Social Engagement With Community Drives Giving by American Jews, Survey Finds

While American Jews give broadly to both Jewish and non-Jewish causes, social engagement with the Jewish community is a key predictor of Jewish charitable giving, a report from Jumpstart, a philanthropic research and design lab, finds.

Based on a survey of nearly three thousand Jewish households nationwide, the report, Connected to Give: Key Findings (28 pages, PDF), found that more than 76 percent of American Jews across all age and income levels made a charitable gift of at least $25 in 2012, compared with 63 percent of non-Jews, and that median annual giving by Jewish households was $1,200, compared to $600 for non-Jewish households. The report also found that 76 percent of Jewish donors gave to Jewish organizations, while 92 percent gave to non-Jewish organizations. The most popular areas of giving were basic needs (54 percent), combined purpose campaigns like the United Way or Jewish Federation (48 percent), health care (42 percent), and religious congregation/ministry (39 percent).

The survey also found that the most significant factor influencing Jewish giving was an individual's connection to and engagement with the Jewish community — including religious service attendance, marriage within the faith, having Jewish friends, and volunteering for religious or charitable organizations. Twenty-eight percent of all respondents and 46 percent of those who gave to Jewish causes reported "high" levels of Jewish social engagement, with those donors giving 5.4 times as much on average as those with "very low" levels of engagement to all causes and 67.3 times as much to Jewish organizations.

The study also found that younger Jewish donors are less likely to give to Jewish causes, with 49 percent of non-Orthodox respondents between the ages of 18 and 39 giving to a Jewish organization, compared with 62 percent of those age 40 and older.

The first comprehensive nationwide study of Jewish giving is part a series of reports funded by a consortium of funders that include the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma Counties; the Andrea & Charles Bronfman Philanthropies; the Emanuel J. Friedman Philanthropies; and the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family, Max M. & Marjorie Fisher, and Koret foundations. "This has never been done before," said Jeffrey R. Solomon, president of the Bronfman Philanthropies and co-founder of Connected to Give. "We've been dependent on anecdotal experience and assumptions about comparisons with research on other donors to different organizations. This is the first-ever scientific study of Jewish philanthropic behavior across the board."

"Conventional wisdom says that fundraising from Jewish donors is a zero-sum competition, with Jewish and secular causes fighting over smaller pieces of a shrinking pie," said Shawn Landres, co-founder of Jumpstart. "Connected to Give challenges that assumption and shows us that the stronger a person's Jewish community connections, the more she or he gives to all causes, and the larger the pie becomes."