Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Seeds of Peace

During the "days of awe" (from Rosh HaShanah to Yom Kippur), as I wrote yesterday, Jews focus on repentance (tshuvah), prayer (tefilah), and charity (tzedakah). I've decided to honor that tradition by blogging during this time about charity (as well as making actual donations). Through Yom Kippur, I'll hold back my comments about Harriet Miers, Tom DeLay, or Bill Frist, and instead leave those more worldly concerns aside for a time.

The first charity I'd like to write about, following on yesterday's note of hope for Israeli and Palestinian reconciliation, is a unique project called Seeds of Peace. This project was founded twelve years ago with the intent of taking a select group of talented young Israeli and Palestinian children, chosen for their academic strength and leadership potential, and bring them together for a summer camp in Maine, to foster greater understanding of one another before attitudes of enmity are permanently formed. As their motto goes, they are sowing the seeds of peace among the next generation of leaders. While still focusing on the Middle East, the project has expanded to include children from other areas of conflict, including South Asia, Cypress, and the Balkans. Over 2500 teenagers have now participated in their programs, including 400 this past year. During the program, the teens are taught communications, negotiations, and leadership skills. In a 2003 independent survey after their camp experience, 79% of Israelis and 63% of Palestinians said their views of the "other side" had improved, and 90% of Israelis and 78% of Palestinians viewed coexistence as possible.

One should always check up on a charity's efficiency. In the most recent annual report, 76% of their expenditures went directly to programs. The management plus fundraising took 24% of the budget. This was up from 20% the previous year, however, this also coincided with a significant increase in fundraising events, boosting their funds raised by 26%, an increase almost entirely due to the new events. By the American Institute of Philanthropy's stricter measures, they have 68% program expenses, which exceeds the guideline of 60%, and they have a $22 cost to raise $100, which is better than the $35 guideline. On CharityNavigator, Seeds of Peace rates three stars out of four for efficiency and four stars for organizational capacity.

This charity first came to my attention in the wake of 9/11. I was working at Sun Microsystems at the time, and a distinguished engineer was among those killed in the Twin Towers. An email went out announcing his death, and noting that the family requested donations be given to Seeds of Peace in lieu of flowers. I looked into this intriguing charity that I had not heard of before. We donated to them then and will do so again this year. Please give them your consideration.

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