“The Almighty has willed that there are two hands in the matter of tzedakah: one that gives and one that receives. Be thankful that yours is the hand that gives. Open a hand of compassion.” – Sefer Hasidim
Absolutely everyone has some way to help somebody else. As I like to say, there are no haves-and-have-nots, just haves-and-have-mores. Everyone has something that they can give: money, time, talent. I find that we can get so much more done when we all work together. This brings me to the mitzvah of tzedakah, the commandment to give, is a very simple one. Deuteronomy says, “If there is a needy person among you, don’t harden your heart, don’t shut your hand against your needy kin. For there will never cease to be people with need in your land, which is why I command you to open your heart to the poor and to the needy kin in your land.”
According to the Torah, there are simply people in need out there, and our job as human beings, and as Jews, is to help them to meet their needs, to help them live lives of dignity and fullness. The fullest expression of our humanity is possible only when we reach out to each other and connect with each other. That is what giving is all about. We do it because, in our core, that is who we are and who we are summoned to be.
All this talk about giving makes you start to wonder about getting. The more polite term, fundraising, sounds so much nicer than “getting” money. So who is a fundraiser and how do they do their job efficiently and effectively? In my opinion, I believe the job of a fundraiser is to strengthen an organization’s mission of caring for Jews in need, engaging with the community and ensuring the Jewish future. That means not only becoming a more effective leader, but learning how to foster stronger relationships with donors who deeply understand the impact of our work and can take ownership in the impactful things we accomplish together. And, of course, it means procuring the kind of gifts that will allow us to continue supporting our work for years to come by increasing the level of our donors’ financial investment in what we do.
It’s not a donation,
it’s an opportunity!
When someone makes a donation, they are fighting for a cause. Causes need money, whether to raise awareness, build a building, or create or sustain programs. When someone gives away their money to a charitable endeavor, in whatever amount, they are doing their part to make the world a little bit better. Many donors, large and small, are looking for a way to help. Your job as a fundraiser is not to take their money, but to show them where they can make a difference. Shalom C. Elcott, the CEO & President of Jewish Federation & Family Services of Orange County, made a very interesting observation about donors and how donation trends shift all the time: “Where we used to be concerned about the volume of donors, it is now all about the value of donors who are the ones who tend to support the organization in more ways than one. We steward our donors so we’re getting more gifts from the same donors in different areas of passion.” It is very similar to that old proverb “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” We are teaching our donors and lay leaders how to fish… how to help the community in their own areas of passion because that is what’s palpable and infectious.
The touch point.
It boils down to knowing who you are and what you’re comfortable with. For instance, someone once told me that there’s a rule that you’re supposed to have a certain number of “touch points” — meaning the number of times you see a potential donor — before you ask him or her for a donation. You take someone out for lunch, meet for coffee, give them a call, or send them an article that might interest them from the morning paper. Here’s the thing: Know the methods that work for you — and the ones that don’t. Also know the methods that work for the donor — their favorite deli, political articles, etc.
It’s all about relationships.
The big money, the wealth, is in creating relationships. A relationship suggests equality. Start from the idea that people use their feelings, their interests, their heads and their hearts as motivation to help others. Then there shouldn’t be an issue of having to whine or guilt people into action. You should also first establish an interest and obtain permission to make a request. You cannot hear what the donor is saying if you have an orchestra playing in your head. In other words, listen. You might actually find out what the donor wants. Listening depends on face-to-face appointments and the development of long-term relationships of trust and mutual respect. Elcott said it best, “Today more than ever people give to people not institutions.”
Urge people to see their
donation in action.
If you can actually see or feel your donations coming to fruition it has a much bigger impact on the donor. The fact is, for many people, writing the check is enough. And if it’s enough for them, that’s great. Then again, if there are pictures, a video, or some testimonials that’s a perfect thing to send along with an extra word of thanks.
At the end of the day I’m realizing that getting the money is just as important as giving it. We need fundraisers with ideas and a clear vision as to how those ideas will be realized. It’s a tough job but someone’s gotta do it. Α
Tanya Schwied graduated from New York University, studied abroad in Israel, and currently works for the CEO and President of Jewish Federation & Family Services.