The Future of American Jewish Philanthropy - The Jewish Voice
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The Future of American Jewish Philanthropy

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NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, initiated Bloomberg Philanthropies, whose mission is to provide funding for the arts, education, and the environment.
NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, initiated Bloomberg Philanthropies, whose mission is to provide funding for the arts, education, and the environment.
Jewish philanthropic organizations are facing tough times. After the Madoff Ponzi scheme of 2008, foundations such as the Chais Family Foundation and Robert I. Lappin Charitable Foundation were forced to close because of lost endowment investments. Foundations that remained open still faced large losses. Hadassah, a Zionist organization for women, lost $90 million having been involved with Madoff. Yeshiva University, where Madoff played a role as a trustee of the university, lost $110 million.

Since 2008, existing foundations have seen dwindling donor funds. In order to help them find a solution to their problem, a 2012 study was conducted by Jumpstart, an LA-based Jewish charity research group. The study, called Connected to Give, sought to obtain information from American Jews about how they contributed to charity. It was a collaborative project involving independent foundations, family foundations, community foundations and Jewish federations.

A notable aspect of the study revealed that younger Jews, under age 40, were less likely to donate to Jewish organizations than their older counterparts. In particular, one of the survey results showed that 44 percent of Jews under age 40 would support a Jewish organization “ if it serves non-Jewish people and causes ” whereas only 29 percent of Jews ages 40-64 and 18 percent of Jews over age 64 held this view. Jumpstart noted that this demonstrates a generational shift of perspective that younger American Jews have that older adults don’t. However, a recent Johnson Center for Philanthropy report noted that young Jews’ donations to faith-based organizations still outnumber non-Jews’ donations to faith-based organizations.

The Connected to Give survey found some positive information including the fact that Jewish people were more likely to contribute than non-Jews to charity. Seventy-six percent of Jewish people made a donation in 2012 as compared to sixty-three percent of non-Jews. This generosity is certainly impressive. It also noted that Jewish people who felt a connection to their religion were more likely to be donors to Jewish causes than Jews who did not feel the same way about their faith.

Jewish foundations themselves are also giving less and less to Jewish non-profits. A 2007 study of Jewish foundations by the Institute for Jewish and Community Research noted that eight of the largest foundations in the United States were founded by Jews. Most of these foundations gave a large percentage, as high as seventy-nine, of funds to secular, not Jewish, organizations.

One prominent Jewish New York philanthropist, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, initiated Bloomberg Philanthropies, whose mission, according to the website, is to advance the following five areas globally: the arts, education, environment, government innovation and public health. Bloomberg has spent $300 million on causes that aren’t Jewish. In fact, the foundation’s March 2013 annual update notes that it will spend $125 million dollars over the next five years to work in ten countries with high rates of road fatalities. The countries include Brazil, Cambodia, China, Egypt, India, Kenya, Mexico, Russia, Turkey and Vietnam. In New York, there is an initiative tailored to help young Black and Latino men. However, the foundation doesn’t mention any plans for the Jewish population. This is not to say that Mayor Bloomberg hasn’t helped the Jewish community privately. It just doesn’t appear to be a goal of his foundation.

Great Jewish philanthropists still exist though. Michael Steinhardt and Sheldon Adelson have contributed well to the Jewish people. The Adelson Family Foundation’s primary cause is to strengthen the State of Israel and the Jewish people. The Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life also has an admirable Jewish focus.

According to the Jewish Funders Network,, there shouldn’t be an issue of whether or not to donate to a Jewish cause. Although the network does contribute to Jewish causes, they post an opinion on their site that says that all charitable acts are the same regardless of the recipients. Their belief is that the act of giving, in and of itself, is a good deed no matter who the funds are provided to. There certainly would be others who would agree with them.

The concept of darchei shalom, making the world a better place, is accepted in the Jewish community. This means helping Jews and non-Jews in creating a peaceful world. Perhaps this mentality is what has prevented Jewish donors from donating funds to only Jewish causes. There is definitely a trend among nonprofits to think globally. There is no shortage of causes to support as every neighborhood in the world faces its own set of problems and challenges.

The modern generation hasn’t experienced the atrocities of the past such as the Holocaust. We must consider the importance of the Jewish cause since anti-Semitism and persecution still exist in the world. As a religious minority, the Jews are less than 0.2% of the world’s population and are therefore vulnerable of becoming extinct.

What does this all mean for America’s nonprofit Jewish organizations? In light of the studies mentioned in this article, charity executives must now reconsider the way they currently run their programs. They must continue to attract a younger generation. They must also consider how to get the support of foundations such as Bloomberg Philanthropies. This is crucial in order for Jewish organizations to exist in the years ahead.

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