Patterns of Singularity: A New Study on Jewish Funders

New Study Reveals Comprehensive Portrait of Jewish Philanthropists During Economic Downturn – Suggests “Disconnect” Between Philanthropists and Innovative Independent Nonprofits

image001A new study explores the motivations and practices of independent Jewish funders in the midst of the economic downturn. Written by Professor Steven M. Cohen and Dasee Berkowitz, the study will be released today at the Jewish Funders Network conference in St. Petersburg, Florida where over 300 Jewish philanthropists and nonprofit professionals are gathered. The study was commissioned by the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies and the Charles H. Revson Foundation.

The study’s key findings are:

  • Jewish continuity issues speak powerfully to funders: When asked to select and rank giving priorities, chief among them – by far – is “educating Jewish children and adolescents,” while the second, third, and fourth slots are occupied by continuity-related items: Jewish young adults, Jewish learning, and young Jews ties to Israel.
  • Funders show strong engagement in Jewish Life: Despite tremendous diversity among study participants, as a whole they are deeply engaged in Jewish life. They are highly in-married, highly affiliated, and highly connected with Israel. They also report levels of Jewish education that significantly rise above those reported by American Jews their age.
  • There is limited enthusiasm for established Jewish giving: Over half (56 percent) of the donors surveyed support established institutions such as federations, synagogues, and day schools; however the giving is not “very significant” and reflects limited enthusiasm on the part of donors.
  • “Jewish philanthropic disconnect”: The study finds that despite a strong penchant to fund “Jewish innovation,” almost a third of funders are not funding independent, innovative nonprofits.

“‘Patterns of Singularity’ reveals a gap between our priorities as Jewish philanthropists – namely Jewish continuity – and the grantees we are funding to realize change,” said Dr. Jeffrey Solomon, President of the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies. “During this period of economic recession, it’s critical that we as philanthropists are crystal clear about what we want to accomplish and how we go about making it happen. This study provides a number of telling clues.”

‘Patterns of Singularity’ is based on a web-administered survey completed by 195 donors and foundation professionals associated with the Jewish Funders Network, as well as in-depth interviews with a diverse range of seventeen Jewish donors. Data was collected for the study in late 2008 and early 2009.

The study takes an in-depth look at the qualities of grantee projects that funders find appealing and unappealing – particularly in the lens of this economic climate. At the top of the list, funders find almost universal appeal for organizations that demonstrate:

  • a strong leadership
  • first-rate fiscal accountability
  • scalability
  • a plan consistent with their philanthropic strategy. On the opposite end of the spectrum, funders are turned off by high-risk ventures with a big chance of failure, and organizations where financial reporting is limited.

The authors suggest why innovative, independent nonprofits are being under-funded: “A strong business-orientation has served most donors quite well. A good number owe their worldly success to astute assessment of risk, attention to metrics, sound management, strategic thinking, financial accountability, expert personnel, scalability, and related features … But with all its proven value and usefulness, a conventional business-oriented approach to investing in innovative endeavors in Jewish life can easily lead to missed opportunities and mistaken judgments. Creative personalities, especially younger creative personalities, are notoriously ill-equipped to think or communicate in ways that are most easily appreciated and understood by those imbued with the managerial ethos of American business enterprise.”

The study is available for free download.