Study refutes ‘overblown’ concerns about young Jewish ‘high-capacity’ donors

"These findings suggest that they still have a strong connection to the Jewish philanthropic community," report says.

Dollar bills 370 (photo credit: Steve Marcus / Reuters)
Dollar bills 370
(photo credit: Steve Marcus / Reuters)
Young Jews of means are more likely then their gentile counterparts to give to faith-based charitable organizations and causes, according to new research conducted by consulting firm 21/64 and the Johnson Center for Philanthropy at Grand Valley State University.
According to the report, “#NEXTGENDONORS: The Future of Jewish Giving,” 64.9 percent of “high-capacity, Jewish next-gen donors” surveyed “say they give to religious and faith-based organizations” as opposed to 31.6% of gentile respondents.
“Jews in the next generation are becoming less interested in formal religious practice and are distancing themselves from Israel,” the report noted, but while “Jewish next-gen donors do give less to Jewish causes than they perceive that their parents or grandparents do, our findings suggest that the community’s concern is overblown.” According to researchers, Jewish causes rank second behind education as the most popular destination for Jewish funds among those surveyed.
“These findings suggest that, while rising Jewish major donors might mirror their generational peers in becoming less religious than previous generations, they still have a strong connection to the Jewish philanthropic community along with a sense of Jewish identity that influences their philanthropic activities,” the report noted.
A total of 310 “high-capacity donors” aged between 21 and 40 were interviewed for the study, representing a philanthropic elite. Eighty-eight percent of the respondents identified as Jewish. Respondents identified “mostly as white” and more than half reported making over $100,000 annually.
However, while the percentage of young Jews who donate to religious organizations and causes is not far from that of their parents and grandparents’ generations – pegged at 78% – the percentage of money donated to such causes differs, the report explained.
“‘Secular’ giving is a bigger proportion of their giving than it is for their families,” according to the report. “Next-gen donors spread their personal giving more evenly to a broader range of issue areas than do their families.”
Donations to organizations such as Jewish Federations is also lower among the younger generation of philanthropists, the report noted. While such donations feature “less prominently” in next-gen giving, however, “over half say they give some amount to these combination organizations.”
This matches comments made to The Jerusalem Post in May by the UJA-Federation of New York’s David Mallach, who said that the “pie is getting bigger [but] our share is not. The quantity of Jewish charity that goes to non-Jewish [causes] is increasing.”
“America is much more individualistic, much less communal, so philanthropic giving becomes much more [individual],” he said.
“I just want more generational involvement because I think my parents get very upset that they think that my brother, my sister and I have moved away a lot from our ‘Jewish roots.’ It’s not, but it’s just a different way of thinking about those roots,” one of the young Jews surveyed told researchers.
While some media outlets have reported the study’s findings as representing a broader trend within American Judaism, Dan Brown of the eJewishPhilanthropy news website warned against extrapolating too much from the results.
“It is important to keep in mind that those surveyed do not share many of the characteristics of others in their age cohort,” he told the Post.
“Most important, this report looks specifically at those who ‘get their capacity’ for major giving through their families.
Almost half say the money used for philanthropy comes from their parents’ generation. Fifty-seven-and-a-half percent report making $100,000 or more annually, and just under half [48.1%] report $1 million or more in personal net worth.
While this level of personal income and wealth is higher than the average American’s, it also suggests that these next-gen donors’ capacity for major giving comes mostly from their families.”
Of greater concern to the Jewish community, he said, and “especially those in the Federation world, should be newly published findings [Next Generation of American Giving] that show Gen Y [18- to-32-year-olds] is the least likely to support local social services – the area most important to almost every single Federation annual campaign.”
However, Dani Wassner, the spokesman for the Jewish Federations of North America, an umbrella group representing organized American Jewry, said that his organization sees “extremely positive and hopeful signs of young people – from all backgrounds – getting increasingly engaged and involved across the country.”
Citing events such as Tribefest, an annual gathering of young Jewish leaders, and projects being run by local Federations across North America, Wassner told the Post that “young people are getting involved in personally meaningful and inspiring ways, and creating their own pathways into the Jewish community.”
“Many hundreds of young leaders are continuously involved on the national level too. For example, 150 activists of National Young Leadership joined a mission to Israel this June and July, contributing more than $150,000 and pledging to contribute significantly to Federation going forward,” he said.