U.S. Jewish Giving: Who is Giving What to Whom

Today, Jewish community leaders face a strategic crossroads as a new generation of young adults emerges in an America – and a world – that is fundamentally different from what previous generations faced.


“The Jewish communal system itself, though it contains pockets of significant creativity, no longer leads the way in defining global or even American philanthropic and nonprofit innovation as a whole.”

by Dan Brown

The first comprehensive report on U.S. Jewish giving has been released. And while there are no particular surprises, the report “may challenge many of the working assumptions underlying Jewish communal strategy.”

Co-ordinated by Jumpstart, a philanthropic research and design lab based in Los Angeles, the process brought together a diverse variety of stakeholders and funders committed to the shared vision “that the future of the Jewish philanthropic/nonprofit system depends on collective efforts to bring it to the forefront of the 21st century third sector.”

The report presents the initial top-level findings and overall narrative that emerges from the study – an examination of the relationship between the charitable giving behavior of American Jews and

  • their key demographics (especially age and income);
  • their motivations for giving;
  • the types of organizations to which they contribute (both Jewish and non-Jewish); and
  • comparisons with giving patterns among non-Jewish Americans.

KeyFindings_3Perhaps stating the obvious, the most important of the key findings is:  “the more connected American Jews are to Jewish social networks and Jewish communities, the more likely they are to give, not only to Jewish organizations but to non-Jewish organizations as well.”

Another finding, surprising to some, is: “Age is not a driving factor in whether someone engages in charitable giving, but the evidence does suggest that age affects whether someone gives to a Jewish organization.

5KeyFindings_Graphics5Older Jews give at a somewhat higher rate to Jewish organizations than younger Jews. Among Jews over 64 years of age who make charitable contributions, 81% of them give to Jewish organizations. This figure decreases slightly to 78% among 40-64 year-olds, and then drops to 72% among Jews under 40 years old.

Going beyond current patterns of actual giving, the survey’s attitudinal data do show important age-related variations. For example, younger Jews are more likely than their older Jewish counterparts to say they would support a Jewish organization “if it serves non-Jewish people and causes” (44% of those under 40, compared to 29% of 40-64 year-olds and 18% of those over 64); and they have more trouble finding Jewish organizations that address the issues important to them (34% of under-40s, compared to 23% of 40-64 year-olds and 16% of those over 64). Younger Jews also are more open to both nonprofit and philanthropic innovation. They are more willing to support an organization that “has not yet proven itself but offers a different approach to address a persistent problem that has been difficult to solve” (50% of under-40s, compared to 42% of 40-64 year-olds and 25% of those over 64).”

Additional key findings include:

Most American Jews are charitable givers. 76% of American Jews report that they made a charitable contribution in 2012;

Most Jews who make charitable contributions give to both Jewish and non-Jewish organizations. Among Jews who make charitable contributions, nearly all of them (92%) give to a non-Jewish organization and the vast majority (79%) gives to a Jewish organization.

As the income levels of American Jews rise, so do all measures of their charitable giving.

The results suggest a particular problem for the alphabet soup of Jewish organizations – Jewish federations, their partners (including the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and The Jewish Agency), and the large membership organizations (such as Hadassah). The federation world itself has declined from over one million donors in 1972 to around 400,000 today. While many, if not most federations, are developing young leadership programs, the number of participants involved is significantly less than what is needed to take the place of those over 64, let alone reach higher numbers. At the national level, The Jewish Federations of North America, among many others, appears helpless – running high-cost events such as TribeFest (which may have value for those already connected but has not been shown to add to the donor pool at local federations).


While we are decades away from major giving by most Millennials, there is ample research across the entire American philanthropic landscape to show that not only does this cohort have different giving priorities than Boomers, but they are far more likely to demand accountability and transparency than older donors – something most major Jewish organizations still refuse to provide. Coupling that with this report’s findings that Millennials are less engaged in Jewish organizations than those who came before, for this major organizational segment of the Jewish world, the report should set off alarm bells.

In the report, the project’s three catalyzers – Joshua H. Avedon, J. Shawn Landres and Jeffrey R. Solomon – write,

The contemporary Jewish philanthropic system is confronting its greatest challenges since its formation more than a century ago…

We believe that the future of the Jewish philanthropic/nonprofit system depends on collective efforts to bring it to the forefront of the 21st century third sector, through innovation, collaboration, and impact by both established institutions serving traditional core priorities and by new nonprofit startups advancing creative alternative paths to Jewish engagement and action. Achieving those results also will require re-energizing core supporters – at all giving levels – whose generosity of time and resources powers the Jewish community…

At the same time … our findings also suggest that there is ample opportunity to engage charitable givers in a conversation about the roots of their values, and how those roots grew from the soil of the Jewish tradition. By celebrating all giving by Jews as “Jewish giving” – regardless of the cause or beneficiaries – we strengthen those roots. If donors feel that giving to the causes they care most about is part of their heritage, their desire to connect with that heritage just might increase. And the more connected they are to each other, and to the Jewish community, the more they will be connected to give.

A perfect thought to wind-down 5773.


[Update]: In a second post, eJewish Philanthropy looks at the communal implications of these findings..

All quotes above are from the “Connected to Give: Key Findings” report; graphics are courtesy Jumpstart.

About: “Connected to Give” is a collaborative project of a consortium of independent foundations, family foundations, community foundations and Jewish federations working in partnership with Jumpstart to map the landscape of charitable giving by American Jews.

Funding partners include: Andrea & Charles Bronfman Philanthropies, Max M. & Marjorie Fisher Foundation, Emanuel J. Friedman Philanthropies, Harold Grinspoon Foundation, Jewish Community Foundation of San Diego/Leichtag Family Foundation Partnership, Koret Foundation, Lippman Kanfer Family Foundation, Marcus Foundation, Joseph Meyerhoff and Rebecca Meyerhoff Awards Committee, Jack and Goldie Wolfe Miller Fund, The Morningstar Foundation, The Natan Fund, Rose Community Foundation (Denver), Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma Counties, Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, and Birthright Israel NEXT. Additional support was provided by Mandell Berman.