The Future of British’s Jewish Charitable Sector

british israeli flagBy Liam Hoare
eJewish Philanthropy

The Jewish charitable sector in the United Kingdom has never been healthier, according to the findings of a recently published study conducted by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research (JPR).

Since the 1990s, the Jewish charitable sector has been expanding, in spite of the fact that the Jewish population in Britain has largely ceased to grow outside of the Haredi community. There are an estimated 2,300 Jewish charities today with a combined income of £1.1 billion ($1.57 billion), about half of which comes from donations. Significantly, “the Jewish charitable sector punched well above its weight, with the total Jewish charitable income at around six times more than might be expected given the size of the UK Jewish population at the time,” the report, “Charitable giving among Britain’s Jews: Looking to the future” written by David Graham and Jonathan Boyd, found.

Underpinning that growth is a sense within the British Jewish community that charitable giving constitutes an important part of Jewish identity itself. 77 percent of those surveyed considered donating funds to charity a fairly or quite important part of their own Jewish identity – above supporting Israel or marrying within the community. This moral attitude translated into 93 percent of British Jews giving to charity in the past twelve months, compared to 57 percent of the population at-large (68 percent gave to Jewish charities).

With 31 percent of British Jews giving up to £100 ($143) to charity in the last twelve months, and another 33 percent handing over up to £500 ($714), it would appear, then, that there is an ingrained culture favoring charitable giving that has allowed the Jewish nonprofit sector in the UK to grow. There is reason, however, to believe that this can’t go on forever and that in a generation’s time, the British Jewish community will be looking at either a shrunken charitable sector or a collection of nonprofits having to do more with less.

First, while young people within the Jewish community are integrated into the charitable sector as volunteers or professionals, the JPR survey demonstrates that it is older people who are more likely to give – and give habitually. Young people are also less likely (74 percent) than older people (88 percent) to consider donating to charity important to their own sense of Jewish identity, and are less inclined to give their money to Jewish charities (58 percent) than older people (78 percent).

This has much to do with broader economic trends in Britain that is changing the way Millennials save and spend. It is difficult to give habitually to charity, Jewish or otherwise, when rent or saving for a mortgage deposit – especially in north London, where the British Jewish community is concentrated – is taking up a significant chunk of one’s monthly income. Specific to the religious Jewish community, the increasing cost of a kosher lifestyle – an annual premium of £12,700 ($18,260) per annum, according to a recent article in The Jewish Chronicle – is a drain on household incomes for young and old alike.

David Graham, one of the report’s authors, told me in an email that there is reason to believe that, as they grow older, Millennials will attach greater importance to charitable giving than they do at present. “However, whether in a generation they will attach as much importance as their parents do today is less obvious. My hunch is that they probably will not. So for the mainstream Jewish population at least, while the importance will most likely rise as the younger generation age, it may not reach the heights that we currently see among the older generations,” Graham said.

Especially relevant for a community that, as part of a generational change, is undergoing secularization and assimilation at one end of the spectrum and Haredization at the other, the JPR survey uncovered a clear and undeniable relationship between religious attitudes and charitable giving. While 95 percent of those who identify as religious consider donating to charity important to their own sense of Jewish identity, this slides down to 60 percent for secular Jews. 60 percent of secular Jews also said that did not give money to Jewish charities.

JPR also found that one’s likelihood of giving to Jewish nonprofits is connected to whether one marries in or out of the community. 85 percent of Jews with a Jewish partner said they gave money to a Jewish charity, whereas only 38 percent of Jews with a non-Jewish partner said the same. In much the same vein, synagogue members are shown to give more of their household income to charity than non-members. Less so than age, it is secularization that will have a tremendous impact on the Jewish charitable sector.

At the other end of the scale, of all the tendencies within the Jewish community, it is the Haredim that is most likely to give money to Jewish charities. 94 percent donate money to Jewish charities – including 49 percent who give exclusively to Jewish charities. By comparison, 72 percent of Reform or progressive Jews, 57 percent of non-affiliated Jews, and 32 percent of non-practicing Jews give money to Jewish nonprofits. The Haredim are also the most generous group, if generosity is measured by the percentage of household income donated to charity.

And yet, it is Haredization that presents as much of a challenge as secularization and assimilation to the future of the British Jewish community – and the Jewish charitable sector. There is no avoiding the reality that a Jewish community that is increasingly Haredi will be poorer, simultaneously less able to donate to charity and more reliant upon it and on a diminishing pool of non-Haredi Jews to fund those charities who help maintain the lifestyle of the Haredim. It is less relevant that Haredim give more of their household income away to charity when those incomes are perceptibly smaller than for non-Haredi Jews.

The gradual unwinding of the British Jewish community will place new burdens upon its charities, since demand for charitable services is unlikely to decline at the same rate as charitable giving, if it declines at all. Jewish charities may “need to re-target their services as the center of gravity of Jewish charitable demand shifts rightwards,” Graham said, with reference to the growing Haredi sector.

“It is for the community to decide how to confront these challenges,” Graham concluded. “There is little doubt that among the religious, charitable giving will remain a priority. The big question is what will motivate the large and increasingly secular mainstream to give in the future, if not for God? Presumably, charities will need to appeal to more cultural and ethnic concerns and ties.”