December 14, 2018

Study cites decline in area philanthropic giving

A study released on June 3 by UCLA’s Luskin School of Public Affairs and funded by the California Community Foundation showed that annual philanthropic giving by Los Angeles residents in 2013 had decreased by a whopping $1 billion from 2006.

Religious congregations can take some solace, however: “The Generosity Gap: Donating Less in Post-Recession Los Angeles County” also shows that they get the highest proportion of locally focused donations.

Co-authored by J. Shawn Landres, co-founder of Jumpstart and a Civil Society Fellow at Luskin, and Shakari Byerly of Evitarus, a strategic advisory and public opinion research firm, the study highlights the gap between household giving to local charities and the need of charitable organizations. It states that “historical patterns of local generosity may be shifting to a new, lower norm, across all household income levels. The gap is widening between what donors are giving and what the region needs the charitable sector to deliver.”

Surveying 1,200 Los Angeles residents — 12 percent of whom identified themselves as Jews — and using data from the Internal Revenue Service, the study found that even as the number of charitable organizations increased within the county, the amount of money coming into the charitable sector has gone down. 

In 2006, tax-deducted contributions amounted to $7.16 billion, but in 2013, that amount had dropped to $6.03 billion, according to the study.

There are a number of possible reasons for the drop in giving rates. They include financial stress (even for high-income families) in recent years, donors not knowing how to give and a shift in values that define donor behavior, according to Bill Parent, who was the project director on the study. 

Donors want to see where their dollars are going and the results of their contributions. At Jewish Vocational Services Los Angeles, donors like to see specific projects and funding needs that they can contribute to, according to Randy Lapin, the chief philanthropy officer. He said the organization has not seen a dramatic drop in its funding.

Where Jewish donors are more likely to donate — compared with other donors — is to combined-purpose organizations, health causes, and to arts-and-culture-related causes, Landres told the Journal. (These contributions are not necessarily made to Jewish organizations, though, he added.) 

The study, which was unveiled at UCLA’s Center for Nonprofit Management’s annual 501(c)onference, showed that religious congregations receive donations from 60 percent of those who give. These nonprofits receive the highest proportion of locally focused giving in Los Angeles.

That’s certainly been noticed at Wilshire Boulevard Temple, which in the past decade has seen an increase in both the number of donors and in the dollar amount contributed by donors, according to Don Levy, the synagogue’s director of marketing and communications. That, in part, has been because of some new programming and the expansion and renovation of the campus.

Other findings of the study include:

• Forty-three percent of donors rated ending homelessness as their top priority. However, donor behavior does not match the stated intention. 

• Of the donors within the county who gave to at least one cause, 65 percent of them had a will or an estate plan. 

• Household income and age are higher indicators of charitable giving rather than gender, ethno-racial background or sexual identity.

• Two strong motivating factors for donating locally were a desire to impact a cause and a desire to help better the world. 

Donna Bojarsky, founder and president of Future of Cities: Leading in LA, who was present when the study was unveiled, said the Jewish community’s priorities are changing. It used to be that memorializing the Holocaust, building up Israel and combating anti-Semitism defined Jewish giving, but that has changed over the past decade or so; younger people have different causes they care about, she said. 

At the Max Factor Family Foundation, for example, donations are still made to traditional causes that were laid out 40 to 50 years ago, like health and education. David Factor, a trustee of the private foundation, said that in the past four years, however, donations to environmental causes have also been included “because that’s where one of the interests of this generation lies.” 

Near the end of “The Generosity Gap,” the authors offer some advice as nonprofits move forward in an era of increased challenges:

“Given the variety and motivations donors report, it may not be enough simply to raise the profile and appeal of charitable giving in and of itself; rather, it may be necessary to make explicit the connections between donors and change they can see for themselves in their home communities.”