Jewish Giving Needs A Broader Definition


Sharna Goldseker is the managing director of 21/64 (, a nonprofit consulting practice specializing in next generation and multigenerational engagement in philanthropy and family enterprise. She is the co-author of “Next Gen Donors: The Future of Jewish Giving” along with Michael Moody, Frey Foundation Chair of Family Foundations and Philanthropy, Johnson Center for Philanthropy. The Jewish Week asked her to consider the state of Jewish philanthropy in the wake of several major surveys tracking Jewish identity, giving and practice. The interview, with Jewish Week Managing Editor Robert Goldblum, was conducted via e-mail.

There has been a rash of surveys lately with a rich vein of data (the Pew Research Center’s study along with your own study of wealthy “next gen” givers and the Jumpstart/Connected to Give study). What’s your takeaway, broadly, from all three as the data relates to the philanthropic landscape in the Jewish community?

While the American Jewish community is buzzing with discourse about these new studies, no one seems to doubt that the Jewish community is philanthropically inclined. As the Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project, “A Portrait of Jewish Americans” states, “A majority of Jews (56%) say they made a donation to a Jewish charity or cause in 2012.” Even among those earning less than $50,000 annually, 46 percent say they donated to a Jewish cause, expanding the percentage to nearly two-thirds of Jews with a household income of $150,000 or more saying they made a donation to a Jewish cause in 2012.

Among the major donors that we reported on in “Next Gen Donors: the Future of Jewish Giving,” there appears to be generational continuity for the causes that Jewish donors support; namely, Jewish next gen donors chose “Education” and “Religious and Faith-based” giving as their top two priority issue areas, the same two areas they say their families prioritize.

More significantly, next gen donors focus on the array of tools they are able to leverage to affect change on issues of the day. If these studies are able to attract the attention of communal leaders and family philanthropists to the need to think strategically about the type of generational shifts that are occurring, and to hear how next gen donors want to be meaningfully involved in philanthropy, then I believe we have reason to be optimistic.

The Pew study documents a growing number of so-called “Nones,” Jews who say they have no religion. The survey finds that these people are generally not as connected to the Jewish community as other Jews. Are the ‘Nones” lost to the Jewish community when it comes to giving, or do you see an opportunity there?

Unfortunately data can dehumanize the people behind the surveys. Just as many intermarried couples have walked away from the Jewish community because they were saddened to find their spouses or children were unwelcome, so too will the next generation of Jewish donors walk away from supporting the Jewish community if giving isn’t defined broadly.

Therefore, the term “nones” does not represent the way I see the next generation of Jewish givers. The open-ended survey questions and in-depth interviews helped us to hear the voices of the Jewish next gen donors in our study who expressed that their family legacies and Jewish values motivated them to give. As this woman told us:

“The first time I remember writing a personal check to make a donation was right after Hurricane Katrina. I wanted to do something, and I’d heard that the Federation was organizing a fund, so I sent a check. As I reflect back on that moment, I realized that my family’s involvement with the Federation made a huge impact on me…. I was happy to give through a Jewish institution even though the recipients were not Jews.”

While I thought Jewish next gen donors would say Facebook influenced their giving, in fact, 92 percent of our respondents claimed their parents and 66 percent claimed their grandparents influenced their giving. We have an opportunity to transmit Jewish values, but we also have to expand our terminology to count the Jewish expressions that the next generation of donors chooses to fund.

In its Key Findings section, “Connected to Give” presents this inclusive definition of Jewish giving as a given, spelling out in the inside cover of the report that “Jewish giving” includes giving by Jews regardless of the type of beneficiary. In my mind, their research team is saying they are trying to help the “nones” be counted.

In your own next gen study, I was struck by the figure that young philanthropists give to the arts far less than their parents or grandparents. The conventional wisdom has been that arts/Jewish culture is a real selling point to get young Jews in the Jewish door, so to speak. How do you interpret the figures?

The way we read the data about the divergence in their parents’ giving to the arts and next gen donors’ giving to the arts is that “the arts” reads as large institutions to which they do not want to be faceless core patrons funding a bottom line they can’t trace. Jewish next gen donors (and their non-Jewish peers) are looking for smaller organizations and nonprofit leaders with whom they can partner and affect change. They want to be involved in a hands-on way and be able not only to make an impact but also to see the impact that their funding supports.

