September 15, 2019

Study reveals the who, what and where of Jewish giving

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.

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“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.