New Report on American Jewish Philanthropy shows Donors Rely Less on Established Organizations

A new report on American Jewish philanthropy details an increased focus on Jewish engagement, more giving with social or systemic change in mind, less giving to older institutions, and more collaboration among major foundations. Giving Jewish: How Big Funders Have Transformed American Jewish Philanthropy, commissioned by The AVI CHAI Foundation and authored by Dr. Jack Wertheimer, explores how the philanthropic landscape has changed fundamentally over the past quarter century and what challenges confront this field, estimated to include $5.5 to $6 billion in annual gifts.

“Donors want to know that their gifts have genuine impact,” says Dr. Jack Wertheimer, author of this study. “They increasingly target gifts to causes that speak to their values and that address social issues. As women and millennials continue to emerge as big givers and as heads of foundation, the field will continue to move in this direction. American Jewish Philanthropy is not just about education anymore, and big givers do not blindly assume their gifts are succeeding. With the prominence now of professionally staffed foundations, they are measuring and monitoring their gifts very closely.”

Giving Jewish notes six trends to watch as Jewish philanthropy continues to evolve:

  1. Increased Emphasis on Engagement. New causes have captured the imagination of big givers, which now prefer to support what they call engagement – activities that bring the least involved Jews to episodic gatherings of a Jewish flavor. Jewish education continues to be supported by local, smaller big givers.
  2. Locals Sustain Jewish Communal Life. Local donors continue to serve as the mainstay of Jewish communal life. The sums they donate to sustain local institutions dwarf what the large national foundations expend annually.
  3. Staffed Foundations Up the Game. In recent decades, close to 100 staffed foundations with more than a passing interest in Jewish life in the U.S. and Israel have emerged. They tend to bring an element of professionalism and strategic thinking previously lacking in the field.
  4. From Expressive to Instrumental Giving. Jewish staffed foundations are spearheading a shift from “expressive giving” (which is designed to show support for a cause or institution) to “instrumental giving” (which is about achieving a social aim or addressing a systemic problem). They want to make a broader impact to address underlying challenges to Jewish life. Funders seek evidence that programs they are supporting are making an impact in addressing larger problems.
  5. Collaboration and Partnerships. To streamline and rationalize philanthropic efforts, large funders forge strategic partnerships with one another. These partnerships can take several different forms, ranging from the sharing of information to co-funding a project.
  6. Women, Millennials, and Orthodox Donors. Not only are many new big funders surfacing, but some are drawn from sub-populations that in the past played far smaller roles in Jewish philanthropy. Especially noteworthy are the new roles women are assuming as funders and executives of foundations; the increase in numbers of Orthodox donors; and the emerging role of Millennials.

Giving Jewish notes challenges for the field moving forward. While Jewish engagement initiatives attract many young adults, participants often attend episodically and the programming is light on Jewish content and heavily-oriented to socializing. What does this mean for Jewish literacy in the future? Other questions in the report include: How can more Jews be encouraged to give to Jewish causes? Who will fill the vast void of field building that needs to be done in many areas, such as Hebrew language education, the inclusion of marginalized groups, and more? How can funders ease the burden of grantees and potential grantees reporting outcomes and seeking funding? How can foundations utilize the evaluations and metrics they collect to greater effect?

“The report raises critical and timely questions, as it provides a well-informed overview of modern Jewish philanthropy,” says Yossi Prager of The AVI CHAI Foundation. “We hope it encourages conversations among funders and nonprofit leaders about how philanthropy can play even more strategic, impactful, and supportive roles in creating Jewish life and furthering Jewish engagement and also education.”

Along with the top trends, Giving Jewish discusses other defining elements that shape the field today.

  • While total giving to Jewish causes in the U.S. and to Israel amounts to roughly $5.5 to $6 billion annually, even foundations with a strong Jewish interest still direct the majority of their grants to non-sectarian causes.
  • Funds allocated by and through Federations constitute roughly one third of giving to Jewish causes, while giving by the largest 250 foundations interested in Jewish causes represents less than one-fifth of the total.
  • Programs to build Jewish identity have superseded social services as favored causes. Previously, care for the elderly, immigrants, and poor Jews was a priority. Today many big funders assume that the downtrodden are receiving proper support and, therefore, the greater need is to help Jews connect with some aspect of their identity.
  • Substantial giving continues to flow to Israel. Some fundraisers for Israeli institutions are concerned that some Jews, particularly younger ones, are not inclined to support Israeli causes. While there are examples of family giving that has shifted away from giving to Israeli institutions, on the whole big giving to Israeli institutions and causes continues to be robust.
  • Many donors today do not view established institutions as levers of change. The nexus of power and money has shifted to funders and their favored projects, which usually are unconnected to established organizations. Additionally, both older and younger funders lament the persistence of hierarchical leadership structures and consensus-driven policy-making. Patronizing attitudes of organizations toward younger people, especially women, is a source of resentment.

Wertheimer adds, “We know what the past and present look like. But the big wildcard now is the role younger Jews – the Gen X and Millennial generations – will play in Jewish big giving. They will inherit vast sums of money and assume responsibility for their parents’ foundations and Donor Advised Funds. How they decide to prioritize their giving will have a major impact on Jewish philanthropy in the decades ahead.”