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Jewish Journal

Study reveals the who, what and where of Jewish giving

by Jonah Lowenfeld

August 31, 2013 | 8:48 am

Graphics courtesy Jumpstart

Graphics courtesy Jumpstart

When Jews feels connected to their community, money will flow – to Jewish causes and elsewhere.

That, in short, is the main finding of a broad new nationwide study of American Jewish philanthropy. Coordinated by Jumpstart, a Los Angeles-based think tank and incubator for innovative Jewish nonprofits, the study, titled “Connected to Give,” asked nearly 3,000 Jews across the United States about their giving habits.

This central finding, published in a report released Sept. 3, may seem self-evident, but that doesn’t make it any less significant, according to Jumpstart CEO Shawn Landres, who has spent the past two years working on this project, along with the nonprofit’s COO Joshua Avedon and a team of more than two dozen researchers and advisers from around the world.

[RELATED: Five things you may not know about Jews and philanthropy]

“The more engaged you are in the Jewish community,” Landres said, “the more likely you are to give, not only to Jewish causes but to non-Jewish causes as well -- and more generously, at that.”

To date, “Connected to Give” has cost around $700,000 to conduct, paid for by grants from 15 institutional funders plus one individual from across the United States.  Surprisingly, it represents the first time anyone has polled such a broad sampling of American Jews about their philanthropic activities.

Researchers asked respondents all sorts of questions, including about their links to the Jewish community. To assess connectedness, researchers asked respondents whether they are married to someone Jewish, what proportion of their friends are Jews, how frequently they attend religious services and whether they volunteer for a religious or charitable organization.

These factors combined turned out to be the best predictor of how likely a person was to give charitably – and also correlated with how much a person would contribute.

“Connection is the most important factor,” Landres said. “It’s more important than income; it’s more important than age.”

The Jewish Journal got an early look at the first report released – “Connected to Give: Key Findings from the National Study of American Jewish Giving” -- which, over the coming weeks and months will no doubt be examined and evaluated in detail by Jewish funders and fundraisers, as well as budding Jewish social entrepreneurs and long-time professionals, machers and would-be machers. Its central conclusion alone could guide fundraising and programmatic efforts for years to come. Some executives from Jewish Federations have already been told some of findings, and the Jewish Funders Network plans to highlight the results at its conference in 2014.  

But for the average American Jew interested in how, how much, and to what causes members of their community give, the study, which was designed in collaboration with the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, offers a chance to look in the mirror.

Among the key findings:

-       On the whole, Jews give, and are more likely to give, than their non-Jewish counterparts. Among Jews, 76 percent of households reported having given a donation of $25 or more in the previous year. Among non-Jews, the number was 63 percent. For Jews, the median annual gift was $1,200; among non-Jews it was $600.

-       Non-Jews are more likely to give to their own houses of worship than Jews are. As part of the study, researchers polled almost 2,000 non-Jews, using the same set of questions. When asked about specific philanthropic priorities – like basic needs, the arts and education, among others – Jews gave in higher numbers than non-Jews in every category except for one: gifts to their own religious congregations or ministries.

-       Jews are more likely to give to nonsectarian causes than to Jewish ones. Of Jewish givers, 92 percent gave to a non-Jewish organization; 79 percent gave to a Jewish one.

-       Young Jews are less likely to give to Jewish organizations than their older counterparts. Eighty-one percent of Jews over 65 gave to Jewish organizations; among Jews under 40, the number drops to 72 percent.

Jumpstart plans to publish other, topic-specific reports culled from the data over the course of the coming year -- including findings focused on Orthodox American Jews, whose Jewish lives and giving practices, the researchers said, are different enough from their non-Orthodox counterparts to be parsed separately from rest.

For now, the study’s central finding – the more Jewishly connected you are, the more you give, Jewishly and otherwise – is being highlighted, in part because it has the potential to inform the work done by all kinds of Jewish organizations in the immediate future.

Millennials

At the forefront – and earlier studies and anecdotal looks at Jewish philanthropy have found this as well – is the search for ways to reach Jewish-American Millenials. This generation, who are just now beginning to come of age and start families, are less engaged with Jewish organizations than their predecessors. Even those who are engaged have connected to Jewish life in ways very different from their parents.

