Crisis as the Catalyst
What better time to continue raising funds for times of crisis than when we are already in one?
When faced with running a school during a pandemic, most of our school’s actions, like every school’s, were focused on the next pivot to adjust to the changing demands of the situation. When it came to our development strategy, we took a different approach: staying the course on our strategy for growing our endowment even as so much was changing around us.
We knew that we would need to raise sufficient annual giving dollars to help offset the hundreds of thousands of dollars of Covid expenses. We knew there were families in the community facing hardships, and we, with our Temple, wanted to make sure we supported them through the difficult time. Those had to be our priorities, and they were.
At the same time, we were also aware that many of our families’ finances were not negatively impacted during the pandemic. They were ready and willing to advance their philanthropic interests where they could make a positive difference. They recognized how quickly Brawerman pivoted over and over to continue providing a stellar education for their children, no matter the obstacles thrown our way. They understood the significant Covid-related expenses for additional staff, technology and modifications made to our campus to allow their children to return safely to school. This made the pitch for annual giving dollars clear, and our campaign was a success exceeding our goal and setting a new school record.
But there was something else that became clear during all the adjustments, shifts and hard work; there was clarity for parents on the importance of sending their children to Brawerman. There was a deeper appreciation for the joyful Judaism that permeates their homes thanks to the school. In a time of crisis, Brawerman was a blessing in their lives. They wanted to ensure that the school is around for generations to come.
Before COVID-19 hit, one of our success strategies for new endowment gifts came from small upper grade-level dinners for select families. A family who had already given to the Brawerman endowment would open their home to host, and Brandon would give a presentation to educate guests about endowments, the importance of endowments for Jewish and independent schools, and the importance of an endowment for the school specifically. The host family would also share why they chose to make an endowment gift to the school. The intimate setting was warm, welcoming, and allowed families to feel comfortable asking questions.
We did not make any ask at the dinner, despite all guests knowing the purpose of the dinner when they were invited; however, we made it clear during the presentation that a minimum endowment donation for Brawerman is $25,000 that can be paid over five years. Rebecca followed up with each family who attended the dinner by inviting them to meet with us in person to continue the conversation. Some families reached out to us on their own following the presentation, prepared to make a gift. For the others, we came prepared with a specific ask amount for each family during individual follow-up meetings. Each dinner we have had has resulted in at least one endowment donation, resulting in four endowment donations totaling $1,150,000.
Cultivation During Covid
While the dinners were effective at educating the community and acquiring meaningful gifts, we had to find an alternative way during the pandemic. Instead, we reached out individually to families to meet with us for a personal endowment presentation, via Zoom. We chose families who we knew had a deep love of the school and the capacity to give to the endowment. We considered making these Zoom presentations for larger groups, but the platform does not lend itself to garnering the warmth and connection we strived for in our dinners, and we felt that keeping them limited to individual families was an important move.
Although we lost some sense of community, we felt that the positive feeling of having our full attention and time, both valued commodities especially during Covid, was a valuable tradeoff. And it worked. In the last year, we have held three of these meetings netting donations of $125,000. In addition, we recently received our second ever Brawerman grandparent endowment donation of $25,000.
Cause for Gratitude
An important takeaway from these meetings is the deep gratitude these families have for giving in such a meaningful way. There is recognition that these dollars were not going to pay for the extra teacher, the extra Plexiglas or the extra Zoom licenses needed to get through the pandemic. They wanted to do something that would be enduring. They wanted to do something that their grandchildren would value and benefit from. They wanted to do something that has permanence in a time when so much seems fleeting. The endowment gift is its own blessing.
We chose “kadimah” as our school theme for this year. It fit the moment, and it has been a good reminder of our philosophy on development during the pandemic. We kept moving forward. Prior to the pandemic, we made headway in educating our community on the importance of building Brawerman’s endowment. That critical work made it possible to reach out to families to raise endowment funds even during this difficult time. This is the work ahead as we continue to pursue new endowment gifts to ensure Brawerman is here for a very long time to come.