Why Are Jewish Federations Struggling With Fundraising as Charitable Giving by Americans Hits Record?

American charities are raising more than they did before the Great Recession, but Jewish federations across the country are floundering, according to a new study published June 14.

The annual study, called Giving USA, found that American individuals, foundations, and companies gave $373 billion to charities in 2015, more than ever before in real or inflation-adjusted dollars. That figure is climbing rapidly; up 10% over the last two years alone.

Yet while the general pool of donations is trending upward, the share going to the mainstream Jewish fundraising groups is declining. According to the report, giving to Jewish federations has dropped nearly 38% in inflation-adjusted dollars over the past 25 years.

“This year sets another record,” said Patrick M. Rooney, associate dean for academic affairs and research at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University, who conducted the research for the report, of the total giving figures. The Great Recession, Rooney said, is “no longer really affecting philanthropy in a meaningful way.”

Donations took a major hit after 2008, plummeting to $307 billion in 2008 from $314 billion in 2007. The 2015 and 2016 numbers mark a return to a level above pre-2008 highs.

The drop in gifts to Jewish federations remain a dark spot on the otherwise sunny report. “The broad trend is donors are not looking to…an umbrella campaign,” said Bob Evans, founder and president of the Evans Consulting Group and a member of the editorial board that reviewed the Giving USA report. “They want to target where their gifts go. That’s a change that has been slow in coming, and all of a sudden it’s really playing.”

According to the study’s findings, roughly a third of donations went to religious charities like churches and synagogues, 15% went to education, and 12% to human services groups. While charities focusing on international affairs received just 4% of the donations, that’s up 17% since 2014.

And while donations to Jewish federations continue to drop, gifts to donor advised funds are skyrocketing. According to the report, the number of donor advised funds grew by 8.8% between 2013 and 2014 alone, and the value of those funds jumped by 23%.


Josh Nathan-Kazis

Josh Nathan-Kazis

Josh Nathan-Kazis is a staff writer for the Forward. He covers charities and politics, and writes investigations and longform.

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