The country’s largest Jewish foundations give about a fifth of their funds to Jewish causes — and that number could fall, according to the researchers behind a report released this week.
The study conducted by the Institute for Jewish and Community Research was based on a review of the 2004 and 2005 tax returns of the 56 largest American foundations started by Jews.
According to the study, which was released Tuesday, at least eight of the largest 100 foundations in the country were started by Jews.
Of the $1.2 billion doled out by the foundations reviewed in the study, 21 percent went to Jewish causes, including 7 percent to causes in Israel.
Though that may appear to be a small slice of the philanthropic pie, Jewish interests were still the largest recipients of these foundations’ money, followed by higher education at 17 percent, health-related causes at 16 percent, and arts and culture interests at 14 percent.
“It is what you would expect from a really integrated Jewish community,” said Gary Tobin, co-author of the study and president of the Institute for Jewish and Community Research. “They are giving money in an integrated way.”
The report revealed few surprises, but it could hold a serious warning for the future.
Tobin said the 21 percent given to Jewish causes could fall drastically as control of the foundations is passed to the next generation of directors, who may place less of a priority on Jewish causes.
In recent decades, foundations have become a much more important funding source for Jewish organizations and institutions. They now give more money annually to Jewish communal causes than the entire network of local Jewish federations collects from smaller donors each year.
Most of the foundations studied were started in the past 25 years, and still have benefactors who are alive and care somewhat about Jewish causes, Tobin said.
Twenty-five of the foundations distributed at least a quarter of their assets to Jewish causes.
“The further the foundations get from the founding donor, the more likely it is that they will move away from the wishes of the founding donor,” Tobin said. “The founding donor might care a lot about Jewish causes, but his grandchildren or spouse or children might not.”
Jeffrey Solomon, president of the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Family Foundation, one of the foundations studied, said he knows of one foundation whose benefactor wanted his foundation to spend all of its money in Israel.
Two generations after he died, none of the trustees are Jewish and the foundation spends all of its money in Israel — on causes relating to Israeli Arabs.
“It is a well-known and sad fact of philanthropy that donor intent cannot be managed from the grave,” Solomon said.
Some foundations have mechanisms in place to maintain the Jewish nature of their giving. The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, for instance, has in its by-laws that 25 percent of its assets must be paid out to Jewish causes, according to its treasurer, Barry Schloss.
Tobin said that for those who are currently endowing foundations, the report should serve as a a warning to be explicit about how they want their money spent.
“Or better yet,” he added, “to give their money away while they are alive.”