The Largest Gifts in 2011: Missing Jewish Support

by Robert I. Evans and Avrum D. Lapin

Jewish philanthropists were well represented in a recent listing of last year’s top charitable gifts. According to ‘America’s Top Donors’, just released by The Chronicle of Philanthropy, 513 gifts of at least $1 million or more were made by individuals to charitable institutions in 2011. This was a significant change from the 348 gifts of $1 million plus made in 2010.

Our review of the listing told us that among last year’s largest and most generous donors, nearly 15% were Jewish, either by birth or affiliation. Prominent Jewish donors included Ronald Perelman, Robert Kraft, Maury Povich, Sanford Weill, Jonathan Tisch, Sheldon Adelson and Norman Braman. Our calculations indicate that this circle of Jewish donors collectively represented more than $1.08 billion in the tabulations.

Interestingly enough, this was not a static group. Most of the largest Jewish donors in 2011 appearing on the Chronicle’s “honor roll” had not appeared on the 2010 listing and several from 2010 did not re-appear in 2011.

Although America’s top donors represented every US state, Jewish donors came from 19 states, and further concentrated in only a few. In fact, almost half of all major Jewish gifts came from three states: California, New Jersey and New York and represented $365.7 million, more than one third of all Jewish contributions.

Like non-Jewish philanthropists, top Jewish contributors made donations to charitable institutions in a variety of categories ranging from education, health and the arts to religious groups, social services and historic preservation. More than half of the top 75 Jewish gifts made in 2011 were made to institutions of higher learning. In fact, a $225 million gift to the University of Pennsylvania, made by Raymond Perelman and his late wife, Ruth, was the second largest single gift made last year and ranks as one of the largest donations ever by an individual to higher education in the United States. This gift ranks as the only one from a Jewish donor in the top 10 gifts in 2011. Interestingly, the other top Jewish contributions were also to higher education and they were $65 million (to Ohio State University) and $56 million (to the University of Michigan).

No doubt, Jewish philanthropists made gifts to worthy recipients ensuring the continuation of a vibrant ethos of tzedakah. But what stood out was the paucity of Jewish nonprofit recipients. As in years past, seemingly worthy Jewish institutions did not benefit from the largesse of the top Jewish philanthropists. Surprisingly, only four nonprofits, out of the top 75 supported last year by Jewish donors, were Jewish organizations or causes. They include American Associates of Ben Gurion University, the Golda Och Academy in New Jersey, Chabad House at Yale University, and the Birthright Israel Foundation.

As the challenging economic times continue, the requirements of the Jewish community increase dramatically. While it is more critical than ever for Jewish donors to support Jewish nonprofits and ensure that they successfully achieve their missions, we wonder aloud why Jewish institutions across the globe have seemingly failed to motivate the largest and wealthiest to step forward and to truly invest in their future.

Clearly, the contributions represented in ‘America’s Top Donors’ are major and transformative, and even the slightest increase in the support of Jewish causes will make an enormous difference. But are Jewish organizations not capturing enough of the hopes and dreams of donors? Are they not clear about their impact on the lives of people and visionary in their plans for the future? What missteps are Jewish leaders making in NOT inspiring some of the largest and most capable donors to step forward with transformational commitments?

Jewish nonprofits must strive to forge and cement donor relationships through compelling visions and inspiring plans for the future. At the same time, Jewish donors must be continually introduced to the important work done by Jewish-focused causes in a different light – one that not only is on a par with their alma mater or local hospital, but that also elevates local, regional, national or international Jewish priorities.

Last year, Leslie Wexner, CEO of the Limited Brands, donated $65 million to Ohio State, his alma mater. “But for Ohio State,” he had said, he would not have attained his success in life. It’s time for Jewish causes to demonstrate their importance in the lives of major Jewish donors.

A true challenge for us to consider as we move forward in 2012!

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 nonprofits on fundraising, strategic planning, and non-profit business practices. Become a fan of The EHL Consulting Group on Facebook; TWITTER: @EHLConsultGrp