On a Sunday this past July, when many people were fanning themselves on a beach, more than forty school professionals and lay leaders from ten Jewish day schools in Northern New Jersey gathered in their local federation’s conference room to learn about endowments and endowment building. Over the course of the day, the convening, organized by Prizmah and the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, provided the schools with some of the information and tools they need to begin or to renew their endowment building campaigns.
The convening began with the question of why Prizmah and the federation believe that endowment building is so important. Senior leadership from Prizmah and the federation explained the critical role that endowments play in ensuring financial sustainability and noted how schools with large endowments were better able to navigate the financial challenges that arose during Covid than those without endowments. A kick-off session entitled “Making the Case for Endowment Giving” delved further into explaining why endowments are critical to a school’s long-term financial sustainability,
Next, participants explored topics including fundamentals of endowment building, cultivating donor prospects, and engaging your board in endowment building. During lunch, participants got to hear about two different types of community-based endowment models from the major donors who funded them: Paula Gottesman (Greater Metrowest, New Jersey) and Sarena Koschitzky (Toronto). In the afternoon, participants were offered an opportunity to attend sessions that were targeted to their specific school role—the role of the head of school or the board in endowment building.
This full day convening, and the yearlong training sessions which will follow it, did not come about overnight. Ever since the outbreak of Covid, schools across North America have been reaching out to Prizmah and their local federations with increasing urgency for guidance on how to build their endowments. In truth, while a handful of the New Jersey schools that attended the convening were already engaged in endowment-building efforts, others had little or no experience. Some were rather circumspect and worried that endowment-building would cannibalize their annual campaigns. Others seemed overly protective of their school donors and viewed the other Northern New Jersey schools as competitors for the same donors.
In the end, we managed to convince nearly all the schools to attend. We explained to them that endowment-building is part of an integrated ask (and therefore does not cannibalize annual campaigns) and that a rising tide lifts all ships. In other words, working together, as a community of schools, each school will be more successful than if they work alone. By working together, they will raise the entire profile and appeal of endowment building in Northern New Jersey.
As noted, we plan a series of additional training sessions going forward. Over the course of the next year, Prizmah will provide a range of content related to endowments through a series of follow-up trainings focused on the following topics:
- Creating an endowment plan, including setting goals for number of donors and dollars raised
- Recruiting, training, and retaining volunteers
- Donor cultivation and the integrated ask
- Marketing and Messaging
The federation will provide funding and their own professional support. This is a true partnership in which Prizmah can bring a national lens to the field while the federation can provide an important local and communal lens. It is also a model that Prizmah plans to employ in other cities and communities in the near future. In fact, Prizmah believes that there are at least half a dozen communities in the US and Canada that would benefit from this type of partnership.
Now that’s something that is far more valuable than a day on the beach.