Many years ago, I was asked what I hoped to achieve through the foundation I had
started with my late husband, Charles. I responded with a phrase that still
describes our work: spreading the joy of Jewish living, giving and
Our foundation has spent a great deal of time on the “living”
and “learning” aspects of our vision. We have invested in creating and
supporting opportunities to strengthen the identities and leadership capacities
of young Jews to ensure they take ownership for perpetuating vibrant Jewish
But we have long believed we could do more to foster the “giving”
aspect, especially among the young adults at the core of our work. We are not
alone in this quest, as reflected in a Jewish philanthropic landscape that is
often described as “in flux.”
Indeed, of the many areas of Jewish life
that have been reimagined in the past two decades, philanthropy has received the
least attention. And yet, philanthropy is the pillar that underpins all the
rest: without it, there are no Jewish communal institutions, no renaissance of
Jewish life and no communities acting on a sense of collective
I signed the Giving Pledge in 2011 to re-commit to
finding ways to inspire Jewish giving at all levels, especially among younger
donors. As a result, our foundation has been exploring ways through which we can
build a sense of identity, community and global connectedness while also
generating greater philanthropy for Jewish causes.
New data on Jewish
philanthropy confirms our approach. A recent report, “Connected to Give” –
supported in part by our foundation and the full results of which will be
released as a multi-part series – shows that the strongest predictor of
charitable giving among Jews to any cause (Jewish or not) is their level of
engagement with and connection to the Jewish community.
non-Jewish peers, many younger Jewish donors are building this connection to
community through their giving itself, making contributions via innovative
philanthropic vehicles such as giving circles, crowdfunding, text messages and
These models have elements in common that appeal to
younger donors. They make giving a social and even an international experience
shared with peer networks; they leverage multiple contributions, of any size,
for greater impact; and they offer ownership over and transparency regarding
where one’s charitable dollars are going.
They also serve as important
vehicles for fostering Jewish learning, identity and a strong connection to a
global Jewish people. Indeed, philanthropy has the potential to be as effective
as many of the engagement and community-building interventions in which we and
other funders have invested so deeply in recent years.
circles, for example, which I see as a promising model.
allow individuals to pool donations of both money and time, and to decide
together where the contributions will be directed.
people who are new to philanthropy, giving circles offer an opportunity to
engage with the needs of specific communities and the solutions that
organizations and social entrepreneurs are devising to meet them. Importantly,
they also make giving a fun, social experience.
Giving circles have the
potential to help address a challenge facing some established Jewish
organizations – namely, that younger Jews are less likely to give to large,
combined-purpose institutions. These organizations can serve as established
homes for giving circles, providing administrative support while exposing new
givers to a broad range of Jewish communal activities, including their
An upcoming Connected to Give report will explore philanthropy and
identity within Jewish and other community-based giving circles.
to date has shown how effective they can be in helping to build community,
strengthen identity and appeal to diverse, “non-traditional” donor audiences,
especially young people.
ALL OF which is to say, for those looking to
instill the spirit of giving to Jewish causes in the next generation, we must
look beyond attracting people to traditional philanthropy and existing appeals
and fund-raising programs.
Instead, we must recognize and embrace the
fact that while once donors gave to connect, they now have to be connected to
give. If connection to Jewish community leads to greater giving of all kinds,
then we need to focus on strengthening community- building and engagement
mechanisms that offer relevant experiences and have giving opportunities
embedded within them.
This insight is critically important for our
foundation. It enables us to see the Jewish giving pillar of our work not as
distinct from, but rather as deeply integrated with, our efforts to foster
Jewish living and learning.
Like many of the most powerful Jewish
experiences we support, hands-on grant-making can enable participants to
struggle with questions of Jewish values and priorities, engage with Jewish
texts and traditions, and wrestle with universal versus particular
The good news is that there is a foundation to build on: the
fact that younger donors are giving to Jewish causes – albeit in smaller amounts
than they give to non-Jewish causes – indicates an opportunity to build a
stronger sense of connectedness and deepen that giving over time.
forward, as we seek to fulfill all aspects of our vision, our foundation will be
exploring how innovative models like giving circles can work in tandem with our
other identity and leadership development efforts to foster a sense of Jewish
community among participants and, ultimately, ensure a vibrant future for Jewish
The writer is founder and co-chairwoman of the Charles and
Lynn Schusterman Philanthropic Network, a global enterprise that creates and
supports innovative initiatives for the Jewish community and the broader world.