The pushke, or charity box, may well be a relic of the past to many members of the younger generation of Jews. In fact, promotional materials for eCharityBox paint the small tin can as a PC in a world of Macs — not only old school, but also a barrier to giving for those who want to give on the go, with just a click of their BlackBerry or iPhone.
Launched in November, eCharityBox “adds an interactive experience to the act of giving,” says Getzy Fellig, the company’s CEO. Modeled on an actual charity box, eCharityBox is an application that can be downloaded onto an iPhone, BlackBerry or computer desktop. Users can then drop virtual coins — be it a penny, a dollar or $100 — into the eCharityBox whenever they’re in a particularly generous mood. They can also set up recurring donations (say, $36 a month or $1 a day) or set up a reminder to give on a certain date or every Friday before Shabbat.
“It’s recurring giving, but more exciting,” Fellig says.
Donors can watch as their virtual pushkes fill up to a predetermined amount. Once the pushke is “full,” the credit card on file is charged and the virtual pushke resets to zero. At any time, users can click the “empty box” button to submit a donation, even if their pushke isn’t yet full.
Fellig, an Orthodox Jew and serial entrepreneur, founded eCharityBox with his brother-in-law, Rabbi Eliyahu Schusterman, a pulpit rabbi in Atlanta. Fellig’s first client was his father, a Chabad rabbi in Florida who signed up his shul nearly eight months ago. After fixing the inevitable kinks, eCharityBox began to roll out its application to a wide swath of charities across the country.
While a majority of their clients are Jewish, the company offers a second application, called eOfferingPlate, which is geared to the Christian community and to secular social service organizations. “We wanted to reintroduce into society the act of giving and getting everyone to do an act of goodness and charity every day,” Fellig told the Jewish Week. “It’s not a question of how much to give, but of being sure to give regularly.”
Right now, the eCharityBox is branded to a particular organization, so if you download your local synagogue’s charity box, all of your money will be earmarked to that cause. This may likely turn off all but the most loyal donors who are devoted to a single cause. Anticipating this reaction, the company says that it will soon launch MyCharityBox, an open-ended virtual pushke that will allow you to choose from more than 6,000 charities. When you empty the charity box, you can decide to split the pot among your favorite causes, be it the American Red Cross, American Jewish World Service or your local Jewish federation.
For the more than 300 organizations that have already signed up, eCharityBox’s appeal lies in its ability to attract new donors who crave ease of use and the ability to give when inspiration strikes, without having to log online and fill out credit card information or dig out a checkbook from the back of the drawer. “It’s a one-stop shop for charities,” Fellig says. “You’re immediately placed across mobile and online platforms and your donors can download an app.”
“Quite a number of users have downloaded it, and from my inkling, this includes many new donors,” says Rabbi Yosef Jacobson, dean of TheYeshiva.net, a global classroom for Jewish thought and its contemporary applications. When Rabbi Jacobson was first contacted a few months ago, he said he loved the idea. “This sanctifies modern technology, which drives so many of us meshuga and takes it to a much higher place,” he says. While the amount donated differs by person, Rabbi Jacobson says that the average user donated between $30 and $40 a month using this application.
Others appreciate eCharityBox for its donor-management software that tracks donors and automatically sends tax receipts, cutting out a tremendous amount of back-office work for charities that sign up for the service. “We don’t have a huge staff, so having them track the 501(c)3 donations and taking care of the paperwork — that was one of the main reasons we decided to go with them,” says Jonathan Hirshon, president of the board of trustees of Beit HaMidrash of the Bay Area (HaMidrash.org), a provider of online classes featuring cross-denominational learning, ranging from Chabad to Humanism.
“In trying to raise money for a new charity, electronic fundraising is integral to what we’re doing,” says Hirshon. The Silicon Valley-based organization rolled out its eCharityBox a week ago, so it’s too early to tell how much traction it has gotten. But Hirshon is optimistic. (So optimistic, in fact, that he has since agreed to join eCharityBox’s advisory board.) “People who have seen it so far say it’s incredibly cool,” he says. “When you’re taking a class and feel motivated at the end of the class to donate a few dollars, instead of going to the PayPal Web site in your browser, you can literally touch the iPhone app icon, put in a number and hit “enter.”
Charities can sign up for the service for a couple of hundred dollars, similar to the costs of setting up a text-to-give campaign. Donors don’t encounter any transaction fees; bank and merchant fees under 5 percent are taken out of the money given to the charity. Unlike other services, eCharityBox doesn’t make charities sign a contract, so charities can test it without making a long-term commitment.
For Fellig, eCharityBox is unlike any of the six other ventures he’s worked on — from the patented Phone Slipper, a BlackBerry/iPhone case that holds credit cards and IDs, to residential real estate, to starting AdNav, a mobile concierge company for hotels. “At the end of the day — the more charities that sign up, the more funds that are processed through the system — it’s all about charity. And we’re a part of that. It’s an incredible feeling.” n