From two decades of experience as a professional and volunteer, I believe Jewish next gen donors are consumers of Jewish arts and culture and that Jewish arts and culture organizations remain catalysts and conveners for their engagement, as well as communicators of Jewish heritage, culture and meaning. That said, Jewish next gen donors are not yet major donors to the arts, which I hope will evolve as they age and as “the arts” learns how to connect with next gen donors in a less institutional way.

Do you see a correlation between one’s level of religious observance and giving to Jewish causes?

In our study, we found that those who identified as being more religiously observant were slightly more likely to give to religious organizations, but not more likely to give to combination organizations such as the United Way and federations. People who identified as being more religiously observant were more likely to say they were influenced in their giving by a religious leader.

In these recent surveys, federated or centralized giving has taken a hit. In other words, younger givers are less likely to give to federations than their parents were. Is this trendline troubling to you?

Since I tend to start the day as an optimist, I think it’s worth noting that while Jewish giving to federated or centralized giving models seems to have decreased, a considerably higher percentage of Jewish next gen donors (50.6 percent) give to combination organizations compared to their non-Jewish next gen donor peers (18.6 percent).

That said, 21/64, the nonprofit consulting practice specializing in next generation and multigenerational engagement in philanthropy that I manage, is currently working with the Jewish Federations of North America [the umbrella group for the federation system] to pay attention to these trends and train federation and Jewish community foundation professionals to engage the next generation of their donors. They have learned that they cannot take the next generation of donors for granted and have begun to support Traditionalist (born between 1925-’45) and Baby Boomer (born between 1945-’64) donors who want to start to involve their children and grandchildren in their philanthropy as well as to create opportunities for Generation X (born between 1965-’80) and Y (born between 1980-2000) donors to participate meaningfully in their philanthropy.

Jewish next gen donors, like all next gen donors, we found, are not giving simply to be charitable. They are contributing to the issues that they feel are critical to address today, and they are looking for ways to have an impact. Similar to the challenge of arts institutions, federations can no longer assume the next generation will support their parents’ and grandparents’ institutions; rather, they must begin to find ways of becoming more transparent, and to connect next gen donors to the issues on the ground that their funding would support.

When you are advising donors, what do you hear from them about their philanthropic priorities?

21/64 specializes in next gen and multigenerational engagement in philanthropy and family enterprises. Donors with whom we interact fund a range of issues. Primarily, we are brought in to help individuals and families clarify their values and articulate their vision for funding, as well as to help families develop healthy communication and collaboration across the generations.

Your own survey found that young givers want to give in very different ways than their parents. How would you describe this new giving style?

We subtitled our study “Respecting Legacy, Revolutionizing Philanthropy,” as we found that next gen donors’ giving is infused by the values they have inherited from their parents and grandparents. Yet they perceive their families’ giving to be driven by obligations and responsibility, even long-held relationships to organizations, and next gen donors want to be driven by impact.

To that end, they have developed a giving style that is hands-on, often opting to become involved with fewer organizations. This allows them to direct more attention to a select few rather than funding many and spreading their energies thin. They want to serve on boards, not sit on them. They want to lend their acumen to organizational leaders, not plan galas. They want to volunteer, not just write checks.

This is true of the nonprofits they support as well as the family giving vehicles with which they are involved. If their families are not yet ready to engage them meaningfully — and we found that many are not — then Jewish next gen donors seek out peer-oriented giving opportunities including giving circles, experiential learning and non-profit experiences where they can partake in strategic giving with like-minded individuals.

Given all the data in the new surveys, what’s your advice to the Jewish community about keeping your givers in the fold, so to speak?

As the average life span in North America increases, donors are remaining engaged in the Jewish community and its institutions for longer. These institutions are still managing relationships with Traditionalists as well as Baby Boomer donors while Generations X and Y remain at the kids’ table. With four generations above the age of 21 in society today, “the fold” needs to expand to engage these post-Baby Boom donors. They may be called “next gen,” but they are adults with their own advanced degrees, businesses, families, giving vehicles, and they are eager to bring to bear their time, talent, treasure and ties to make a difference where it is needed.

While many Jewish institutional leaders wring their hands at the survey data, or the glass half empty version of it, Jewish next gen donors are changing the world. Whether at innovative organizations like Slingshot, which gives Jewish next gen donors a seat at the decision-making table, or at KIPP Schools, Tipping Point Foundation and, Jewish next gen donors are drawing on their Jewish legacy and values to change the world.