Jewish Philanthropy Study Reveals Jews Give More Generously Than They Receive

Photo by Neal Mcquaiad

The results of a recent survey by the Institute for Jewish and Community Research show that Jewish organizations aren’t doing enough to harness the power of Jewish donors when it comes to mega-giving.

The Institute for Jewish and Community Research released a study last week on Mega-Gifts in Jewish Philanthropy (2001– 2003). Among its major findings was the conclusion that Jewish donors were giving more gifts than Jewish foundations and organizations were attracting.

The study states:

“This study tells the story of a fully assimilated Jewish community making significant contributions to the well-being of American society and causes around the globe. It also shows that Jewish institutions do poorly in attracting mega-gifts from Jewish donors. Jews make many more mega-gifts than they receive.” (p. 4)

Among authors Gary Tobin and Aryeh Weinberg’s findings were the following:

  • In the field of philanthropy, Jews gave 12% of all gifts over $1 million, but Jewish organizations received only 9% of that total
  • Of gifts over $10 million given by Jewish donors, only 5% of total donations went to Jewish groups
  • Of gifts between $1 million and $9.9 million, Jewish groups received 19% of the total
  • Of all gifts to Jewish organizations, Jewish federations received only 1% (the largest being a $6 million gift in 2003 to the Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore)

The question we have to ask ourself is: “Is this a problem?”

Jewish Giving to Jewish Causes: So What’s the Problem (if there is one)?

In October of this year, the Institute released similar findings that only 20% of Jewish foundation dollars go to Jewish causes. In the debate that ensued, there was a heated discussion about what this meant.

Some said that our designation of a “Jewish foundation” wasn’t a fair one. That the Jewish identity of an organization’s founder did not make the foundation Jewish, but that we should instead define a Jewish foundation by its mission to serve the Jewish people.

Should we be asking the same questions about Jewish donors? Is a wealthy Jew obligated to section off part of his donations to Jewish causes?

My gut reaction is yes. While it is important to give universally, fulfilling the value of tikkun olam, I do think that Jewish donors should prioritize give Jewishly.

Selling Jewish Philanthropy

Those of us who work in philanthropy know that fundraising and development are sometimes the result of a good sell. Good foundations market their philanthropy to help donors understand the urgency of their mission and the pressing needs that their programming addresses.

So perhaps we should be looking at this from a different angle: not from the donor’s point of view, but from the foundations. Is it possible that Jewish organizations aren’t doing enough sell their causes to Jewish donors?

Gary Tobin, Institute president, thinks so. He says, “The conclusion I draw is that Jewish organizations are not effectively making their case. Whether that is in terms of not asking for enough or not making compelling arguments or getting access to the donors.”

Jewish Philanthropy: What’s the Difference Between 1999 & 2008?

This is no new problem. When scanning the JTA’s list of articles on giving, I came across the following familiar headlines:

  • “Jewish Mega-Donors Give Little to Jews” (2004)
  • “Big Jewish Giving– to Non-Jews” (2003)
  • “JDC Giving to Non-Jews Going Up” (2007)

So what’s the difference between 1999 and 2008? If the same issue permeates us from one decade to the next, are we to think that:

  1. There is no real problem
  2. That there is a problem and not enough is being done to address it
  3. Jewish donors giving more than Jewish foundation receive is an issue we should be aware of, but not a pressing concern in relative terms
  4. As long as everyone’s needs are being met, the percentages of giving and receiving don’t matter so much

What’s your take? I am interested in hearing how you vote on this pressing issue? Weigh in now to be heard.

Recommended Reading

While you are thinking about your decision, these articles below may give you some food for thought.


Photo by Willis Monroe



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26 Responses to Jewish Philanthropy Study Reveals Jews Give More Generously Than They Receive

  1. Shai says:

    The problem is deeper – structural even, and I’m trying to address it in my project. As a way into describing the issue, let’s look at intermarriage. We have the same problem defining why there’s a problem with intermarriage. In theory, there is no problem with intermarriage if you don’t believe that “Jewish causes” add value to your life or, if you don’t believe that strong Jewish communities add value to your society. After all, marriages between 2 Jews also break up, can join incompatible partners, can be devoid of Jewish content – what SUBSTANTIVE meaning does it have to marry a Jew today, if your Jewish community and Jewish life have Jewish content that doesn’t rise higher than the meaning of corned beef sandwiches or chanuka bushes? When your cousins and brothers and sisters are intermarrying? For lots of Jewish people, Jewish community and religion means less and less as time goes on, and because it doesn’t mean as much as it used to, people will naturally look elsewhere for meaning and a place to leave their legacy.

