The giving connection

The extent of a person’s involvement with the Jewish community is the main factor that determines how charitable he or she will be — not age or income — a newly released study of American Jewish philanthropy has found.

“The biggest takeaway from the study is that increased Jewish social engagement leads to increased giving to Jewish and non-Jewish causes,” said Shawn Landres, co-founder of Jumpstart, a Los Angeles-based philanthropic research and design lab, which led the study.

090413_graphPublished on Tuesday, “Connected to Give, the National Study of American Jewish Giving” is the first nationwide comprehensive survey of who gives, how much they give and why. It offers a snapshot of the Jewish philanthropic landscape, one that offers hope that the American Jewish community has the wherewithal to sustain itself financially in the 21st century.

Among the study’s findings:

• More than 3/4 of American Jews across all age and income levels make charitable gifts;

• 92 percent of donors give to non-Jewish organizations;

• The median annual giving by Jews ($1,200) is twice as much as non-Jews ($600);

• As income level rises, so do all levels of charitable giving.

The report is based on a survey of nearly 3,000 American Jews, plus nearly 2,000 other religious givers, focus groups and ethnographic research. It does not include the responses of Orthodox Jews, whose giving habits can be substantially different from the Jewish majority.

The connection between social engagement — the experience of belonging to a Jewish community, if not the Jewish community — and the level of a person’s giving suggests that the philanthropic pie is not shrinking, according to the study.

“The narrative of scarcity and competition for donor dollars is neither accurate nor helpful,” the study said. “Organizations don’t need to see themselves as fighting over a small piece of a limited philanthropic pie.”

Not a lost generation

The findings suggest a new way to view Jewish giving. Until now, donations to non-Jewish causes were often seen as symptoms of an insufficient connection to the Jewish community. Now, Landres said, “we can look at all giving by Jews as Jewish giving — because all giving by Jews is primarily motivated by Jewish engagement.”

Age does a play a role in Jewish giving. But Jews under 40 are not a lost generation to philanthropy as they are often portrayed.

While young adults are less supportive of “combined purpose” charities such as United Way and Jewish federations, they are more supportive than older adults of education, community causes, international aid and the environment.

The study found that 45 percent of Jews age 65 and older give to federations; 35 percent of ages 40-64 give to the Jewish umbrella agency; and 28 percent of Jews under 40 give to federations.

Younger adults are more supportive of single-cause charities because they’re interested in transparency and seeing the impact of their donations, Landres said.

He said that United Way gave up its “giving thermometer,” which rose as donations grew, because it was no longer encouraging giving. They replaced it with an “impact thermometer,” which went up as the organization was able to do more for people — “1,000 lunches provided, 2,000 lunches provided,” Landres said. It worked.

“Young adults want to see where their money is going. I think that federations are able to provide that experience. But they have to want to,” he said.

The study found that most people see the overall Jewish community as strong and not in need of help. So “people do not give to Jewish organizations to ‘strengthen the Jewish community,’ ” Landres said. “They give to strengthen their Jewish community. But you can very easily pierce that perception with specific information and very specific actions to alleviate a need.”

The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington’s recent campaign to raise badly needed funds for elderly area Holocaust survivors was a successful case of piercing perceptions and providing hands-on experience that younger adults seek, he said.

The campaign was initiated by Jews in their 20s from a philanthropic family. They began by learning about the needs of elderly local Holocaust survivors, facilitated by the Federation. Services were being cut due to a budget shortfall. This exposure led to a meeting in June where $1.7 million was pledged, the first step in a drive to raise $5 million. The elders may have given the lion’s share of the backing, but it was the young adults who provided the catalyst.

“It’s OK to engage younger people around philanthropy as long as you’re creative about it — giving circles, crowd funding,” Landres said. “If the Jewish community doesn’t use these tools, young people will still donate, but they won’t associate it with the Jewish community.”

All ages give similarly to Israel

Enlarging the philanthropic pie requires moving 40-60 year olds — those in the peak giving years — who have low engagement with the Jewish community to moderate engagement. “That’s where the payoff is going to be,” Landres said. “Move someone from low to moderate engagement and the giving goes up.”

Fundraising consultant Robert Evans of EHL Group said the study for the first time provides a benchmark for all future measures of Jewish giving. And it shows that “Jews are among the best donors in the country.”

Another accomplishment is that it provides “a correction to misperceptions that younger donors aren’t giving to Israel-based projects.”

The survey found only a 3 point difference between the Israel-related giving of Jews age 65 and older (32 percent) and under 40 (29 percent).

“This is a very good thing,” Evans said.

Jumpstart will follow this report with others on planned giving and congregational giving, and with multireligious findings from its National Survey of American Religious Giving.

“We’re also going to go back and look at the Orthodox in more depth,” Landres said. “They’re more likely to give to their synagogues, more likely to give to Israel-related causes, and somewhat more likely to give to education.”

Because Jews give in a social context, “it’s just as important that Jews give with other Jews as it is to give to other Jews,” he said. “In fact, it’s more important if we’re taking the long view of what will sustain the Jewish community.”

dholzel@washingtonjewishweek.com 

Twitter: @davidholzel

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