The future of … philanthropy

The future of … philanthropy

Trends in Jewish giving — among individuals as well as large foundations — are shifting.

As Jews become more globally conscious, and open their wallets to more nonsectarian causes, their impact on the wider community becomes more pronounced.

But Jewish institutions, now sharing a finite pool of funds with the world at large, may find themselves trying to satisfy the needs of their own community with fewer resources.

In 2009 and 2010, 24 percent of the dollars donated by Jewish foundations went to Jewish institutions, according to a study published by the Institute for Jewish and Community Research in February 2012.

“Jewish institutions,” for purposes of the study, were defined as any “charitable organizations that serve the Jewish community directly or serve the general community with an expicitly Jewish mission.” All grants made to organizations in Israel were considered “Jewish.”

Although the amount of money given to Jewish causes did increase by 3 percent from the previous IJCR study, foundations are still giving the bulk of their money to organizations either without a Jewish mission, or that do not directly serve the Jewish community. Individual Jewish donors also are giving to nonsectarian causes at higher rates than they are giving to sectarian causes.

“How do we explain the decision of Jews to channel so much of their money outside of the Jewish community?” asked Jack Wertheimer, professor of American Jewish history at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. “It has to do with the declining sense of responsibility that some Jews feel about taking care of their own.”

Organizations such as the American Jewish World Service and Avodah work to fight poverty in the developing world and in impoverished areas of the United States. They see their missions as a reflection of the Jewish mandate of tikkun olam (repairing the world). But are Jews who donate to these types of organizations doing so at the expense of the institutions that funnel their dollars directly to the Jewish community?

“Some Jewish organizations are promoting repair of the world rather than repair of the Jewish world,” Wertheimer said. “They claim what they’re doing is drawing people in, that giving to nonsectarian causes is a Jewish thing to do.”

Aaron Dorfman, vice president of programs of the AJWS, does not view the question of Jewish giving as an either/or proposition in regard to sectarian and nonsectarian causes, and says that mindset is a “red herring.”

“We should be doing both [kinds of giving], and more of it,” he said.

The AJWS has been running an online campaign called “Where Do You Give?” The initiative, which includes blogging about giving and a tzedaka box design contest, is aimed at sparking conversations about the future of philanthropy in the Jewish community so that people can be “more intentional with their giving,” Dorfman said.

“We wanted to expand our collective universe of obligation, and how we think about who we’re obligated to in the world,” Dorfman said. “Our tradition teaches us to care for the stranger. AJWS interprets that as a directive about the poorest people in the world, and those who face the greatest challenges. That’s our mandate.”

“I think the American Jewish community is answering the charge,” Dorfman continued. “We are increasing awareness of what is happening around the world, and there is a correlated obligation that goes with that. I think the younger generation is committed to figuring out their responsibilities in a globally connected world.”

Tectonic shifts

The evidence shows that the Jewish world indeed has been answering the charge of groups like AJWS. The organization is funded by several foundations including the Jim Joseph Foundation and the Geffen Foundation as well as individual donors, Dorfman said. And young Jews from throughout North America are volunteering their time to travel to underdeveloped countries to do hands-on tikkun olam.

“There is a significant opportunity to expand what the definition of philanthropy means, not just giving money, but giving time and passion to causes,” said Lisa Eisen, national director of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation. “Young people don’t necessarily have a lot of dollars, but they want to make a difference.”

Eisen sees the trend in hands-on philanthropy as just one among many that is shaping the world of Jewish giving.

“Over the past two decades, there have been tectonic shifts [in Jewish philanthropy],” she said.

Changes that Jewish organizations will need to consider when planning for their future include the increase in the number of family foundations, the rise of online giving, and an upcoming shift in generational wealth. In short, more dollars will be available for charitable causes, but a new generation will make the decisions as to where those dollars should go.

By the year 2052, some $42 trillion will change hands as Americans pass on their accumulated assets to the next generation, according to the U.S. National Philanthropic Trust, and many family foundations will be run by the progeny of their founders. The generational wealth transfer has already begun, and in many cases the children feel less obligated to Jewish causes than did their parents, according to Eisen.

Spend-down periods

Eisen cautioned that organizations should expect — and be prepared for — the shifting priorities of the next generation.

“We need to be thinking about educating the next generation of family members in family foundations and the next generation of Jewish donors,” she said.

Jewish institutions that depend on foundation donations should also be aware that many of those foundations are coming into spend-down periods.

“A number of Jewish foundations are in ‘sunsetting’ or spend down periods,” she told the Chronicle, “and there is a likelihood that there will be a significant infusion of resources into the community as a result.”

“The reverberations will be dramatic,” Eisen wrote in the February 2011 issue of Philanthropy News Digest. “An unprecedented amount of wealth will soon enter the world of Jewish philanthropy, and significant players will look with greater urgency and intentionality at their spending to ensure they are creating an enduring legacy and impact.”

Also impacting Jewish giving is the increasing ease of being able to donate online to specific causes, Eisen said, allowing philanthropy to be a tool of everyone, not just the very rich. Websites such as Facebook allow many organizations to launch online appeals that permit donors to donate their money in accordance with their specific concerns.

“Online giving has revolutionized who can be a donor,” she said. “There is a shift away from bricks and mortar and federated giving toward more ‘byte and click’ philanthropy.”

While shifts are occurring in patterns of Jewish giving, statistics show that North American Jews still make Israel a priority.

Thirty-six percent of total dollars donated by Jewish foundations to Jewish causes went to Israel-related organizations, according to the recent IJCR study, with the average grant to Israel-related organizations being over 60 percent larger than those to other Jewish organizations. Israel advocacy, including trips to Israel, accounted for 24 percent of all dollars to Israel, and the percent of Jewish foundation dollars donated to Israel-related organizations has increased from 32 percent to 36 percent since the previous IJCR study.

“In two Israel emergency campaigns in the early 2000s during the intifada, and in 2006 during the second Lebanon war, we raised more than $700 million for Israel,” said Joe Berkofsky, managing director, communications and media relations, strategic marketing and communications of the Jewish Federations of North America.

Jews are not only committed to Israel, according to Berkofsky, but also remain committed to their local federations.

But while Berkofsky claims that “many communities have seen growth in their annual [federation] campaigns (including Pittsburgh), and overall giving across North American has remained constant,” Wertheimer is more cautious in his assessment.

“Jewish institutions are increasingly reliant on a shrinking and aging donor base,” Wertheimer said.

“A number of federations have seen declining rates of giving,” he said, adding that the shrinkage in funding has caused an “avalanche.”

“There is also the question of Jewish priorities,” said Wertheimer. “In terms of the vitality of the American Jewish community, there is no question in my mind that Jewish organizational life is operating in a weakened condition and through a fair amount of demoralization for people who work in these institutions.”

Still, with some planning and creativity, there is hope for the future.

“I’m an optimist,” Eisen said. “I believe the future is bright. Our job is to capture the imagination of Jewish donors and help direct those dollars into Jewish giving.”

(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at

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