment.

Dovid Efune
is the director of the Algemeiner Journal and the Gershon Jacobson Jewish Continuity Foundation.