We want to build endowment but we are struggling to fundraise to cover our annual expenses. How do we balance our long-term financial security with our short-term concerns?
Dana Maze Ehrlich
Member, Stephen Wise Temple Board of Directors, Alumni Parent Chair, Wise School Generations Endowment, Los Angeles
We typically encourage a child to stick with a difficult assignment; raising funds for both annual giving and endowment is no different. Take a moment to assess your obstacles and make space to see your opportunities. It’s important that endowment is deemed a priority by your board and school leadership. Staff and lay leaders give time and talent and deserve nothing less than to work on an initiative that is highly valued. Consider reorganizing so that your core endowment team is different from your core annual giving team. Each should be informed about the other, yet a dedicated team will keep your school’s endowment goals on track. It is equally imperative for your core team to delegate certain tasks and asks to others (such as a board member, active parent, an alum) who are better suited.
Often, the fundraising strain comes from viewing your endowment donor pool solely from your school families. Cast a wider net for your list of donor prospects. Have you considered alumni? Parents of alumni? Grandparents? Local Jewish community leaders? Recognize that there are people within your community who can serve as connectors and advocates to grow your school’s endowment. Ask parents, staff and board members who else shares your vision within and beyond the school community. Nanette Fridman of Fridman Strategies sums it up: “When you invite them to donate, you give them an opportunity to live their values and make their dreams come true.”
Past Board President, Saul Mirowitz Jewish Community School, St. Louis
My experience is that one can actually help the other. Many sophisticated donors actually like the idea of being asked to give to short-term operating needs and the long-term picture through endowment. The key is knowing the giving history and likes/dislikes of the potential donor, making an appointment to see that person, and using language like, “You’ve been caring and generous with your annual support in the past, which has allowed us to provide scholarships, acquire technology, and retain and attract the best faculty. But we’d also like to ensure that our school will be financially sound for children in the next generation. So we’re launching an endowment effort to raise $X million. Those funds will generate a permanent stream of annual income to respond to unforeseen opportunities, building maintenance and other priorities. It’s vital to do both. We respectfully ask you to consider maintaining your annual support while investing in the future of our school with a special endowment gift of $Y, to be fulfilled over a five-year period.”
So it’s common to ask for an annual gift and an endowment gift at the same time—and we’ve seen success with a well-thought-through approach for both. Our school launched a $5 million endowment campaign through the Prizmah Generations program, while continuing to raise nearly $1 million for annual support. The endowment effort is at $4.2 million and approaching goal.
Board Member and Endowment Chair, Torah Day School, Atlanta
Struggling to fundraise enough to cover annual expenses is a common theme among day schools. The annual fund provides the vital financial infusion that schools need to survive on a daily basis, and the belief that this is the most important revenue stream is deeply ingrained.
However, an endowment is no less important to the school’s fiscal health; working toward long-term financial security and managing short-term concerns don’t have to be mutually exclusive. The first step in achieving endowment success is to educate people on its vital importance. People who care about the school now and are annual fund donors will naturally care about its survival in the future. It’s never too late to start an endowment. Today’s endowment donors can enable the future vision that all of the school supporters dream of seeing.
While cash gifts are always appreciated and important, they aren’t essential for building endowments. Endowment giving can take many forms. Donors can make legacy gifts by contributing an IRA or life insurance policy, or by including the school in a will. Educating donors who already support the school and believe in its mission on the different ways of giving can help to achieve the school’s long-term endowment goals without detracting from annual fundraising.
In addition, some school supporters who can’t currently afford to donate to the annual fund at all or at the level they would like can still be significant endowment donors, making them feel like they can make an impact. Suggesting endowment giving to these donors as an option will create a deeper connection between the donor and institution. It’s win-win. Endowment building and annual fundraising are really just two sides of the same coin and complement each other beautifully when done right.