Socially connected American Jews more likely to donate, says new report

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September 4, 2013 01:21

Overall, “Jews are more likely to support non-Jewish organizations than Jewish ones.”

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Giving something back 370. (photo credit:Meir Alfassi)

American Jews are more likely to donate to causes, either Jewish or non-Jewish, if they are "connected American Jews are to Jewish social networks and Jewish communities," according to a report commissioned by philanthropic research group Jumpstart that was released this week.

According to the authors of the report titled Connected to Give, “The contemporary Jewish philanthropic system is confronting its greatest challenges since its formation more than a century ago.”

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While Jews are clearly committed to charitable giving, they stated, “the forces that fostered solidarity and creativity in earlier generations have waned” and younger Jews are “less likely to give to Jewish organizations.”

Overall, “Jews are more likely to support non-Jewish organizations than Jewish ones.”

According to the report, which surveyed 2,911 American Jewish households, “Older Jews give at a somewhat higher rate to Jewish organizations than younger Jews” with 81% of those over 64 giving to Jewish organizations as opposed to 72% of Jews under 40.

The biggest factor in assessing both one’s general inclination towards charitable donations as well as the likelihood of giving to a Jewish cause is one’s Jewish engagement, the study found.

According to Steven Cohen, Director of NYU’s Berman Jewish Policy Archive and one of the researchers who worked on the Connected to Give, “the future of giving depends on jewish connections. those who care about Jewish giving should care about connecting Jews to one another.”

Charitable giving correlates with four factors, he explained.

“The overwhelming driver of giving is connections of Jews to other Jews,” he told the Jerusalem Post. This includes “having Jewish spouses, friends, synagogue-mates and fellow volunteers. What that says is that insofar as American Jewry can maintain strong Jewish social networks it will maintain strong Jewish philanthropy.”

“The federation system is the one significant Jewish organization that seems to decline in popularity among younger people,” he said, referring to a plethora of philanthropic options not available to previous generations as a possible explanation.

Today “here are many Jewish causes.”

According to Cohen, the Federation system may “recalibrate” and “become more attuned to diversified giving” themselves.

“Once that happens the decline ends,” he said.

"The trend in many organizations seems to show a greater reliance on major donors," said Jeff Solomon president of the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies and one of the movers behind the study.

"For example, even those Federations which are maintaining their giving levels, are doing so from fewer donors. The Study offers them a snapshot of the thinking and the giving patterns of American Jews. The good news is there is continued substantial generosity. The challenge is that, without engagement in Jewish life, Jewish giving to Jewish causes suffers. Another component is the challenge of demonstrating impact for the donor. Examples of organizations that have done well in the past number of years are American Jewish World Service and Birthright Israel Foundation."

Dan Brown, a writer on Jewish philanthropy for eJewishphilanthropy.com was less than optimistic regarding the longer term for established Jewish organizations, saying that “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.”

Federation officials, however, were quick to point out that they interpreted the data in the report differently, saying that it indicated that there is significant support among young Jews for their organizations.

“We welcome this study, which confirms that Federations are rightly focusing on developing young leaders,” said Jerry Silverman, president and CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America. “The study says nearly a third of younger Jews are already giving to Federations. Our Federations across the country are investing significantly in this population segment. At the same time, for the past decade Federation giving has remained strong, at more than $900 million annually.”

Mark Medin of the UJA Federation of New York said that he believes that the report’s assessment that support for Federations among the young was declining was a “broad statement.”

Medin does not believe that the Federations are in danger, pointing out that the Federations are doing well despite the proliferation of options for targeted giving within the Jewish world.

Last year, he said, the UJA-Federation raised “about 11 million dollars from donors under the age of 45.”

“That’s astounding,” Medin remarked. “We increased our [total] campaign [intake] by over eight million dollars” last year.

“So the state of the new york UJA-federation is strong, our campaign is strong.”

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