Path To Boosting Jewish Charity Giving Lies in Community Involvement

Study Offers Glimmers of Hope for Luring Younger Donors

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By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Published September 03, 2013.
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That’s a far greater gap between older and younger Jews than for other sorts of Jewish charities. For example, 29% of Jews younger than 40 reported giving to Israel-related charities, as compared with 32% of Jews older than 65.

“If I were a federation director, I’d rather not have this problem,” said Steven M. Cohen, a leading sociologist of American Jewry and another of the study’s authors.

That lack of appeal for younger Jews could be due to a generational shift in attitudes, according to Jeffrey Solomon, president of the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies and a co-author of a preface to the Jumpstart report. “What we learned [from] the Internet is, you don’t need the mediator to get things done,” Solomon said. “Federations were the intermediaries that collected from the communities to redistribute the monies… and young people don’t understand that.”

The bad numbers for federations are a dark spot in an otherwise surprisingly positive report. The report found that Jews make charitable donations: Seventy-six percent told researchers that they had given in 2012. That’s well above the number for non-Jewish Americans, 63% of whom reported giving that year.

Furthermore, most Jews who made donations gave to a Jewish organization. While 92% of Jewish givers said they had given to a non-Jewish charity, 79% of Jewish givers said they had given to a Jewish charity.

Other highlighted results were no-brainers: The report stated that richer Jews were more likely to make donations.

For the study’s authors, the most striking result was that engagement in a Jewish community is closely correlated to giving, both to Jewish and non-Jewish charities.

“The study basically says, at least says to me, there’s not much that affects the likelihood of Jews giving to Jewish causes except for the number of intimate or not-so-intimate contacts they have with other Jews,” Cohen said.

Being engaged in Jewish community, for the purposes of the survey, means attending religious services, having Jewish friends, volunteering for charitable or religious organizations, being married to another Jewish person or any of a number of other markers.

While 93% of Jews whom the survey classified as being at a high level of Jewish social engagement gave to Jewish causes, only 15% of Jews at a very low level of Jewish social engagement gave to Jewish causes.

More surprising, while just 58% of Jews at the low end of the Jewish social engagement spectrum gave to any charity, Jewish or non-Jewish, 96% of Jews at the high end of the spectrum gave to charity.

In a related finding, the study found that Jews were more likely to cite helping their local community as a reason for giving than helping Jews or the Jewish community broadly.

“It should direct attention to building social networks instead of coming up with new philanthropic opportunities,” Cohen said. “It really says, go back and build those networks, it’s the only thing that’s going to work.”

Contact Josh Nathan-Kazis at nathankazis@forward.com or on Twitter, @joshnathankazis


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