Giving while Jewish: More challenging than ever

American Jews are experiencing so many feelings today, including fear, discomfort, anxiety and betrayal. Many recoil when they see scenes on TV news and social media of pro-Palestinian (often pro-Hamas) protesters using the American public square as a platform to spew calls for intimidation and violence, replete with antisemitic and often anti-American tropes. 

Yet despite this propaganda and the outright expressions of hatred, the Jewish community remains a resilient and compassionate one. At the same time as it is indelibly touched by the trauma and loss exacted by Hamas during of the Oct. 7 pogrom in Israel and its continuing impact in Israel and on Jews across the globe, many cannot escape the feeling of compassion for the suffering of the civilian population in Gaza.

It is also an increasingly Jewishly-engaged community, as illustrated in the results of the recent survey conducted by JFNA and covered in eJewishPhilanthropy just as I was writing this piece. 

In their op-ed, Mimi Kravetz, Sarah Eisenman and David Manchester describe a “surge” of interest in engagement in Jewish life post-Oct. 7. Most notably, of the large majority of Jews (83%) who identified as not actively affiliated with Jewish life, 40% reported they are taking steps to engage. This cohort, write the authors, “feel most welcome and comfortable at Jewish events when they know other people there (77%), when someone personally invites them (51%) and when they see themselves reflected in the people who attend (42%).” In spite of the trauma of Oct. 7  and the expressions of Jew-hatred that have seeped into and become normalized in the public discourse, we stand at a moment of opportunity — one in which we can and must support each other, reinforce the values that bind us together and find ways to strengthen our community.

How might all of these factors impact charitable giving by American Jews? If things are shifting, will we see a change for the moment, or will trends bake in and become part of the broader thinking about Jewish philanthropy from the inside out? How do we, as leaders and influencers, strategically consider the direction of giving as we navigate this uncharted path, and how do we engage others in determining solutions? 

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Over the last five years, nonprofits have suffered through and responded to the stresses of the COVID-19 pandemic, inflation, and then the horrific events of Oct. 7 and their aftermath. Again and again, circumstances necessitated the immediate pivoting and redirection of so much of our giving to emergency campaigns and back again. 

Over the past few months, things have begun to change yet again. While the philanthropic community is experiencing a measure of donor fatigue and a feeling of overextension (real or imagined), it is also, as noted above, being called upon to meet the expectations of an expanding and more anxious community. Previous needs and priorities are re-emerging even as more recent needs are not going away. Decisions need to be made. 

In other words, the philanthropic marketplace has begun the return to “normal”  more than once, only to be shocked and unsettled again; for this reason, new or re-emerging trends have not yet had the chance to take hold or become fully discernible. With our crystal ball somewhat cloudy right now, it is more difficult to make long-term projections. 

What we can say for certain is that the philanthropic marketplace is hyper-competitive, even more now than before, and nonprofits are faced with an incredibly challenging environment. Success is certainly possible and achievable, and it comes from a value proposition that is clear, concise, transparent and supported by a business case that builds confidence. 

What we also know — and this is the source of my optimism — is that the Jewish community is made up of caring and generous people. Donors and funders are making decisions through a thoughtful and passionate lens; but, unlike in the weeks immediately after Oct. 7, decisions today are being made today with a more discerning and practical eye. Consider these steps and you will likely make the right calls as well. 

Set priorities and follow your values 

In the post-Oct. 7 Jewish world, values are both enduring and evolving. In today’s complex and rapidly changing environment, we need to regularly evaluate whether our priorities reflect what is important right now — for the short term and the long term, as they are perceived today versus in the past — and be prepared to adjust course accordingly. 

For example: Is providing support to Israel through a national emergency fund still a priority at this time? Have donors and funders begun to (re)diversify their giving? If they remain focused on addressing emergency needs in Israel but want to oversee their philanthropy instead of giving to a combined campaign, are they supporting a hospital under fire in the north or a resilience center treating returning children and families with enduring PTSD in the south? Do we prioritize funding an institution in Israel dedicated to pluralistic Jewish education during this time of internal fracture and tension; or should our focus be more local — on synagogues, day schools and other foundational community institutions in the U.S. encountering funding difficulties — because so much attention and so many dollars had been directed by necessity to the emergency fundraising in the aftermath of Oct. 7? 


We need to engage in more conversations with the people in our communities — federation leaders and staff, giving circle members, adult ed classmates, pickle ball teammates, friends and family — to hear what they are saying and learn what they are thinking as we make the decisions that continue or redefine our personal and communal philanthropic paths. 

This isn’t to say that you have to be a follower. You can listen well and also share your perspective. The point is that you may learn about something in the course of these exchanges that wasn’t on your radar; you might also impart wisdom or guidance of your own. You may disagree with someone else’s priorities, and yet find your conversation reveals an immediate need, local or global, that you did not know existed. 

Do your due diligence 

We must all be mindful about where we send our money, whether it is a small check or a major gift. Those who know me know that I genuinely believe that giving is and must be a passionate act. At the same time, we all want to make sure that an act of philanthropy is thoughtful and intentional. We must all feel secure in the knowledge that our funds are being used for their intended purposes; that they are achieving the greatest and highest-priority results and improving the lives of individuals, families and communities. 

If you are funding a project or an activity, especially if it is a major gift, follow the money and ask questions. Do not attack or challenge — ask. You will likely get a direct and grateful response, and you will be making an investment beyond the utility of your dollars by strengthening your relationship with a nonprofit or a service provider that you may work with again in the future.

This is a unique moment, one when we can strengthen our community from the inside out and gather in those from among the unaffiliated and unengaged who seek refuge and understanding. Let us not get in our own way, and let us see what we can do to make this moment count. 

May we hear only good news for the State of Israel and the global Jewish community. 

Avrum Lapin is president of The Lapin Group, LLC, a full-service fundraising and management consulting firm for leading nonprofits. He is also a member of the board of The Giving Institute.