Naomi Eisenberger runs the Good People Fund from her Millburn home office.
Changing the world
According to its website, www.goodpeoplefund.org, the Good People Fund will…
- Support the work of good people in the U.S. and Israel who are changing the world in ways both big and small.
- Introduce you to good people you may not know.
- Maintain low overhead with all salaries covered only by specified donations.
- Operate with a minimum of bureaucracy and with total transparency.
- Conduct appropriate diligence and monitor results, to assure that all will do a maximum of good.
August 7, 2008
As managing director of the now-shuttered Ziv Tzedakah Fund, Naomi Eisenberger and poet/activist Danny Siegel, Ziv’s founder and chairman, championed small, grassroots programs as well as inspired individuals.
After 26 years, Ziv closed March 31. According to comments he made for an article that appeared in the Jan. 10 issue of NJJN, Siegel felt that the organization had outgrown his original vision of a small, volunteer-run fund.
But in the wake of its closing, Eisenberger told NJJN, there were too many people who had come to count on Ziv to simply end all its philanthropic activities, and so she decided to build on its legacy by establishing her own tzedaka fund.
‘It doesn’t take a lot of money to make miracles happen.’
Now, as founder and executive director of the Good People Fund, the Millburn resident is focusing on the “next generation” of grassroots philanthropy.
“Danny’s whole thing was mitzva heroes, and it was a conscious decision on our part to not adopt that,” Eisenberger said. “Of the hundreds of organizations that Ziv worked with and that I worked with through Ziv, none of them considered themselves heroes. They felt they were just ordinary people who came upon doing something — and I agree with that.”
Recently, the GPF gained notice for its efforts to supply food to the families of workers caught up in an immigration raid on Agriprocessors, the kosher meat company in Postville, Iowa.
Since it began operations on April 1, the GPF has raised over $230,000 and funded over two dozen former Ziv programs. The positive response from those asked to be board members and the amount of start-up money donated — more than Eisenberger expected — “was an indication to me that there was a lot of interest in seeing this go on.”
The GPF works with organizations and individuals on a local, national, and international level. Its efforts range from giving money to supply an extra $25 a month of grocery-store credit for the elderly in Manhattan, to funding the travels of a Washington, DC, doctor who purchases clothing and medical equipment for needy children in Kiev.
That last effort was “right up our alley,” Eisenberger said, “because it’s one man who went to Ukraine looking for his roots and discovered a very poor Jewish population there and said, ‘I have to help them.’”
The organization’s grassroots focus is reflected in the manner in which it distributes its funds. For Eisenberger, this means coming in only when other resources aren’t available and choosing beneficiary organizations that have someone on the receiving end who has an intimate understanding of the situation and its needs.
“I know I can send an e-mail, pick up the phone, and call Program A and say, ‘What do you need right now?’” Eisenberger said.
Often, Eisenberger does just that. The GPF solution can be as simple as finding a donor to send a shipment of nursing bras to a center in Seattle that aids impoverished new mothers, or sending a check to relieve the debt of an Israeli nonprofit hurt by the drop in the dollar.
For donors looking to make the most of their contributions — and wanting to know the immediate impact made by their donations — the reverse is true: If someone wants to help feed the hungry in Israel but does not want to give to a large food pantry, Eisenberger can direct the funds to five people in Israel who, on bare-bones budgets, manage to feed a lot of people.
“It’s a very highly personalized type of tzedaka work,” she said, “being able to take the hand of the donor and put it in contact with the hand of the recipient with neither ever knowing the identity of the other.”
Eisenberger said she is optimistic that the GPF will sustain Ziv’s simple, low-cost model despite the accountability requirements made of nonprofits nowadays — which often entail legal and financial expenses — and the increased bureaucracy that comes with growth. And if a larger staff is needed to accommodate expansion, Eisenberger said, she does not hold the same aversion to that idea that Siegel did — as long as there are donors willing to cover the costs.
In the meantime, Eisenberger said she is thrilled to have an informed and engaged board who have really taken the initiative. It was Peter Freimark, a board member in Cleveland, who brought the situation in Iowa to her attention, and the board members as a whole who insisted on flying to New York City — twice, at their own expense — to hold their first meetings, even though the initial agreement had been to hold one meeting a year.
“It doesn’t take a lot of money to make miracles happen…and sometimes it doesn’t take money at all,” Eisenberger said. “Each one of us has the ability to these things.
“I always said that I felt incredibly blessed to work for Ziv and to do what I was able to do,” she said. “The fact that I’ve been given the opportunity a second time is astounding.”