Young donors give in new ways

In a major new report on “next-gen” Jewish giving whose findings are likely to produce a collective sigh of relief among nervous communal professionals, young Jews of means appear seriously committed to donating to Jewish causes. And they are often moved to do so by a strong sense of Jewish and secular values passed down from their families.
Yet the report, “Next Gen Donors: The Future of Jewish Giving,” a collaboration among the nonprofit group 21/64, the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy and the Jewish Funders Network, finds that young Jewish philanthropists ages 21 to 40 want to carry out their giving in vastly different ways than their parents and grandparents. And they express serious frustration that they don’t “have a seat at the table” in their family foundations, a rift the authors of the study see as potentially troubling.
While there has been a widespread communal fear over the years that young Jews are becoming ever more distant from Jewish causes, the new report should calm some of that anxiety. Asked to delineate their giving priorities, 65 percent of respondents mentioned Religious and Faith-based causes. For their parents and grandparents, that figure is 78 percent. For younger givers, only the category of Education (73 percent) beat out Religious and Faith-based giving as a priority. In fact, Jewish donors make a priority of funding Religious and Faith-based causes far more than their non-Jewish peers (32 percent).
“While Jewish next gen donors do give less to Jewish causes than they perceive that their parents or grandparents do, our findings suggest that the community concern is overblown,” the study’s authors write.
In-depth interviews conducted with 11 of the 88 respondents to the national survey reveal generational similarities and differences between the next gen cohort and their elders. The younger group, while still committed to Jewish causes, tended to be more “secular” or universalistic in its giving, while their families tended to views giving through a more Jewish lens.
“My parents tend to give to more established institutions and less grassroots-y local causes,” said one respondent. “However, our conversations that lead us to those different choices often reflect common values and ideas about community and giving back.”
In fact, the study found that when it comes to giving to the category termed “Combined Organizations” (including United Way, United Jewish Appeal/Jewish Federation), the next gen cohort listed its level of support at 51 percent; their families’ level of support was 71 percent. (The level among non-Jews was 18.6 percent.)
Said another respondent: “[My parents’] philanthropic approach doesn’t match up with mine 100% because while they focus on the Jewish community, I think it’s also our duty to help those throughout the community as a whole.”
Sixty-four percent of the next gen crowd supported giving to “Basic Need”; for their families the figure was 57 percent. Fifty-two percent of the younger cohort supported giving to “Civil Rights and Advocacy”; for their families the support figure was 31 percent. Sixty-one percent of the families of next gen respondents supported giving to “Arts and Culture”; the next gen figure was 44 percent.
The respondents are evenly split between those in their 20s and 30s, 61 percent are women and most are white and live in the Northeast, Pacific or South Atlantic regions. Just over half are married and a third have children. Fifty-eight percent report earning more than $100,000 a year, and nearly half say they have a personal net worth of more than $1 million.
Fifty-seven percent identify as politically liberal; 8 percent consider themselves politically conservative. Nearly 95 percent attend religious services at least once a year; about half say they attend only on the High Holy Days, and 40 percent report that they attend once a month or more.
Next gen respondents spoke frankly about their frustrations when it comes to playing a meaningful role in family philanthropy; it was a generational “disconnect” the study’s authors cited as one of the surprise findings. Nearly 40 percent said they are “not involved” or “minimally involved” in their families’ giving processes. The next gen group tends to be much more involved in their personal philanthropy — serving on nonprofit boards, encouraging friends to give and giving online.
The manner in which the next gen group carries out its giving marks perhaps the sharpest contrast with its elders. While nearly 68 percent of Jewish next gen donors say they give to similar causes, only 52 percent say that they give in similar ways. The younger donors want their giving to be information-driven, hands-on, impact-focused, proactive and peer-oriented. Where their parents and grandparents may have been more socially motivated to give, one next gen respondent said, “I’m interested in many of the same causes but much less concerned about the recognition and more about participation and impact.”
Drawing conclusions from the data, the study’s authors seize on the fact that Jewish next gen donors place a real priority on giving to religious and faith-based causes. “If Jewish next gen major donors give to Jewish organizations because of their Jewish identities … then this suggests Jewish philanthropic values have successfully been transmitted in these high-capacity families as well. This has yielded,” the authors conclude, “next gen family members who give Jewishly of their own volition.”
But the authors also warn of the consequences of members of the younger generation playing such a small role in their families’ giving. Speculating on why such a rift exists, the authors suggest, “The older generations want young people engaged, but fear the change that the next generation might bring.”
The research, the authors conclude, “provides a wakeup call to those interested in the future of Jewish philanthropy.” Left unanswered is whether the generations will unite philanthropically, or go their separate ways.