Almost immediately after Heidi Feldman, a professor at Georgetown Law, learned that Donald Trump had been elected president, she decided to make a range of donations to organizations that supported civil liberties.
“In addition to supporting more general organizations,” she said, “I thought it was important, with the rise of anti-Semitism and anti-black rhetoric, to support organizations with a historic tie to the Jewish and African-American communities.” She’s not an observant Jew, but she was aware that the Anti-Defamation League has a long history of opposing anti-Semitic speech. So she pledged a regular monthly donation to ADL, as well as one to the NAACP. She considers it an investment, not charity.
She is far from an isolated case. ADL has seen a 50% increase in donations since Election Day. The National Council of Jewish Women has also seen a large and steady increase in donations, reports its CEO, Nancy Kaufman, And Robert Bank, president and CEO of American Jewish World Services, has described the outpouring of funds from donors as “tikkun olam [repair of the world] on steroids.”
Something similar has happened at this news outlet. After Trump’s November 8 victory and the outburst of anti-Semitic vandalism and incidents that followed, The Forward, whose journalists have received tweets and phone calls with Holocaust imagery and threats over the course of the whole election campaign, launched a fundraising drive in response.
“In the week afterward,” said Michael Sarid, the Forward’s chief development officer, “donations were five times what we typically get. They’re responding like they’ve never responded before.”
Both ADL and NCJW have attracted donors by taking strong and decisive political stances: Both groups have denounced Trump’s appointment of former Breitbart News Network executive chairman Stephen Bannon as his chief White House strategist. NCJW has also issued a statement of opposition against Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, Trump’s nominee for attorney general, and has pledged its continued support for the Affordable Care Act and for reproductive rights.
“We’re focused like a laser beam on issues that affect women, children and families,” Kaufman said. “That makes us distinct in the Jewish world. People are anxious to do something, and they come to us and ask what can I do.” NCJW and ADL’s activism in social issues makes them attractive to a certain type of donor.
“Social issues are important to me,” said Ayanna, an attorney in New York City who joined NCJW and made a larger-than-usual donation to ADL post-election. (She has asked that her last name not be used.) “These organizations stand up for Jews.”
In contrast, the American Jewish Committee, another large agency devoted to the defense of civil rights, has taken a notably less outspoken approach, issuing criticisms of violence during the campaign without citing Trump by name. In a statement after Trump’s appointment of Bannon, the group pointedly declined to criticize the selection.
Asked if AJC had experienced any change in its fundraising since the election, the group’s spokesman, Kenneth Bandler, said in an email: “AJC fundraising is very strong, as our supporters have shown trust in the global Jewish advocacy organization’s mission and, especially at this time, our centrist, non-partisan approach.”
Bank says that AJWS has a more broad-based mission to support human rights in general, both in the United States and in the developing world. He wouldn’t comment directly on exactly how much more money has been flowing in comparison with previous years, but he says donors have told him that the work AJWS does feel more important than ever before.
The increase in Jewish philanthropy post-election comes as no surprise to David Teutsch, former president of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and current director of its Center for Jewish Ethics.
“The word tzedakah [charity] comes from tzaddik [righteous one],” he explained. “We all have the obligation to ensure justice. There’s no reason to believe that if the anti-Semitic incidents continue, there won’t be more money in the Jewish community flowing to civil liberties and defense organizations.”
This shift in philanthrophy, however, may not be as beneficial for less politically oriented religious and cultural organizations, he said. In Chicago, the resolutely nonpartisan Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago, which concentrates on education and human services, has seen little change in donations since the election, said its spokesman, Joel Schatz.
The shift may not benefit groups that support Israel, either. Teutsch noted that while the majority of American Jetws support the two-state solution and self-governance for Palestinians, Trump, it appears, does not.
But Leslie Lenkowsky, a professor at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, took a more conservative view, both temperamentally and politically. He thinks it’s too early to predict the Trump administration’s policy on Israel and the Middle East, or on anything else, including domestic anti-Semitism.
Organizations like the ADL that are tasked with looking out for instances of anti-Semitism are traditionally more vigilant and outspoken, as opposed to Israel-centered organizations, which have decided to take a wait-and-see approach, he said.
Lenkowsky does believe, though, that if Trump cuts funding for social services, as he has pledged, “Jewish philanthropy will be asked to fill in that gap.”
Whether the current outpouring of philanthropy to certain kinds of charities will continue at such a rapid pace remains to be seen. If there is an economic downturn, there will less money to give; Teutsch noted that there was a marked decrease in giving during the 2008-to-2012 recession.
Trump’s promises to reduce tax restrictions on the rich may also have an impact on philanthropy, he said. Currently, the 1% give money to charity in order to shelter family wealth from the IRS, but if the tax codes change, they will be keeping more funds for themselves. “The impact will be slower and over the long term,” Tuetsch said, “but that change I do anticipate happening.”
For now, though, donors are committed to giving. “Things would have to get pretty horrible financially for me to go back on [donating],” said Feldman, the new ADL donor. “I consider it an ethical and moral choice.”
And the organizations are happy to receive. “It’s good news and bad news,” Kaufman said. “We need the funds to strengthen our messaging. It’s a whole new game. I’ve never seen anything like this.”
Contact Aimee Levitt at firstname.lastname@example.org