Giving to Jewish Charities Lags Behind National Trend
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Giving to Jewish Charities Lags Behind National Trend

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The United Jewish Appeal and 15 local Jewish federations rank among the top 400 charities in the United States, but their income increases lag behind the rise in income of other philanthropic causes, a new survey shows.

But Jewish community leaders caution against misinterpreting these findings, published this week by the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

Although America’s 400 largest charities saw an increase of 6.3 percent in donations in fiscal 1994, giving to “Jewish fund-raising groups” rose a mere 0.3 percent last year, according to the Chronicle’s annual survey.

The survey placed the United Jewish Appeal fourth on the list of 400 for the second year in a row and included 15 local Jewish federations as well as a number of other Jewish agencies.

Holly Hall, the survey’s director, conceded in an interview that the wording in the article explaining to survey “might have been misleading.”

She said the 0.3 percent increase reflected giving only to the UJA-federation system and did not reflect giving to other Jewish causes, including the Jewish National Fund, which made this year’s list for the first time.

In 1993, overall charitable giving and giving to UJA-federations both were up 4 percent over the previous year, the Chronicle reported last year.

This year’s survey reported the UJA’s total income last year at $382 million, a 6 percent drop from 1993.

But Jewish fund-raisers say the survey’s income tables are misleading. They say the apparent drop in contributions to the UJA-federation system reflects the end of the highly successful $1 billion five-year Operation Exodus campaign to help resettle Jews from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia.

“It is inappropriate and misleading to suggest [by these numbers] that something is wrong” in the federation system’s campaigns, said Donald Kent, director of planned giving and foundation relations at the Council of Jewish Federations.

“When you get into the capital campaign business, there are always ups and downs,” he said. “The numbers reflect the net impact of trailing-off pledges” ending in 1994.

Nonetheless, the regular annual joint UJA-federation campaign – about $725 million in the United States – is flat and has been flat for a number of years, said Gary Tobin, director of the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis University and an expert on Jewish philanthropy.

Tobin also said the survey does not reflect the totality of giving to Jewish causes.

The survey does not show the $1 billion pledged to the federation system’s endowment funds, he and others said.

“Outside the regular annual campaign, the amount of [Jewish] giving in practically every realm continues to rise,” Tobin said.

Overall “giving to Jewish causes is way up, whether it’s to the New Israel Fund, to synagogues or to universities,” he added, declining to give a figure.

“But that’s not to minimize there are real problems,” said Tobin. “The annual campaign is key to the system and one of the key problems is how to revitalize the campaign.”

“`Flat’ is the word that a lot of communities are using to describe the campaigns,” said Bernard Moscovitz, UJA national marketing director, who nonetheless also found the survey’s figures misleading because they did not account for the end of the Exodus campaign.

But he said there is evidence of “the beginning of a resurgence of the annual campaign,” a trend that is logical now that “the Exodus giving is close to the payout period.”

He pointed t the pledges totaling $32 million at last week’s UJA International Leadership Reunion in Washington, which showed an 11 percent “card-by-card” rise over pledges at the same time last year.

In Baltimore, Darrell Friedman, president of The Associated, the city’s federation, said he was “upbeat and optimistic” about the survey. His agency was number 255 on the Chronicle’s list, with $30.5 million in reported income.

“I am pleased and impressed that in these difficult times we were able to achieve” that response, he said.

“When you look at the amount of Jewish giving compared to the rest of the universe, I don’t believe we’re lagging,” he added.

“We are in the middle of our annual campaign and it looks like it will be a record campaign,” he said.

Meanwhile, among the 30 groups new to the list of 400 top charities were three Jewish charities, including the New York-based Jewish Communal Fund, the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco and the Jewish National Fund.

No Jewish charities were dropped from the list.

The survey was based on data from charities’ tax returns – Internal Revenue Service Form 990 – and from audited financial statements, annual reports and questionnaires.

Jewish groups and their rankings in the survey included UJA-Federation of New York at No. 25, with $180 million; the United Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago at 73, with $88.6 million; the Jewish Community Federation of Cleveland at 142, with $57.5 million; and American Friends of the Hebrew University at 294, with $24.2 million.

Other federations in the top-400 list were: Los Angeles, Boston, Philadelphia, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Metro West (N.J.), the District of Columbia, Atlanta, Miami and West Palm Beach, Fla.

National agencies on the list included the Anti-Defamation League and Hadassah. The American Committee for the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel also was included.

Nearly all of the UJA’s income comes from allocations by local federations for programs in Israel and elsewhere overseas.

This year, 46 of the largest United Ways also defied the upward trend by suffering a drop, albeit of less than 1 percent.

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