Jewish Aging Services: Deeply rooted tenets that inspire philanthropy

  • Published April 6, 2021
  • / By Kate Harris

Philanthropy is deeply rooted in Jewish culture through the tenets of tikkun olam (repair the world) and tzedakah (righteous behavior or justice). Tzedakah is often used to signify charitable giving today.

So it is perhaps no surprise that the organizations participating in the 2021 Philanthropy in Aging Services Study (PASS|2021) with Jewish affiliations reported fundraising results significantly higher than national benchmarks. As co-editors of the study, along with our respected colleagues on the PASS editorial review board who serve at Jewish organizations, we surmise that some of these figures can be attributed to the longevity of fundraising at the reporting organizations, their deep roots in the community – some for more than 100 years – and diversified revenue streams compared to many peer organizations.

At Hebrew SeniorLife, New England’s largest nonprofit provider of senior health care and living communities, philanthropy has been a core part of the mission almost from the beginning. Board members, donors, and families are all interconnected, with three and four generations of several families engaged in philanthropy and/or as volunteers.

PASS|2021 included 41 multi and single site organizations, numbering 225 communities across 26 states, all of which serve older adults. The following is a subset of 6 Jewish organizations representing 15 sites in 6 states. In terms of results, for PASS|2021 overall we saw a distinguishing inflection point when organizations raise more than $1M in fundraising revenue. Sixty-eight percent of the total PASS|2021 organizations reported gross revenue above $1 million, while 100% of the Jewish organizations report results well beyond that figure. While not the only metric to pay attention to, and certainly not a measure of quality, Return on Investment (ROI) and Cost per Dollar Raised (CDR) are efficiency metrics that can help us understand trends in our fundraising programs. The median CDR among PASS|2021 respondents was $0.33 whereas the median among Jewish organizations was $0.24. Both are within a healthy range of between $0.15-$0.35 to raise a dollar.

Among aging services organizations overall, individual residents dominate the prospective donor pool while Jewish organizations report a more balanced donor portfolio of residents and community members. At Hebrew SeniorLife, for example, board giving makes up approximately 38% of overall philanthropy. In PASS|2021 overall, the majority of donors are residents. At Hebrew SeniorLife, like many of its Jewish peers, the mix of donors is more diverse, with residents, community members, corporations, and foundations all playing a significant role.

The important role of boards in setting the tone for fundraising can’t be understated. Overall, aging services organizations with 100% board participation in giving achieved higher fundraising results (Median: $1.5 million) on average than organizations with less than 100% participation (Median: $400,000). At Jewish organizations, this distinction was even more pronounced. Those Jewish organizations with 100% participation raised a median of over $8 million while their counterparts with less than 100% participation raised a median of $1.5 million.

Volunteerism is key. However, staff also play an important role. Jewish aging services organizations reported larger fundraising staff size than their non-Jewish peers. This investment makes sense when you consider the net revenue per full time equivalent. All PASS|2021 respondents reported net revenue per FTE of $372,383, while the subset of Jewish respondents reported almost double, at $693,438 net revenue per FTE. Fundraising is definitely a team sport.

Campaigns are playing an increasingly important role in aging services organizations overall. For all PASS|2021 respondents, 77% of organizations reported either a campaign in progress, or one completed within the last five years. Jewish aging services organizations report being ahead of this trend with 100% falling into that category. Currently, Hebrew SeniorLife is nearly halfway through the Age of Opportunity Campaign, which is expected to raise $150 million for healthcare, housing, research, and teaching efforts.

Earlier we noted the longevity of some Jewish aging services organizations and one metric that demonstrates the power of sustainability the most is the size of endowments at Jewish organizations compared to their non-Jewish peers. Median endowment size among all PASS|2021 respondents was just over $8 million while the median among Jewish respondents was nearly $26 million.

We are always looking to learn more, but one thing is clear – Jewish aging services organizations lead the sector in many ways. Tzedakah is more than charitable giving. When we recognize that the best way to honor those we serve is to integrate the meaning of tzedakah into all that we do, it extends to our staff and volunteers in building a strong culture of philanthropy.

More research is needed to better understand the drivers of these impressive fundraising successes and we welcome your thoughts and ideas in continuing the conversation. If you have questions or are interested in more information, please reach out to PASS co-editor, Kate Harris, at

You can download the charts specific to this article here.


Irina Thompson is a Director at Grants Plus and loves working with nonprofits and funders to marry purpose and mission. Before helping nonprofits around the country, Irina led institutional fundraising at Jewish Family and Children’s Services of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma Counties. Since moving to Michigan, she spends her spare time shopping at local book stores and exploring with her kiddo, husband, and rescue pup.

Kate Harris is a fundraiser and data nerd. She had the privilege of working with the PASS|2021 Editorial Review board as Co-Editor and looks forward to the day when she can travel to visit her aging services clients all over the U.S., especially where it’s warm in Florida.

Laura Leacu has been Director of Institutional Giving for Hebrew SeniorLife since 2014. When not working she spends time running after her two young children, supervising a lot of Zoom activities, and being outdoors.