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Solomon: Perhaps temper the optimism at the JFN

Trying to get the pulse on the state of Jewish philanthropy at the Jewish Funders Network conference in Phoenix has produced something of a mixed bag.

The atmosphere is certainly mellow — a stark contrast from last year’s conference, where the vibe could have best been described as "freaked out," with no one knowing exactly what the future would bring and many assuming the worst. The fact that it is absolutely gorgeous outside certainly helps. And polling by the JFN has shown that more than 30 percent of attendees say that they will increase their giving to Jewish causes this year, while some 60 percent say they will keep their giving stable.

But Jeff Solomon, the president of the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Family Foundation, warned not to be too optimistic about those vows because the major foundations in all likelihood would continue to cut.

While approximately 18 percent of those in attendance either gave away or worked for foundations that gave away more than $20 million per year, the vast majority donated between $25,000 and $100,000. That’s nothing to sneeze at, but that majority is on the low end of the major donor spectrum.

For those on the lower end, said Solomon, who is widely regarded as one of the most astute observers of the philanthropy world, money set aside for charity is akin to discretionary funds, and thus spending it is largely tied to confidence in the economy. Now that the economy has seen something of a bounceback in recent months, many are now feeling more confident than they have since before the recession hit and may well indeed increase their giving.

But those on the high end, who have seen foundations of multi-hundred-million dollars take huge hits and mostly give out 5 percent of their assets each year as tax laws demand, are by and large not going to increase their allocations over the next year. In fact, says Solomon, the Council on Foundations predicted that foundations will not reach their 2007 levels of giving — their peak before the recession — until somewhere around 2017.

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