    Just as many Jews don’t build Jewish communities at the most fundamental level, that of the family, the larger Jewish community is also suffering. The fault lay with our community not less than those who turn their back on it, I feel. We see more intermarriage, and more “assimilation” whatever that means, because we haven’t “sold” Jewish community as something that adds value, to use terms that leave me cold. But I fear that when you use words like that (sell) to describe philanthropy, I’m left cold as well. Something within me is repelled by the idea that what we are and what we stand for is seen as something to be “sold”, rather than, say, grafted upon or added to or participated in. Words like “sold” seem so mercinary, and I wonder if that’s how it comes off to potential philanthropists who are Jewish.

    So, Maya, I think we’re in need of a community overhall – Jewishness and Jewish community need to become much more relevant to the lives of Jews and to the socieities that house Jewish communities if the trend you describe is to be reversed. I hope one of the Bronfman Competition ideas, or some yet unknown idea, can turn the tide – because I need Jewish community for myself, not less than I think we as Jews and the socieites we live in need it. It deserves to be conserved.

  2. Dan says:

    Part of the problem is the assimilation (and the comfort level) into the broader American community. And part, I’m afraid, is simply Kavod. I personally know several American Jews who routinely make seven, and even eight, figure gifts. Having their name on a symphony hall in a major city, or a cancer wing at a research hospital, resonates much stronger with them then on a small, local, Jewish institution. It is the price we are paying for acceptance; these donors feel comfortable and welcome in American society.

    As Justice Ginsburg said in D.C. over Shabbat, we now have two Jewish Supreme Court Justices and no-one batted an eye at their confirmation hearings or after. I’m of the generation that remembers the resignation of Abe Fortas and the ‘ruckus’ of his not being replaced by another Jew. Let’s face it, one of the downsides of acceptance into the broader American community is some loss of identity.

  3. thenewjew says:


    I’ve been following recent news on Jewish identity and affiliations with Israeli very closely both for my own interest and for an upcoming blog post. One of the phrases it takes me aback to hear that I have come across numerous times in the JPost and Ha’aretz is “Jewish struggle to assimilate” or “Jews struggle to fit in.” I would hardly characterize Jewish assimilation as a struggle at this point. Moreover, assimilation is now the default operating system and identity is the uphill battle.

    There is no question that big donors are looking for cachet and there’s no better way to get it than through public naming opportunities on major societal institutions that will last in perpetuity for our civilization. It’s also territorial– the claim to culture that naming a symphony hall brings, the ownership of healing and technology that donating a hospital wing provides. It’s a powerful force to be reckoned with.

    On the other hand, I can say that it gives me great pride to see those Jewish names and make public their great and generous contributions to American society.


  4. Shai says:

    I first learned of the power of “legacy” and “search for meaning” in “Denial of Death” by Ernest Becker. There Becker points out that from an anthropological and psychological perspective, these powers are cross-cultural and in all times. The power these urges have over us are, in a sense, tragic.

    Judaism has for centuries succeeded in sustaining itself in part by offering ways to deal with the anxieties of this search and the realization that we are not “forever”. The religion and its culture offered ways to continue on in the hearts of our fellow Jews, and in the world, performing acts before we die that live on and speak well not only of us, but of our family and people. The “appreciation” this involved was the “cachet” and teh “perpetuity”, and the “powerful force”. We shared the vocabularies that elicited those responses, because we shared the culture and its story. But now, we’re allowed to share a much broader culture, and when we don’t make explicit what the value of our own culture is, when 9/10 of our experiences in life are with non-Jews, why should we be surprised that we get 1/10 of the philanthropic attention?

    And, couldn’t we from a strictly Jewish perspective claim that Jews today have adopted those Jewish practices f charity in full? Nobody’s claiming that Jews donate less to charity – just less to Jewish charity. On average they are much more charitable than other Americans with similar wealth. We can be proud of that, but the key to sustaining it and getting more attention for Jewish philantrhopies will be stressing that this statistic is what it is because of Jewish values, and sustaining those values requires Jewish communities.

    The point I made was not to disagree but rather to point out the direction I think we need to go to repair the problem. Many of us don’t share the vocabularies and stories our culture taught our grandparents anymore, nor do we especially value the esteem of our fellow Jews anymore than we value that of the socieites that we’ve assimilated into. American Jews feel Abraham Lincoln is more relevant than Abraham Avinu, on the whole, to their lives.

