star_money_origamiThe 2013 numbers are in for charitable donations and they reveal that American philanthropy is growing. Thankfully, the nonprofit sector has nearly recovered from several calumnious years brought on by the Great Recession. That is welcome news for the Philadelphia area’s many Jewish nonprofits, which undoubtedly have found raising money more difficult in the years since the financial meltdown. But how do Jewish organizations tap into this upswing in giving? How do our synagogues, federations, day schools, camps, social service agencies and arts organizations inspire all Jews – but especially the wealthy -to give to Jewish organizations in the Jewish future?

There’s a lot contained in the Giving USA 2013 report, which came out Tuesday – but unfortunately the data doesn’t reveal the answers to those questions. Published annually and jointly by the Chicago-based Giving Institute and Indiana University’s Lilly School of Philanthropy, Giving USA offers the most comprehensive look at charitable giving in the United States. It doesn’t break out data specifically by region or by religion, but there’s much that Jewish organizations in Philadelphia can glean from the numbers.

According to Giving USA, in 2013, Americans gave a total of $335.17 billion to more than 1.1 million nonprofits and at least 300,000 houses of worship. That’s a 4.4 percent increase over 2012, a significant increase. Since the end of the recession in 2009, giving has grown at 12 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars.

And donations to a number of philanthropic sectors grew at a healthy pace. Key for Philadelphia – where the University of Pennsylvania is the largest employer – is that gifts to educational institutions grew 9 percent from 2012, totaling some $52 billion. For a city that’s revitalized by a vibrant arts and culture scene, it’s certainly encouraging to see that giving to arts and culture grew by 7.8 percent. Arts giving totaled $16.66 billion and accounted for 5 percent of all charitable contributions in 2013.

The bad news for synagogues is that giving to religious organizations remained flat in 2013. Religious nonprofits received a total of $105.53 billion in gifts. That’s still 31 percent of all donations, but it represented a .02 percent drop from 2012. Giving to religion has declined for four consecutive years. Other areas of Jewish concern also experienced losses. Giving to international affairs organizations – including Israel-based organizations – declined 6.7 percent in 2013, totaling $14.93 billion. Giving in this sector has declined 16.1 percent since the recession’s end, even as overall giving has risen by 12 percent. Giving to human service organizations also remained flat, accounting for inflation.

Philadelphia’s Jewish community, still one of the nation’s largest, has a lot going for it – but it also faces its share of challenges. Our community is still home to a sizable number of Jewish poor who rely partially on Jewish agencies for needed services or for help meeting the costs of leading a full Jewish life. According to the 2009 Jewish Population Study of Greater Philadelphia, fully one fourth of Jews reported barely being able to make ends meet.

At the same time, while needs continue to be great, Philadelphia does not have the same kind of stratospheric Jewish wealth that’s concentrated in New York, Boston, or Los Angeles. Of course, Philadelphia has a long list of wealthy and far-thinking Jewish philanthropists who have given heavily to Jewish causes. But out of the 126 Jews who appear on the Forbes 400 list of the wealthiest Americans, just one calls Philadelphia home and five others have close ties to our city.

So what can Jewish organizations learn from the Giving USA data? The fact that philanthropy is once again on the rise should energize all of us. The rest of the report contains details – important details to be sure – that add up to challenges that can be overcome. Jewish groups must approach fundraising strategically and take the professional, metrics-driven approach that until now has primarily been employed by the behemoths of the nonprofit world – colleges and universities. Congregations, in particular, must frame campaigns in terms of creating and sustaining vibrant spiritual communities that allow members to form deep and lasting connections with one another. Synagogues and other Jewish nonprofits around the country are running inspired campaigns and succeeding against the grain. They are able to meaningfully demonstrate the true value of Jewish commitment.

We are all responsible for the future of Jewish life in our region. It is true that some of our most fortunate citizens have set inspiring examples for Jewish-focused giving – but much remains to be supported. Giving to tzedekah is a requirement of our faith tradition, but being able to do so should also be considered a privilege. Whether you’re able to give $18 or $18 million, join me in pledging to make philanthropy a higher priority in your life. The Jewish future depends upon it.