Motivation for Giving

What is your motivation for giving? This simple question may give an immense amount of insight into why congregants and members of Jewish organizations give their hard-earned money. By asking this question, the fundraiser lets the potential donor know that their interests are of the utmost importance. In order for a donor to give, their self-interest needs to intersect with the values and mission of the organization. According to Rabbi David Ellenson of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, donors need to know if the mission/vision of the organization matches up with their tzedakah. Throughout our research there are three main reasons why people give money.

1) Ensuring the future for oneself. This motivation for giving is not completely selfish. It relates to the idea that what one would want for oneself is what another would want also. In this case, the right cause for this person might be donating money for a scholar-in-residence at the synagogue. This donor is really interested in what the speaker has to say and is willing to pay for it, for himself and for the rest of the congregation. This motivation may not be limited to the one time programming. Another example is donating money to the American Red Cross to help victims of a natural disaster. The person donating may not know a single person affected by the disaster, but they donate because it could have been them suffering the devastation of home or business.

2) Ensuring the future for relatives. This motivation is among the most common for people to have. Donating money to the nursery school at the synagogue would be a fitting contribution for a grandparent who has a new grandson or granddaughter. A donation like this, says to the family that the education for this new child is of the utmost importance to our family. Another example of donating in order to ensure the future is donating to the endowment fund or starting an endowment fund at the synagogue. A person or family does this in order that the money will always support the place where baby namings, b'nai mitzvah, weddings and funerals have taken place and will most likely take place in the future.

3) Defining oneself as part of the community. A text from Bava Batra 8a teaches that a person must donate to the community 'soup kitchen' after living there for 30 days. After three months of residing in a community a person must donate toward the charity box, after six months a person must contribute to the clothing fund, nine months for the burial fund and after 12 months they must contribute to the repair of the city walls. Any person who resides in a community for 12 months is considered a full member of the community. The Jewish tradition highly values the place of community in one's life. From the moment we move to a new place we are expected to donate to that place in order to claim some stake in what happens there. A contemporary example would be for a rabbi to move to a new city and within the first few weeks make a generous donation to the Federation. This shows that rabbi is defining him or herself as part of the community by giving funds to support it.

The donor's vision has to overlap with the cause or organization to which he or she gives. There is a tendency for donors to give to causes that effect friends and relatives. The motivation comes from the desire to ensure the future according to their values and to define themselves as a member of the community. These motivations should be in the mind of the solicitor of funds at all times in order for "the ask" to be successful.


Bava Batra 8a, Babylonian Talmud
Rabbi David Ellenson. Personal Interview. 9 September 2008.

(Developed By: Lisa Delson, HUC-JIR, Cincinnati)