Transforming Tzedakah into Grantmaking, a study by the Jewish Teen Funders Network

By Briana Holtzman

“Obsessed with our phones … self-centered … lazy.”

I recently spent the afternoon with 70 teens exploring their role as philanthropists and asked them what they think people think about teens today. “And … what do you want them to know?” I pushed further. What poured out of the room did not surprise me, but it was a narrative we hear not often enough.

We need to know that to be a teen today is to live in a dynamic world; in their phones they are connecting with each other, taking in news from across the globe, supporting friends in need. They are putting their homework and youth group events and teen foundation meetings into their schedule and, yes, some of them are even reading grant proposals while they wait for their ride. Whatever they are doing, we need to know better than to write them off.

Today, at the Jewish Teen Funders Network, we released Just Teens, a study of the more than $1,000,000 granted by Jewish teen foundations in 2015-2016. This study reinforces what the JTFN team already believes: teens are changing the world around them and they are doing it with Jewish values at the core.

What do teens care about? As the saying goes, “money talks,” so I’ll let you be the judge by following comparisons to our 2013-2014 study:

  • Dollars granted to local organizations increased by 33%.
  • Dollars granted to Jewish organizations increased by 23% with a 15% increase in dollars granted to Jewish organizations serving the Jewish community specifically, and a 38% increase in dollars granted to Jewish organizations serving the whole community.
  • The number of grants dedicated to Jewish identity initiatives nearly tripled.

What we are seeing from teens is a deepening of understanding that their grantmaking can support both familiar and unfamiliar experiences. Jewish teens understand that they have been recipients of many opportunities and want for others to have the same; they also seize the chance to fix what they see as broken, providing for those who have needs different than their own. With so many competing priorities, teens are resisting being pulled in multiple directions seeking, rather, integration of the multitude of experiences that form their identity. When we say Jewish teens see themselves as global citizens, their giving indicates that what we really mean is Jewish global citizens.

In fact, in all of the grantmaking data, we see Jewish wisdom at the core.

The poor of your city take precedence (aniyei ircha kodmin)

Joanna, a member of JTFN’s Youth Ambassador Council representing Cleveland’s Saltzman Youth Panel shares that “local giving is important because of personal connection. Being able to give back to my community is very rewarding, and this is a sentiment many Jewish teens share.” To Joanna’s point, local giving continues to be a priority for Jewish teen foundations. The ability to see, first hand, the need and impact of philanthropy shapes the giving experience.

Hillel saidIf I am not for myself, who will be for meand if I am only for myself, who am I?

Philanthropy, and life, is about making choices with the resources you have. As teens make decisions about grants they must define their community. Teen philanthropists make a clear statement about their priorities; a majority of their grantmaking dollars support the work of Jewish organizations. They also recognize that they are a part of many different communities and find opportunities to give, guided by Jewish values, to organizations that reflect those very same values while providing services to the Jewish community and beyond. It’s no longer as simple as Jewish giving versus global giving, or universal versus particular; it’s yes, and.

Justice, justice shall you pursue (tzedek tzedek tirdof)

As we processed the grants, one trend rose to the top, social justice. Social justice philanthropy often refers to grants that work at the root of a problem. The tension between providing for those in need right now and changing systems that cause the need in the first place is one that philanthropists around the world grapple with. The appearance of social justice grants in teen foundations shows that teens today are certainly aware of immediate need, but are also developing an increased understanding that philanthropy can drive change in different ways.

We invite you to download the study and join the JTFN team online, March 29th, as we share a snapshot and explore these and other trends in the field of Jewish teen philanthropy. The webinar will feature an additional portion specifically for professionals in the field to explore implications and opportunities for local programs.

The Jewish Teen Funders Network, a program of the Jewish Funders Network, is a central resource for the growing field of Jewish teen philanthropy. JTFN creates, connects, and strengthens Jewish teen philanthropy programs around the world, offering programming resources, professional development, and program consultations. To learn more about Jewish teen philanthropy visit www.jtfn.org.

Briana Holtzman is Director of JTFN.