“I was very much a product of my mother’s giving in the beginning,” said Tamar Raucher, who was born and raised in Los Angeles. Raucher is in her early 30s, and, growing up, she and her family were “very much ‘High Holidays Jews.’” Her parents gave to the Jewish Federation, and she remembers making phone calls as part of a few “Super Sunday” campaigns. But it was her mother’s involvement at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art that inspired Raucher’s first philanthropic efforts as an adult.

“I was involved in the young board at the Museum of Contemporary Art, and because of that I gave to MOCA,” said Raucher, speaking to the Journal by phone in late August. Back then, she often wondered whether her money would be better spent on the arts or helping “underprivileged individuals,” but she always ended up giving to the arts.

Then Raucher began to become more Jewishly involved. Her journey led her first to join IKAR, a spiritual community founded in 2004; she later met and married a Conservative rabbinical student and the family moved to Charlotte, N.C., about two years ago. Raucher now works in marketing and development for Moishe House, a seven-year-old nonprofit that creates communal homes that also serve as meeting places for young Jews in cities around the country. Raucher’s husband, Rabbi Noam Raucher, serves a congregation in Charlotte, and their toddler son attends the Charlotte Jewish Preschool (CJP). 

The family’s giving, she said, looks nothing what she was doing five or 10 years ago. For one, she and her husband think more strategically about their gifts, Raucher said. They also give “almost exclusively” to Jewish organizations. And many of their philanthropic dollars go to organizations to which they have a direct connection – including Moishe House and CJP. The arts have basically dropped out of the equation.

“I’m investing in people -- and with CJP, I can see it more,” said Raucher, who sits on the preschool’s board. “With MOCA, I was giving toward the organization, and I didn't know whether it was going to fund a certain collection or overhead. With Moishe House and CJP, I’m aware of where everything goes.”

In many ways, Raucher illustrates perfectly the study’s key finding. She’s about as Jewishly connected as an American Jew can be, and her giving is directed primarily to Jewish organizations. Likewise, an overwhelming majority (93 percent) of highly engaged Jews in the study made gifts to Jewish organizations.

She remembers her family giving to Federation, but didn’t mention having done so herself – and, indeed, of the Jewish donors under age 40 who gave to Jewish organizations, only 28 percent donated to Federation, as compared with 45 percent of those over 65.

Raucher instead has focused on supporting specific organizations – including two highly regarded innovative Jewish startups – and feeling better about giving to groups where she felt she could see the impact of her gifts. Those same goals arose in the focus groups conducted alongside the overall study.

No Surprises

The study’s results are not revelations – not even to its funders. Still, its scale confirms and clarifies previous assumptions.

“It’s never been documented before,” said Jeff Solomon, president of the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies (ACBP), one of the funders of the study. “It was always known from studies done of donors to different organizations that engagement breeds engagement which breeds giving. This is a much more scientific look at the issue. It's the first-ever study that simply looks at Jewish philanthropic behaviors across the board.”

In fact, the behavior has been evolving for some time, and “Connected to Give” establishes a benchmark for comparisons, that will allow future studies to determine what -- or whether -- progress has been made. Earlier studies have been either limited scope or are somewhat out of date – but the data points that exist reflect tremendous challenges facing the organizations that have defined the American Jewish world for the better part of the last century, not least the Jewish Federation system, an umbrella for multiple Jewish causes.

“Take a look at the fact that there were a million donors to the Federation system in 1972, and somewhere around 400,000 today,” Solomon said. “And that’s just one example – but it’s a fairly dramatic one.”

It’s a fact of which Jay Sanderson, president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, doesn’t need reminding. He sees the tendency of some Federations to focus on one number – dollars raised – and not on how many donors participate as shortsighted.

Sanderson said the study reaffirms his confidence in the strategy Los Angeles’ Federation is taking vis-à-vis engaging younger Jews. When Sanderson took over Federation in 2009, he broke out the organization’s efforts to engage young Jews – separating such efforts away from Federation’s fundraising campaigns.

The message was: Engage young people first, leave the ask for later.

“The first thing we want them to do is feel connected to our community and have them feel engaged enough to want to make a gift,” Sanderson said. “That is a very big change for us. Young adult engagement in many communities is focused on soliciting donations.”

Jumpstart approached the L.A. Federation to invite them to be involved with the study, but Sanderson decided against it – in part, he said, because he felt confident Landres and his team would be able to come up with enough money to fund the study, but also because he felt pretty confident he knew beforehand what the results would show.

“We decided that, instead, we were going to spend the money engaging the young people that this study was going to tell us needed to be engaged,” Sanderson said.

