December 12, 2011
By Nathan Guttman
Two of America’s oldest, largest and most prominent Jewish organizations are suffering massive slides in public contributions as Jews appear to be turning away from large, multi-issue advocacy groups and toward single-issue organizations.
The Anti-Defamation League has lost more than $20 million in annual contributions over the past five years, going from more than $73 million in 2006 down to $51 million in 2010, according to its latest tax filings. That is a 30% fall-off, before taking inflation into account.
Similarly, the American Jewish Committee, which brought in $62 million in donations in 2005, raised only $38 million in 2010. In the last half of 2009 — the only part of that year the group reported due to a shift from fiscal to calendar year — the group raised $10.6 million in donations.
The two groups seem to share a similar problem: A younger generation of donors is looking to support smaller, issue-oriented organizations, moving yet another step away from an era dominated by multi-issue mega-groups that represented broad Jewish needs and concerns.
“We do see a trend away from Jewish donations without any questions asked,” said Aryeh Weinberg, director of research at the San Francisco-based Institute for Jewish and Community Research. According to Weinberg, younger donors wish to have more control over their charitable dollars, and this wish is usually met by smaller, issue-oriented organizations.
The ADL, founded in 1913, started off as a small shop focused on fighting anti-Semitism. It has since grown to become one of the largest Jewish organizations in the United States, with more than 400 employees and 28 regional offices. While combating anti-Semitism remains a key focus, the group now works extensively on countering racism and bigotry, monitoring and battling hate groups in the United States and abroad, and countering terrorism. Much of the group’s work in recent years has also focused on supporting Israel in the public and political arenas. The group also advocates and files legal briefs on behalf of church-state separation.
For many years, the group’s expanding activities went hand in hand with increases in income, most of which came from private Jewish donors. The ADL’s outspoken leader, National Director Abraham Foxman, travels frequently to southern Florida and to California on fundraising missions and is largely credited with boosting the ADL’s public visibility and financial bottom line.
But since 2006, even before the United States was hit by the economic downturn, donations began to dip. Foxman acknowledged the ADL’s fundraising decline and said that it stemmed, in part, from the general economic atmosphere. Another factor, according to Foxman, is the proliferation of new organizations, most of them single-issue groups that have sprouted in the past decade. “There are organizations that have been created to take single elements of what the American Jewish organizations have been doing all along,” Foxman said. “The pie hasn’t gotten bigger, but the slicing has increased.”