By: Carly Friedman
As the tech platform for next generation giving, we have unique insight into the giving trends of religious Jewish tzedakah givers. As a company helping American givers build their own giving portfolios, with a team primarily living in Israel, we have a unique perspective on the differences between how Americans living in Israel give tzedakah and how Americans living in America give tzedakah.
After reading David Bashevkin’s article “What wealth mean to me” that highlighted some cultural truths about growing up in the Modern Orthodox community, we were inspired to do a deep dive into the giving trends among this same market.
Here’s my general hypothesis (note – there are outliers on both sides):
American millennials donate a large portion of their ma’aser to their community institution fundraisers – their kids’ day schools, and shuls, while American Israelis donate a large portion of their ma’aser to a wide-range of Jewish communal issues.
Let’s take a deep dive into our data:
The average MyTzedakah donor can be split into 4 groups:
Young American Millennials (between 20-30) who have no children Older American Millennials (30-40) who have kids in the day school system and are members of a shul Young American Israeli Millennials (20-30) Older American Millennials (30-40) Here are some examples of MyTzedakah donors in those categories:
Sarah is 29 and lives in NJ with no kids. She donates $500 a month to 8 organizations, mostly women’s organizations (causes supporting agunot, breast cancer research, women’s learning initiatives) and some food banks. She is a newlywed who moved into her first community and does not have any children.
Emily is 32 and lives in NY with 4 kids. She donates $50 a month to 4 organizations every month but says that the majority of her ma’aser goes to her kids’ day school scholarship fund and school fundraisers.
Benjy is 33 and lives in LA with 2 kids. He has donated through MyTzedakah a number of times for emergency fundraisers but says he cannot afford a monthly fund because the majority of his ma’aser goes to his shuls’ large membership fees.
Yonatan is 32 and lives in Jerusalem with 2 kids. He donates $180 a month to 6 different organizations ranging from food banks, Israel defense organizations and LGBTQ support.
Brett is 36 and lives in Modiin with 5 kids. He donates $200 a month to 8 different organizations around Israel. He donates to a variety of causes like organizations that support olim in Israel, food banks and mental health organizations.
Abby lives in Jerusalem with 3 kids and donates $100 a month to 6 organizations ranging from food banks, to Israel defense and women’s organizations.
Our theory is that the average American Millennial who is in an established community and has children in the day school system focuses their giving on their community institutions while younger Millennials who do not have children (or are not yet in the day school system) tend to donate their ma’aser like American Israeli millennials – giving all across the spectrum of charitable causes.
It’s interesting to note the pattern of how differently millennials are able to donate based on where they live. Americans have much higher salaries than their Israeli counterparts and are on average, able to donate more to tzedakah. But American millennials are inundated with tzedakah expectations from their community institutions because of high shul membership and day school costs.
When the average American millennial is expected to pay $20,000-$25,000 a year in tuition per kid (often times more), you can also expect an astronomical amount of students on scholarships. And when these schools need to provide an experience for their students to match that large tuition fee, they have much higher fundraising costs and needs. When a large day school in Florida decided to expand their campus and had to raise $9 million, they reach out to their parent body, run fundraisers, host dinners and events to hit that number. The parent body, older millennials, have hakarat hatov for their community institutions and the majority of their donation dollars go straight back to the school.
In Israel, school is free. Shul membership is generally under $300 for a millennial family. There are no major fundraisers happening consistently throughout the year from community institutions. Schools are smaller, facilities are less luxurious. When allocating their tzedakah dollars, Americans living in Israel give their tzedakah to Jewish causes outside of their immediate community institutions – what we at MyTzedakah call – passion-based giving.
We firmly believe both ways of giving tzedakah are powerful, important and meaningful. Our tzedakah obligations begin in the community and our institutions have to be safeguarded and preserved. But what happens when your schools and shuls cost so much money, have buildings and facilities that cost millions of dollars to support, and rely heavily on their young parents to maintain them? It means that young Jewish millennials don’t always have the bandwidth to learn about and support causes that they are aligned with their passions.