Even so, Sanderson said he appreciates the work Jumpstart and the study team have done.

“I think it’s good to be validated,” Sanderson said.

The study also conforms to earlier research. Ten years ago, Steven M. Cohen, one of three lead authors of the new Jumpstart report, arrived at almost the same conclusion – that engaging disconnected Jews would help build community and cultivate donors.

“Outreach efforts are warranted, as well, to those who are less affluent or less communally engaged, with the strategic objective being to build community by broadening the total base of donors and increasing communal affiliation through involvement [in] Federation,” Cohen, a professor of Jewish Social Policy at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, wrote in 2004 in a report based on data collected in the 2000-01 National Jewish Population Survey

Asked whether he felt his advice had been ignored, Cohen said it had not.

“The investments in Jewish camps, day schools, Israel travel, the campus, and young adult activity all contribute to the building of Jewish social networks, and federations Federations have responded by moving in those directions,” Cohen wrote in an email to the Journal in late August. “More is needed,” he added, “and [the Jumpstart] report strengthens the argument on behalf of building Jewish social networks (family, friends, organizations, etc.).”

Innovation

The study’s findings also appear to support those who favor investment in Jewish innovation. Indeed, a commitment fostering more innovation within the Jewish world is part of what inspired the study in the first place.

“I went to Jumpstart and asked them the question, ‘How, by 2020, can we make innovation and impact investing a greater part of the lexicon of the Jewish community?’” Solomon, of Bronfman Philanthropies, said.

Landres and Avedon argued that to find out how innovation can affect giving, the community needed to establish a baseline of for future research. Along with the Bronfmans, other funders who have backed large innovative programing, including the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, which created the PJ Library, and the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, which has supported all manner of experimental Jewish efforts, also helped support the Jumpstart study.

Some innovative programs can already show their impact, among them, most notably Taglit-Birthright –perhaps the biggest innovation to be introduced into the American Jewish community in a generation. A new study of Birthright, funded in part by ACBP, (another major funder of the Jumpstart study) suggests that young American and Canadian Jews who have gone on the free 10-day trips to Israel are three times more likely to say that they’re “very connected to Israel” than those who have not gone.

Whether those Birthright alumni will go on to give back to the Jewish community monetarily is still an open question, but Landres believes the new research suggests they will.

He also is urging Jewish organizations to recognize that they are operating in “a post-scarcity mindset,” assuming that there are only leaner years ahead. “This notion of a pie that we’re fighting over doesn’t make a lot of sense,” Landres said. “Getting people connected to the Jewish community will grow the pie for everybody.”

Many of the study’s funders share Landres’ optimism -- and his commitment to the power of innovative Jewish organizations.

“Our foundation is, more and more, focusing on how to increase the substantive quality of Jewish life,” said Marcella Kanfer Rolnick of Lippman Kanfer Family Foundation said.

In recent years, Lippman Kanfer Family Foundation has supported organizations like Keshet -- which encourages the Jewish community to become more inclusive of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Jews. It also is a major supporter of the Joshua Venture Group, developing new Jewish nonprofits by supporting the social entrepreneurs who run them.

On a personal level, Kanfer Rolnick also supports groups leading the Jewish community in new directions.

“One of the reasons that I give to innovative and experimental organizations – and this is my personal language – is I want to help the Jewish experience reach its potential,” she said. And when she hears people complain about being bored in synagogue, Kanfer Rolnick wonders if they’re just not going to the right synagogues.

“I say to myself, it’s only because the experiences they’ve had didn't reach the potential inherent in Judaism,” Kanfer Rolnick told me. “It’s a case of the ‘have-nots’ not knowing that the ‘haves’ are experiencing something pretty awesome.”

The Rose Community Foundation (RCF) in Denver, Colo., also helped fund Jumpstart’s study, and Lisa Farber Miller, a senior program officer for RCF’s Jewish Life programs, served as a member of the study’s research advisory committee. She said she has met many people who “just didn't know about our local Jewish community,” and said she sees a disconnect between those deeply involved in Jewish life, professionally or otherwise, and those who are not.

“Because we’re inside the Jewish community, we think that everyone knows about us, when they don't,” she said.

And, as the results of the new research suggest, the less connected they are, the less likely they are to give.

“The more we can be there around issues they care about, the more we will be successful as a Jewish community,” Farber Miller said,  “and, obviously, the more successful we’ll be at growing giving too.”

Download topline report findings at connectedtogive.org.  

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