Development of Adolescents’ Values and Jewish Identities via Experiential Philanthropy Education


Source: Journal of Jewish Education, 86:2, 147-163


This paper examines how the development of Jewish group identity and donor role identity during adolescence manifests in philanthropic attitudes and behaviors. It begins by describing Jewish youth philanthropy programs. The second section outlines how identity formation, activated through an experiential education program, would affect adolescents and their values. It then describes the research population and survey process of the current study. Finally, it presents findings and extrapolates from them what we can learn about adolescence, values development, and philanthropic giving.

This exploratory paper describes participants in Jewish youth philanthropy programs and how they might differ from non-participating peers, not only by their behaviors and values, but also by other determinants of giving: Jewish family life and parent modeling of philanthropy. By examining the values and rationales Jewish adolescents say underlie their helping others, the paper investigates connections between Jewish and generally prosocial values, current helping behavior, and intended future behavior.

Data and Methods

Participants of U.S. and Canadian Jewish teen philanthropy programs during the 2017–2018 academic year were surveyed, as were non-participants. A convenience sample of parents known to the author and the author’s personal networks were contacted to form the comparison group. Consent was granted by 169 potential respondents’ parents, and 127 teenagers completed surveys, a 75% response rate. Eighty-four respondents were participants in one of 14 Jewish teen philanthropy programs, and 43 formed a nonparticipant comparison group.

Findings and discussion

The data suggest a positive relationship between values education, identity formation, and philanthropy during adolescence. Causal links between youth philanthropy education and donating behaviors and beliefs were not part of this study, but it is evident that engagement in these programs brings philanthropy to the forefront of participants’ thinking. More participants than non-participants think about making donations and think giving is important to their identities.

Group identity’s influence on giving is inconclusive among participants and non-participants. More of the former disagree both that being Jewish informs their treatment of others and that their approaches to life are based on being Jewish. This suggests that participants’ prosocial inclinations do not derive from their Jewish identities. They do, however, see within their Jewishness a justification for prosocial behavior: More of them than the comparison group consider helping others to be a Jewish value. More intend to give time or money to Jewish or Israeli causes. This seemingly contradictory relationship between participants’ values and their Jewishness may indicate an incomplete or unstable group identity formation.

On the other hand, donor role identity does appear more firmly established among youth philanthropy education participants. More participants agree that making donations is an important part of who they are, and think more often about making donations. These findings suggest that philanthropy – and more importantly, their participation in it – is more actively present in their minds.

Future research on Jewish philanthropy education must include more systematically participants from more programs. As noted above, there are approximately 100 Jewish youth philanthropy programs across North America in both programs modeled on foundations and Donor Advised Funds, yet this study was only able to include respondents from 14 of them. Furthermore, some programs yielded few respondents, so the extent to which those respondents represent their peers is unclear. Many, if not most, programs limit participants to high-school students, yet the plurality of respondents in this study was in seventh grade. This imbalance may skew results, as age is a determinant of giving behaviors and attitudes, as well as Jewish educational experiences more common for high school students.

Updated: Aug. 18, 2020