    “Kavod” wasnt’ just invented in the last 3 generations. Neither was “assimilation”. I think the reason we fell on our faces in this generation and dropped the ball on community sustainability is precisely because we’re fiddling with the symptoms and not the root cause (the absence of a sustainable “Jewish” identity that all Jews can adapt to). I think it’s the elephant in the room, that nobody wants to talk about, because the whole subject of Jewish religion/culture has been so poisoned by inner and extra communtiy disputes, that it’s just too easy not to go there. But we ignore it at our peril.

  5. Dan says:


    It is also not so long ago that Jewish money was not even welcome at many major American museums, cultural and educational institutions. The fact that it is, is really a good thing for the American Jewish community. And if Jewish values instilled the gift, how much the more so.

    The problem, as we both know from many recent articles, is labels. What do the words Jewish philanthropy mean? Jewish foundations? We could both dedicate our blogs to nothing else for the next twelve months and not run out of material on that question alone.

    And just to be argumentative, I guess the money the International Fellowship on Christians and Jews gives to the Jewish Agency MUST BE considered Jewish philanthropy. After all, if the gifts of American jewish philanthropists to the symphony hall are not…

  6. thenewjew says:


    Let’s agree NOT to devote our blogs to that– although we may touch upon it at times.

    When Gary Tobin’s op-ed came out in the JTA telling us to “Save the Chastising of Jews Who Give to Non-Jewish Causes,” he made the point that:

    “We have to ask tough questions about Jewish organizations themselves. Are they high quality? Are they efficient? Are they duplicative? Do they achieve the outcomes and results they promise? Do they add value to the lives of Jews and others? Jewish organizations should not receive funding just because they represent the Jewish community. They deserve support if they have a compelling case. Sometimes they don’t.”


    There is no question that Jewish organizations need funds as much as any others, but we need to start thinking more thoroughly about our nonprofits and how we sell our needs. While it could be effectively argued that we Jewish organizations “deserve” funding and donations from wealthy members of the community, it’s a bit of a dying argument. Such thinking gets Jewish organizations a seat at the table, but not a meal when it comes to dinner time.

    I have spent a lot of time recently looking at Jewish organizations, big and small, and how they market their priorities. Specifically, I want to know how they are using the web, and their websites in particular, to forward their image and causes. Let me tell you, while there are some great things going on for a very few, many more are floundering. In the same way that nonprofits have traditionally not been as efficient or “hungry” as businesses because they don’t have the same profit motivation, Jewish organizations fall flat in relation to other nonprofits.

    I wonder how you are progressing on your aims to provide some of these kinds of services to Jewish organizations. As you know, I welcome you to promote your services with my readers when you are ready.


  7. Dan says:

    OK, I promise not to devote my blog to such. Though I DO THINK the question of what is Jewish philanthropy should be examined from both historical and even ethical perspectives. I will not focus on this, but I am on the lookout for new and compelling academic research on the subject. (with all due credit to Gary Tobin, his research was through 2003. And where I suspect the trends have continued, I’d like to see some 2006 to present stats).

    As to the web and Jewish organizations, briefly I would say *most* are floundering; and refuse to admit it. Just like how many of them treat the 20-30 something crowd, they pay lip service to the idea of staying current with technology.

    As I wrote on a recent post, 2008 will begin to see the consequences of their foolishness. Big will stop beating small. Rather, we will see fast beating slow.

    BTW, if you are checking out Jewish organization’s sites, I would mention two. JNF has been extremely successful with using the web to broaden their message; and the brand new AJWS is poised to do the same. It may be a bit tricky to find as the page is currently undgoing major construction, but check out Towards the bottom in a section on recent articles. “But the Internet has changed all that” and “Social Power” will link to articles about these two organizations and their use of the web.

    For now, I can tell you that the interest in promoting some of these services to the Jewish non-profit world has been so huge, it has both slowed down the posting of the resource section and our “formal” launch as I hear new ideas and run around to different meetings.

  8. thenewjew says:

    First comment.

    Hi Shai,

    I understand what you’re saying about “selling” Jewish philanthropy, but if you look at the reality of the nonprofit marketplace (let’s say nonprofit and take Jewish out of it for a second). that’s what nonprofits do. If you have a really great mathematics and literacy program for children in southern Africa, it doesn’t matter how good it is if no one will buy it. A nonprofit organization has to be solvent and viable, not only to meet the needs of the community, but to get support for that programming.

