Resource Library

Lessons From the Field

Resource from Insights Newsletter
Resource Library

Lessons From the Field

What COVID-19 has Taught Us about Giving

by Liz Fisher

In early March, at the onset of the COVID-19 crisis in the U.S., our world, it felt, changed overnight. Like many families, my husband, two teens and I were suddenly all at home together, all the time. Based in NYC, we immediately saw the impact of the virus around us – both the illness and the economic impacts. Members of our family and synagogue community became ill and we saw the lines at local food pantries increase. It was a very hard time to be in NYC, yet we recognized that the hardships we were facing were very small compared to many of our neighbors.

We have always tried to raise our children in an environment rich with Jewish tradition, ritual, and an understanding of our obligation to leave the world a better place. Inspired by the words of Rabbi Tarfon in Pirkei Avot, “It is not your duty to complete the work, but neither are you at liberty to neglect it,” my family began embracing an updated version of the Jewish tradition of putting coins in a “tzedakah box” before Shabbat. Each Friday, we made a charitable gift to a different organization or cause. Personally, I found that it grounded me and moved me into a place of doing rather than worrying. It was an opportunity to respond to something we had read during the week, and it allowed my husband and me to discuss our values and decision making with our teens.

At work, too, life changed overnight. Early in March, as we moved our team online and began meeting virtually, we asked ourselves and our broader community urgent questions: How do we make decisions about giving when there are seemingly-endless challenges in our communities? What do our values and faith traditions teach us about how to respond in this moment? What can we do to move past “analysis paralysis”?

Our mission at Amplifier is to ignite, strengthen, and inform giving inspired by Jewish values and wisdom. Building on the Jewish values of tzedakah (justice) and chesed (acts of kindness), and a long Jewish tradition of charitable giving, our work focuses on creating tools, training programs, and educational resources to help people identify the values that are important to them, choose causes that connect with those values, and give in ways that both create impact and build community. We focus on collaborative giving experiences, like giving circles, and on ways everyday donors can make a difference. Our vision is a world in which everyone has the opportunity to create powerful, positive change through collaborative giving.

We recognized early on that giving in a time of crisis can feel overwhelming, and that that was going to be especially true of the COVID-19 pandemic. As many have said: in this moment, we are all in the same storm yet we are not all on the same boat. There are countless needs, demands of our time, and moments of uncertainty about the economy. These issues can discourage people from giving. However, the needs of nonprofits are growing and this moment in time demands that those who can give, do so generously. Faced with those challenges, we developed a few strategies that have guided our work.

Provide opportunities to connect with others while making a difference

Some of the first shifts we made were to bring our in person programs online, creating tools for people to hold Virtual Pop-up Giving Circles.

We also amended our Tzedakah x Shabbat Guide, made in partnership with OneTable, to encourage conversations about giving around virtual Friday night dinner parties.

We saw a surge in collaborative giving projects, from organizations such as Tribe 12, Young Judaea, CareerUp, and Challah for Hunger, to individuals celebrating their birthdays with Pop-up Giving Circle Parties on Zoom, and we’ve loved receiving messages that these experiences have helped people to feel connected from a distance.

Create tools for decision making, including curated grantee options

Our COVID-19 Giving Guide provides a flow chart to help people think through where they might like to give. It’s specifically intended to help those feeling “analysis paralysis” figure out where to start.

Additionally, we worked with organizational and giving circle partners working close to the ground to develop specific recommendations of organizations in need. These lists are intended to provide a starting point for givers interested in specific geographical areas. For instance, we created a giving guide that highlights a diverse set of organizations responding to COVID-19 in Jerusalem, in partnership with Natan.

Build on our partnerships and continue adding relevant content

Prior to COVID-19, we were already working in partnership with many other giving circle networks, Jewish organizations, and other secular and faith-driven organizations. Throughout this time period, we have leaned on those partnerships to deepen our impact and expand our reach.

For example, we partnered with Community Investment Network (CIN) to design and run Launchpad, Philanthropy Together’s grassroots giving circle incubator. That partnership with CIN helped us to create In Support of Black Communities: Grounding our Giving in Jewish Wisdom, a community conversation about rooting racial justice giving in our traditions and holy texts.

While all these ideas center around the work we have been doing with COVID-19, we’ve also worked to galvanize our network in support of racial justice and to share the stories of how members of our community have responded.

Overall, I’ve learned that while these moments in time can be paralyzing, giving is an action that can provide urgently needed assistance to organizations and help the giver feel less overwhelmed and powerless. Judaism is a tradition rich with focus on the importance of action, and an emphasis on what we do and not only what we believe. That tradition has guided our work at Amplifier and has given me strength and comfort as a person, parent, and leader through these turbulent times.

If you want to use any of these tools or strategies in your own work, contact Amplifier at

Expanded Perspective

Clarifying values can lead to more giving

By Andrea Pactor

Clarifying values that are important to you and aligning your giving to those values can help avoid or prevent “analysis paralysis” during a pandemic and in daily life when overwhelmed by requests for support. Now, when our routines have been disrupted and we may have more time, is an opportune moment to reflect on the values we hold dear. As Winston Churchill is reported to have said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” 

For help identifying values, refer to this list from philanthropist and author Tracy Gary. Centering on values helps build intentionality around one’s giving. This organized approach enables you to say “no” more comfortably when approached to support a cause that does not align with those values. It also helps you make decisions more easily so that you can stay true to your core beliefs. Intentionality leads tomore giving, and more satisfied donors, and more engaged donors who are loyal to the causes they cherish for longer periods.

Liz Fisher and Amplifier provided an excellent flow chart of how to think about giving during the pandemic. The framework for the flow chart is comparable to the steps involved in creating a giving plan, another useful tool to connect values to action. Giving plans guide donors on a journey of exploration that leads to concrete action and provide a valuable roadmap for philanthropic activity including contributions of time, talent, and treasure. When donors create a written giving plan that connects values to causes that embody those values, they not only more clearly identify a philanthropic path forward but they also create a legacy for future generations. 

To explore how to create your own giving plan, take a look at the values and beliefs series of exercises developed by The Bridgespan Group, a nationally recognized social impact consulting firm. Additionally, Tracy Gary’s book, Inspired Philanthropy, provides a step-by-step comprehensive guide to develop a giving plan.

DATE: July 28, 2020
TOPIC: Research and Scholarship
TYPE: Article
SOURCE: Insights Newsletter
KEYWORDS: Judaism, Religious Giving
AUTHOR: Andrea Pactor, Liz Fisher