Innovative, Independent Nonprofits

Patterns-cover-colour-finalAs we wrote about yesterday, Professor Steven M. Cohen and Dasee Berkowitz released a new study, ‘Patterns of Singularity‘, at the JFN Conference in Florida. It explores the motivations and practices of independent Jewish funders in the midst of the current economic downturn.

Here’s an outtake:

If, in the history of organized American Jewry, the 1990s were the decade of Jewish continuity, the first decade of the 21st century has been the period of Jewish social entrepreneurship. In the 1990s, the Federation system, and philanthropists in its orbit, pumped resources into Jewish educational instruments and into experiments in Jewish institutional life. Since the start of this decade, independent philanthropists have assisted ever-struggling new ventures led largely by passionate younger adults seeking to create alternatives to the prevailing institutional system, thereby providing their own answers to the concerns for Jewish continuity.

For both the independent, innovative endeavors and the many generous individual philanthropists who support them, the nature and condition of this collection of independent and innovative Jewish philanthropic endeavors is of critical importance. Even before the world-wide fiscal crisis hit with full force, leaders of the vast number of independent, innovative projects as well as their most committed funders have had strong interests in understanding the motivations and inclinations of like-minded (or potentially like-minded) philanthropists. Both benefactors and beneficiaries ask how other Jewish philanthropists can be persuaded to join in supporting new independent, innovative endeavors in Jewish life. This overall practical question, in turn, devolves into the following research questions:

  1. What philanthropy-related motivations underlie the decision-making of independent Jewish philanthropists?
  2. Conversely, what are the blockages and obstacles to engaging funders in the support of independent, innovative endeavors?
  3. What appealing characteristics of the beneficiaries attract the interest and attention of the funders?
  4. What are the social characteristics of the potential funders who are more predisposed to supportive independent, innovative, Jewish charitable endeavors?

These questions take on a special urgency in the wake of the fiscal crisis and the significant contraction of resources that has been experienced by funders and beneficiaries alike, on both institutional and personal levels. Simply put, with less money to go around and more need for the scarce resources available, how are funders previously inclined to support Jewish causes likely to act in the future? To what extent will Jewish philanthropic causes suffer, and will they suffer more or less than other causes – at least among the funders who have been most committed to the Jewish philanthropic sector?

The complete ‘Patterns of Singularity’ study is available here.