Jewish Philanthropy Focused on Engagement, Social Change, Study Finds

Jewish Philanthropy Focused on Engagement, Social Change, Study Finds

Large-scale Jewish philanthropy in the United States increasingly is focused on engagement, giving in support of social or systemic change, and collaboration, a study commissioned by the AVI CHAI Foundation finds.

The report, Giving Jewish: How Big Funders Have Transformed American Jewish Philanthropy (60 pages, HTML), argues that the largest of the "big funders" — defined as foundations that award grants totaling at least $500,000 a year to Jewish causes domestically and in Israel — has had an outsize impact on the field over the past twenty years but are more likely today to support efforts targeting millennials and those from intermarried families than traditional causes such as Jewish education and social services. At the same time, local and smaller "big funders" remain the mainstay of support for synagogues, day schools, summer camps, Hillels, Jewish Community Centers, and other institutions, with their aggregate giving dwarfing that of national Jewish foundations.

The study also found that the emergence of nearly a hundred large staffed foundations focused on Jewish life has led, across the field, to increased professionalism, a greater emphasis on strategic thinking, and a focus on monitoring and evaluation. Staffed foundations also are spearheading a shift from "expressive giving" — designed to show support for a cause or institution — to "instrumental giving" aimed at achieving social or systemic change that addresses underlying challenges to Jewish life. As a result, the largest funders tend not to provide general operating support to existing nonprofits but instead focus their resources on new initiatives and are more willing to forge strategic partnerships, ranging from simply sharing information, to co-funding projects, to developing new programs in collaboration with others.

"Donors want to know that their gifts have genuine impact," said Jack Wertheimer, author of the study. "They increasingly target gifts to causes that speak to their values and that address social issues. As women and millennials continue to emerge as big givers and as heads of foundation, the field will continue to move in this direction. American Jewish philanthropy is not just about education anymore, and big givers do not blindly assume their gifts are succeeding. With the prominence now of professionally staffed foundations, they are measuring and monitoring their gifts very closely."

"New Report on American Jewish Philanthropy Shows Donors Increasingly Focus on Engagement, Rely Less on Established Organizations, and Want to Achieve Social Change." AVI CHAI Foundation Press Release 03/22/2018. "Giving Jewish: How Big Funders Have Transformed American Jewish Philanthropy." AVI CHAI Foundation Report 03/22/2018.