    I know you hate it when I talk about utility in relation to these ideas, but that’s how I see it. Too many good ideas and viable concepts have fallen by the wayside because they weren’t properly cared for. Of course we should take care of our community by donating time, money, and energy to common causes, but as we know well, that’s not happening right now and we need to figure out what to do about it.

    As to a community overhaul, yes. We certainly agree about that. I hope we’re on our way.


  9. thenewjew says:

    Second comment.


    Ariel Beery (whose Bronfman proposal you will read tomorrow) says:

    “Since the time of Hellenism there have mainly been environmental pressures that kept Jewish identity in check– Christianity in the West, and Islam in the East, both maintaining a discourse within which Jewish identity was seen as a worthwhile adversary, even while it was derided as inferior.”

    I have always thought that a primary problem of modern day Judaism (at least in the US) is that we have no partner, no adversary. As I wrote in response to Dan, there is no struggle to assimilate, but a quick and gentle slide. It is Jewish identity that we must fight for. Again we return to the cranky misconception that Jewish values are “universal” and that our community values are in line with Judeo-Christian ones.

    Thanks for your thoughts.


  10. Anti-Racis Blog says:

    Very interesting post Maya. I have met Aryeh Weinberg, and I was happy to see you talking about his survey. He has also done some great work on campus anti-semitism.

  11. thenewjew says:


    Interesting. Under what circumstances did you meet him and what is he like? I really admire his work, along with Tobin’s.


  12. thenewjew says:


    Very glad to hear of your success in garnering interest in that direction. I am familiar with the JNF and AJWS’ efforts, but will make special effort to keep them on my radar.

    I’m in agreement with you that we need to think about defining Jewish philanthropy, its inclusion and exclusion, I just objected to the idea of “dedicat[ing] our blogs to nothing else for the next twelve months and not run out of material on that question alone.”


  13. Dan says:


    re dedicating our blogs comment, guess my New York sarcasim was showing again.


  14. Anti-Racis Blog says:


    I helped set up a lecture on a local college campus where Aryeh, and the Director of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights talked to Jewish college students about growing anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism in higher ed., and what to do about it. He’s a very nice guy.

  15. Anti-Racist Blog says:

    Aryeh currently lives in San Fran. He is very open to e-mails.

  16. thenewjew says:


    Exactly. I got you. You missed mine.

    So much for sarcastic text. It’s not going too far.


  17. thenewjew says:


    That sounds excellent. Thanks for the tip off.

    I figured he was in San Francisco as that’s where the Institute is based. Glad he was able to travel to you. What a privilege to meet him.


  18. Shai says:

    Maya, hi

    I understand your point about the adversary defining us. It rings historically true to some degree, but since neither of us is making the point that we need to put another culture down to raise ourselves up, or to invent adversaries where none exist, we have the obligation to define affirmatively what it is that we stand for, how it offers “added value”, and then fight for it. I don’t think that even with adversaries we ever felt that what we had to offer ourselves or the world was inferior – it is only now that in contrast to all the choices offerred, we need a basis for affirmative choice of Jewish community affiliation.

    Regarding the word “selling” and the the word “utility”, you’re answer deals with the world as you’ve found it. There’s no blame in that. But I’m not satisfied with the world as I’ve found it and want to change it, and when it’s changed, we’ll all understand why what I described is a better approach. There’s a big difference between merely “doing things” and knowing why you’re “doing things” and in the chasm between those two “selling” becomes “participating in”.

    Let’s divorce the matter from Judaism and Jewish Community. Did JFK ever say, “ask not what you can buy from your country, ask what you can sell?” See what I mean?

  19. thenewjew says:


    Well you got me. No JFK said no such thing– and it wouldn’t have flown too well if he did.

    I think we both agree that I am not distinctly advocating the idea that philanthropy should be sold, rather I see it as a necessity (without necessarily a valuation) and you firmly believe that it is wrong and– correct me here if I am wrong– perhaps immoral, in some definition of the word.


  20. Shai says:

    Maya, hi

    I recognize the necessity, but it is my feeling that we ought to recognize that a consumerist approach to community building is qualitatively different in terms of its ability to sustain communities than a shareholding approach. The “sell” word belongs to consumerism. The “participate in” phrase belongs to the shareholding approach. As I said I know that you’re dealing with the system as it is. I just think we should heave a deep sigh about that, and try to change it, because I think that a consumerist approach to Jewish community building will in the long run succeed at best in keeping the programs going, but the communities that form the context for those programs will disappear.

  21. thenewjew says:


    I’m with you on the deep sigh.


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