Spotlight: Patrick Rooney

by Robert I. Evans & Avrum D. Lapin

“Jewish households give more to secular causes than any other faith groups or non-believers. Said another way: even after considering factors like income, wealth, and education and a few other demographic factors, Jewish households are the most generous to secular causes compared with other faith groups.”- Patrick Rooney

Patrick M. Rooney recently became the new Executive Director of The Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University in Indianapolis, one of the pre-eminent academic centers in the world that monitors trends in giving and studies various aspects of philanthropy. To gain some insights on giving trends within the Jewish community, we talked with Patrick last week. Here are some interesting snippets from our conversation:

EHL/eJewishphilanthropy: Are Jewish nonprofits experiencing anything differently than other non-profits?

Patrick Rooney: I have learned that ‘Tikkun Olam’ holds great weight in the Jewish charitable community; this philosophy clearly highlights the historical priority of giving by Jews. Jewish households are extraordinarily generous but the Jewish community is the only religious community that traditionally gives more to secular causes (especially in health, education, arts, and environmental issues) than to their own religious group. Giving to synagogues will grow at a fairly slow rate in the next few years, especially as attendance at synagogues slows. But what other Jewish institutions should see could be stronger giving by Jews as priorities adjust.

EHL: Comment about the decrease in giving that we are experiencing currently and the impact on non-profits.

Patrick: We are in the worst recession since the great depression. While it is too early to see if donor trends have changed, we do know that, on average, giving historically increases 4.3% a year (when adjusted for inflation). We have recently seen giving drop 5.7% in inflation-adjusted dollars so in actuality there has been roughly 10 percentage point swing from the increase that we normally experienced (4.3% plus 5.7% decline). This is a hard reality. How non-profits react and adjust cuts across all lines and all types of agencies.

The Center on Philanthropy recently conducted an in-depth study in which we sampled 8,000 households. The conclusions reflected that households in our study that identified themselves as Jewish do give more to secular causes than religious ones.

EHL: Is there any lasting impact on charitable giving from the Madoff mess of 2008/2009? Any lessons to be learned for Jewish donors and Jewish nonprofit leaders as a result of the scandal?

Patrick: Madoff exploited the Jewishness of his personal connections. This has raised levels of distrust and skepticism both within the Jewish community and American society. The Madoff scandal will undoubtedly continue to have a disproportionate impact on the Jewish community but he was not – and has not been – the only one to behave in this manner; this was truly a societal lesson to study and to use as a teaching moment. Non-profit leaders now more than ever need to do their due diligence when it comes to running all phases of their organizations. From diversifying their portfolios, to maintaining disciplined budgets, accountability and transparency are paramount.

EHL: Are you seeing generational differences in giving?

Patrick: Yes! Different generations focus on different priorities and this is not only a Jewish issue. America is seeing greater secularization of our society and this definitely impacts targeted giving by donors. Non-profits must adjust their appeals accordingly and understand and take into consideration that younger donors give in different ways than older donors. Still, Jewish donors are very generous.

EHL: What advice do you have for Jewish non-profit leaders?

Patrick: Keep fundraising! Fundraise, Fundraise, Fundraise. Don’t be afraid. As the giving pie has become tighter, now is a good time to reach out to members of the Jewish community for support. Fundraising campaigns should never stop. The organizations that have continued to succeed in this recession are those that have maintained or expanded their fundraising efforts. Despite the recession, the core level of philanthropy will not go away in the Jewish community.

Robert I. Evans, Managing Director, and Avrum D. Lapin, Director, are principals of The EHL Consulting Group, of suburban Philadelphia, and are frequent contributors to EHL Consulting works with dozens of non-profits on fundraising, strategic planning, and non-profit business practices. Become a fan of The EHL Consulting Group on Facebook.