Capitalizing on Emerging Jewish Charitable Markets: New Donors, New Causes and the New Normal

by Robert I. Evans and Avrum D. Lapin

As expressed in several of our previous articles, recent trends indicate that generational, geographic, and gender shifts, as well as the expanded use of social media, have significantly influenced philanthropy and have created new and some worrisome trends in giving. Notably, Jewish causes are receiving decreased financial support, especially from Jewish donors who are now especially giving to causes outside of the Jewish community.

While Jewish-specific causes seem to have experienced a decrease in financial support, Giving USA reports that sectors such as higher education, health and medicine, and traditional “umbrella-type” campaigns have experienced a modest increase in support from the wider philanthropic community. Consequently, Jewish organizations are competing on the “open market” with many compelling activities and services in the general community. A study conducted by The Institute for Jewish & Community Research on mega-gifts, those of $10 million or more, found that the proportion of giving to Jewish philanthropies has declined precipitously for many major donors, down from 70% to 30% or less.

Specifically, two of the largest Jewish organizations in the United States have experienced a dramatic loss in their donor base. According to their latest tax filings, the Anti-Defamation League has lost more than $20 million in annual contributions over the past five years, going from more than $73 million in 2006 down to $51 million in 2010. Similarly, the American Jewish Committee, which brought in $62 million in donations in 2005, raised only $38 million in 2010.

One reason for this dramatic decline may be that successful professionals – including Jews – in what has been considered the “traditional” areas of American wealth, especially those in real estate or who have received inherited riches, are no longer giving to the great degrees that they once were. Based on a scientific random sample of high net-worth households in the United States (with “high net-worth” meaning households with $250,000 or more of income or a net-worth of at least $1,000,000), the Center on Philanthropy found that Real Estate and Professional Success were some of the lowest fields of philanthropic giving.

Image Courtesy Una O. Osili, Ph.D. Director of Research, The Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.

With the continued and punctuated preeminence of individual-giving as the driver of philanthropy, a newer charitable market may have emerged: young donors. These donors tend to respond best to philanthropic requests when presented with impact assessments together with emotional overtures, and give more when they can envision a clear path to results as a direct connection to their commitment and investments. Younger donors are increasingly entrepreneurial and are looking to support smaller, issue-oriented organizations, moving yet another step away from an era dominated by the multi-issue mega-groups that represent broad Jewish needs and concerns. Luckily for Israel-based organizations, support for overseas and international causes are the two largest areas of growth in individual giving in recent years, which may reflect the increased occurrence of “natural disasters” and the corresponding relief efforts, or also may be indicative that donors are increasingly focusing on global issues.

Image Courtesy Una O. Osili, Ph.D. Director of Research, The Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.

For example, Alexander Soros, son of billionaire philanthropist George Soros, established his own foundation to support organizations that promote social justice and human rights. The Alexander Soros Foundation has made some of its first grants to the National Domestic Workers Alliance and Make the Road New York, which supports social-justice projects to aid Latinos and working-class people. Promoting social justice and human rights are core Jewish values which leads us to ask why younger Jewish philanthropists are giving to secular causes that support these issues rather than their Jewish-oriented counterparts.

Another trend affecting Jewish philanthropy is the change of ideology away from Israel and assimilation as compelling issues. While Israel has been the single most sustaining and unifying element of Jewish identity over the past two generations, the growing recognition of higher levels of assimilation revealed in a National Jewish Population study that American Jewry needed to be strengthened from within and could no longer rely on Israel to solely define its purpose and identity. (Note: the recently researched and publicized “Birthright Bump” does still maintain the strength of Israel as a guarantor of positive and sustained Jewish identity.)

With this understanding, compare the relationships between those donors that do give to Israel-related programs and how much these organizations chose to give. In the study conducted by The Institute for Jewish and Community Research, of the ten largest foundations examined, only 4% of dollars went to Israel, a relatively small percentage, considering that the other dollars went elsewhere.

Yet when we look at the Jewish organizations who are already giving to Israel-related programs, they donate 32% and 27% of their dollars and grants respectively. Extrapolating from this data we can conclude that for organizations already giving to Israel, Israel remains a top priority, but for organizations mainly giving to secular causes, Israel falls down on the list.

Given these two major trends – decreased giving to Jewish causes and decreased funding for Israel-related programs – and their affects on Jewish philanthropy, what can be done to revitalize Jewish giving to Jewish causes and support of Israel?

With a decrease in reported faith-based gifts and a rise in secular gifts at all levels, Jewish donors need to connect with their inveterate reasons for giving. When Jewish donors do Mitzvot, it stems from the core Jewish value of Tikkun Olam. As our world becomes increasingly globalized and interdependent, it would seem imperative for Jews to remain connected to their Jewish values but the real challenge comes in convincing them about the importance of Jewish organizations and their missions.

If you are a Jewish donor and want to support higher education, consider giving to your alma mater’s Hillel or other campus-based causes like Meor, where students can combine their academic knowledge and passions with thriving Jewish life on campus, or to support Jewish studies programs. If you are a Jewish donor and want to support health, nutrition or senior adult issues, consider giving to your local synagogue to establish a food drive or endow an in-house senior social worker position. There are many ways to combine your passion for secular causes with Jewish organizations who are already supporting them or ones that would be open to creating new programs that stem from core Jewish values.

Many people believe that giving today is “either/or:” Either I donate to a secular organization that focuses specifically on one issue, or I donate to a Jewish organization. Yet, many Jewish organizations already incorporate “secular” issues such as human rights, arts and culture, and higher education in both their mission and operations. And vice versa!

As younger Jewish donors emerge and the American Jewish population continues to diversify, we must remain connected with our core Jewish principles of giving and with our Jewish identity. If Jews do not commit to serving Jewish causes, then who will?

Robert I. Evans, Managing Director, and Avrum D. Lapin, Director, are principals of The EHL Consulting Group, a fundraising consulting firm located in suburban Philadelphia. They are frequent contributors to The EHL Consulting Group is one of only 38 member firms of The Giving Institute. EHL Consulting works with dozens of nonprofits on fundraising, strategic planning, and nonprofit business practices and strategies. Learn more at

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