Philanthropic Revolution?

Marc B. Terrill says there is good news here: Young people are inclined to give. (File)
Marc B. Terrill says there is good news here: Young people are inclined to give. (File)

“Revolutionize sounds very in vogue,” said Marc B. Terrill, president of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore. “But I don’t think the core principles of philanthropy and tzedakah are altered at all. The core principles are going to endure.”

As president of an organization that raises upward of $30 million per year, Terrill is right on the money —pun intended.

Two recent studies, one released last month and another in February indicate that young Jews are giving and that the Jewish community’s concern that next-gen Jews might cease to continue funding Jewish life are “overblown.” In fact, #NextGenDonors: The Future of Jewish Giving, a study released by the Johnson Center for Philanthropy in winter 2013, found that “giving to religious and faith-based organizations is the second-highest area of giving for Jewish next-gen donors … only surpassed by education.”

Both studies reported that a person’s involvement with the Jewish community is the main factor that determines how charitable he or she will be.

“The biggest takeaway from the study is that increased Jewish social engagement leads to increased giving to Jewish and non-Jewish causes,” said Shawn Landres, co-founder of Jumpstart, a Los Angeles-based philanthropic research and design lab that led the study through American Jewish Philanthropy. The study, Connected to Give, the National Study of American Jewish Giving, offers a snapshot of the Jewish philanthropic landscape, one that offers hope that the American Jewish community has the wherewithal to sustain itself financially in the 21st century.

The connection between social engagement — the experience of belonging to a Jewish community, if not the Jewish community — and the level of a person’s giving suggests that the philanthropic pie is not shrinking, according to the study.

Landres said that, until now, donations to non-Jewish causes were often seen as symptoms of an insufficient connection to the Jewish community. Now, he explained, “we can look at all giving by Jews as Jewish giving —because all giving by Jews is primarily motivated by Jewish engagement.”

And, according to the #NextGenDonors study, Jews are much more likely than non-Jews to report being a member of a religious organization (53.6 percent versus 21.9 percent) and being influenced in their philanthropy by a religious leader (24.7 percent versus 16.2 percent).

The striking difference between this generation and previous ones is how it defines engagement. According to the Johnson Center study, Jewish next-gen donors do not report more frequent attendance at religious services than non-Jewish next-gen donors.

“While rising Jewish major donors might mirror their generational peers in becoming less religious than previous generations, they still have a strong connection to the Jewish philanthropic community along with a sense of Jewish identity that influences their philanthropic activities,” the study reported. Also, some 92 percent report that the value of giving to Jewish causes was instilled in them by their parents.

In Baltimore, this statistic was driven home with data emanating from the 2010 Greater Baltimore Jewish Community Study. While only 14 percent of respondents under the age of 35 said being part of a Jewish community is very important to them, 54 percent said being Jewish is very important to them.

Terrill said what some organizations miss is that there is good news here: Younger people are inclined to give. The aim is to welcome the younger generation to the giving community and address next-gen attitudes and concerns in an open dialogue.

“Open communication, dialogue and developing trusting relationships have to be at the core of this evolution,” he said.

For example, the more recent study found that younger adults are more supportive of single-cause charities, and they’re interested in transparency and seeing the impact of their donations, Landres said.

“Young adults want to see where there money is going. I think that federations are able to provide that experience, but they have to want to,” he said.

In Baltimore, according to Terrill, The Associated has seen the growth of its annual campaign. But, he noted, it has little to do with communal obligation or taxation and everything to do with the organization’s strategy. There is a breadth of expansion of services by The Associated’s 14 local agencies, he said, and he noted that with 12 to 15 board members under the age of 40 and countless other next-generation volunteers and donors on committees, “we are dialoguing with them about the issues they care about and responding to issues in a provocative way, and [we’re] showing them a return on their investment.”

“It is just as important that Jews give with other Jews as it is to give to other Jews,” Landres said. “In fact, it is more important if we’re taking the long view of what will sustain the Jewish community.”

See related article, “Tzedakah Style.”

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