Written by Rabbi Chaim Dalfin
Dispelling the Myth. Before I discuss Chabad’s financial success it is crucial to dispel a myth about Chabad’s finances that has been circulating for years. The word on the street has been that Chabad Houses receive financial assistance from Chabad’s central headquarters in Brooklyn, the Merkos organization. This is not true. I can attest to this because I had a Chabad House in Marin County, California and had to raise every penny myself. Although several times during my years in Marin County, 1984–1992, the Rebbe did instruct Merkos to send us funds, it was for a few special occasions and projects. It was not the rule by any stretch of the imagination. In 1991, the Rebbe wanted Merkos to send us funds again and was told there is no more money. Today, each emissary raises their own funds and receives no financial support from Merkos.
Everyone Wants to Give. Chabad’s financial success is a notably recognized achievement. In a world where “money talks,” and the dollar is a powerful currency worldwide, this only points to Chabad being the most successful of Jewish organizations. There are other organizations in the Jewish world who on an individual basis have more money than Chabad, however when the numbers are examined, Chabad comes out on top. Take, for example, the budget of Yeshiva University (YU). Although the educational institution has a larger operating budget than Chabad’s, this is because YU has one major hub with multiple institutions, most of which are in the Manhattan area. Chabad, however, has 4,200 institutions worldwide. Hence, their accumulative budget is far greater than YU’s. Why do people donate so much money to Chabad? After all, it’s a Chasidic group which follows Jewish law without compromise—not representative of the majority of today’s Jews. We have already answered this question in the previous section, from a philosophical standpoint. However, I include here a summary of why people like giving to Chabad.
• Overhead Cost. Chabad’s overhead costs are minimal. There is a small staff, and typically the Chabad rabbi and rebbetzin can “do it all.”
• Long-Term Impact. Emissaries are there for the long haul. In most cases, Chabad rabbis go to their posts with the attitude of “I’m here until Mashiach comes!” Donors know their money is being given to an eternal edifice.
• Informal. The open membership policies and informal atmosphere of a Chabad institution is welcoming for donors who are sick and tired of rules and regulations in their own business and personal life. This doesn’t mean Chabad has no rules, rather the feeling one is left with after donating to Chabad is “I gave because I wanted to, not because I felt obligated to.”
• Chabad Houses Worldwide. The fact there are Chabad Houses all over the world (including the most remote areas), gives potential donors access to global connections. When traveling, the businessman is no longer “lonely” in some far-off outpost.
• Utilizing Technology for G-d. Chabad has always been on the cutting edge of technology, by using it for outreach purposes. Chabad was the first Jewish group to create an outreach website. Donors respect this.
• Marketing and Public Relations. Chabad’s marketing and promotion is mostly done in-house. Donors appreciate that most of their money isn’t going to paying “Madison Avenue” firms who publicize Chabad activities.
• Israel Priority. Nowhere is Chabad’s presence felt more than Israel. The Rebbe sent groups of his followers to settle there. Today’s emissaries have a highly positive attitude towards Israel and constantly bring their communities to visit. Chabad supporters see Chabad of Israel in action and appreciate this. They like a Chasidic group that supports its people living in Israel.
Wealthy Friends of Chabad. Among Chabad’s supporters are some very wealthy individuals. I’m not just talking about people with millions, but billions. Some of these individuals have been listed on the Forbes list of the world’s richest people. Their donations are part of the answer to this book’s question, “What is Chabad’s secret to its unprecedented success?” They make it possible for many of the large building projects and other global initiatives Chabad has undertaken worldwide. The emissaries dedicate much time, effort, and financial resources in catering to them. The result is their loyal dedication to Chabad with large gifts. Although their contributions are reported on their tax returns and are public record, the secret to their giving is the “behind the scenes” effort the emissaries dedicate to solicitations and the style used in catering to the donors. For those wishing these very same people donate to their organizations, I suggest they first adopt the Chabad model of outreach.
Tomorrow we will post a sampling of several individuals who support Chabad as reported in the press.