Putting Our Hands Where Our Money Is

By Jackie Subar

We have all heard the expression “put your money where your mouth is.” It’s a valuable reminder to stand behind your convictions. But, when it comes to philanthropic giving, perhaps we should be saying, “put your hands where your money is.” While it doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, its message is just as important, and resonates deeply with our Young Leadership team at The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington.

Somewhere along the way, some young professional philanthropy efforts became conflated with parties, alcohol, and large-scale gatherings. While we are all about celebration, we also find ourselves dedicated to mission and meaningful work that changes lives. Millennials and those in Generation Z are a new generation of givers. According to the Greater Washington Jewish Community Demographic Study, funded by The Morningstar Foundation, 40% of Jewish adults reported engaging in a volunteer activity within the last month, and over 80% reported donating to a charitable cause within the last year. They do not want to just help their community financially. They want to be an active, hands-on part of the work through community service. So, naturally, a combination of tzedakah (charity) and gemilut chasadim (acts of loving-kindness) satisfies these generations’ value for generosity and experience.

As these next generations alter how they engage with philanthropy and community service, we are happily evolving to meet their needs. That’s why, for the first time, our Federation’s major Young Leadership fundraising event, Impact DC, expanded from a single-night of celebration and philanthropy to include a full day of service we called Day of Impact. We invited our 22-39 year-old guests to roll up their sleeves and be a part of the change they helped fund, and they dove right in! Being a part of the change that an organization supports is integral to involvement and investment in said organization. Every organization needs funds to meet their mission and objectives. Being a part of the journey and destination, the funding and the work, makes the donor’s experience all the more meaningful.

The nearly 250 registrants for the Impact DC evening celebration had the opportunity to choose from six different service projects taking place the following Sunday. Each service project focused on one of the six areas of impact to which our Federation is dedicated, allowing for even more personalized engagement of these young philanthropists. The projects varied from making Shabbat candles for women in our overseas communities, completing an accessibility ramp on the home of a 12-year-old quadriplegic, and family-friendly programming at a local Jewish school’s library, among others. Over 100 of the registrants came out to volunteer.

As I worked with young leaders on a cool, blustery day at Covenant House, where we were preparing winter kits for homeless youth, I took a moment to appreciate the sight around me. People were expressing why they related to this project over others, touring the facility, and proud to be a part of making someone else’s life a little better by making them a ziploc bag with hand warmers, socks, and a heartfelt, encouraging note.

Our young leaders are looking to find – or build – their own micro-communities. They are seeking to connect Jewishly in a way that reflects where and who they are, and their desire to change the world around them. We just need to open the door. Jewish tradition teaches us to understand ourselves as a kli or vessel created by God to do good deeds and to bring blessings to the world. We at The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington’s Young Leadership are giving young leaders the tools to build their own vessel. We encourage all philanthropic nonprofits to do the same.

Jackie Subar is the Director of Young Leadership at The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington.