Toronto’s Day of Giving: Raising $3M+ through “Co-Opetition”
In Greater Toronto, we are blessed with an abundance of day schools of different sizes and identities, from elementary through high school, 14 of which receive funding from the UJA Federation. In many ways, the market is crowded. Parents choosing a school go on tours and attend open houses at multiple institutions. Grandparents, whose families are divided among schools, attend multiple grandparents days, Chanukah celebrations and Passover seders. Philanthropists are solicited by multiple schools—and by federation.
Nearly a decade ago, when one of us was attending a PEJE conference, we were introduced to the term “co-opetition.” We believe this term accurately characterizes our community. On the one hand, we compete. For students. For donors. For dates for curriculum nights and graduations. We compete for column inches in the Canadian Jewish News. At the same time, we collaborate. We believe that when the entire system is healthier, we are all healthier, and conversely, when one of our schools is ailing, we all feel the pain.
Collaboration has, over the last number of years, taken many forms.
Together, our schools and UJA Federation host a cadre of communities of practice (CoPs) for school leaders. Heads, development directors, recruitment directors, administrators, school presidents, treasurers and tuition chairs all have their own CoP. At times, the CoPs are forums for sharing best practices; at times, they are tables where we tackle pressing community issues, and at times, they provide moments of therapy, giving support to the weary who need to know that they are not alone. At their best, they are all of these and more. No one is required to attend as part of their job or as a requirement of funding, but because as a community we believe in co-opetition and because we value the community of peers, we choose to attend. We understand that the stronger our schools are as a whole, the more Jewish students will choose day school, and the stronger each of the individual schools will be.
Together, we have marketed Jewish day school education, seeking to grow the total pie of day school enrollment rather than compete to expand our individual slice. Under the slogan “Choose Jewish,” we have hosted events extolling the virtues of a day school education and we have taken out shared advertisements publicizing our open houses. With funding from the Harold Grinspoon and AVI CHAI Foundations and with the support of Prizmah and UJA Federation, our elementary schools collaborate on an initiative to recruit PJ Library families to day school. Together, we have run scores of programs to bring these families into our doors, and over the last three years we have seen 48 of these families enroll in day school, 13 of whom were not previously on the schools’ radars.
Together, we conduct research to develop data-driven strategies that no one school could accomplish on its own. We share detailed enrollment to track trends across the system. We have conducted market research studies of geographic regions of the city and sub-sectors of the educational system. We developed a financial benchmarking tool in order to seek efficiencies by comparing the cost structures across our schools with other independent and public schools. This year we will launch a system of citywide exit interviews to develop systemic strategies to stem attrition.
Over the last two years, this model of co-opetition has taken a new form through the development of an annual Day of Giving – Raise Toronto, a 24-hour online fundraising campaign. In the first year, our community of schools together raised $1.9 million. In the second year, we crested to $3 million. As we begin planning for our third year, we see even greater potential.
The campaign has two ideological starting points.
First, we believe that day school education is a public good, a service that benefits the wellbeing of our whole community, and therefore should be supported by the full breadth of our community. Our federation models this philosophy by investing over $10 million from its annual campaign in day school education. We use the Day of Giving to amplify this work by reaching farther and engaging the whole community, beyond day school parents, grandparents and alumni and beyond federation donors, in strengthening the future of our community through day school education.
Second, we believe that we can collectively raise more money through co-opetition than we can individually. We could each run our own campaign, separately, on our own days. Such isolated campaigns would likely reach our base: parents, grandparents, alumni and friends, but have very little further impact. When done together, we believe, the competition and resulting communal buzz allows us to increase the total giving.
During the Day of Giving, each school runs its own fundraising campaign for its specific needs hosted on a shared website. We each send out emails, mount a telephone campaign and bombard social media. On the campaign’s central website, each school’s goals and progress are charted next to each other. There is a certain adrenaline rush seeing each school increase its pledges and seeing the schools push to reach their goal.
As we begin to plan for our third year of Raise Toronto, we are laying the groundwork to reach farther. Together, the schools are equally sharing the cost of hiring a fundraiser to coordinate the campaign and seek corporate sponsors. These sponsors will serve as matches for gifts made across the campaign. We are expanding our outreach to key supporters, including community rabbis, summer camps and other allied organizations, to help spread the momentum of the campaign. Finally, we are hoping to reach out to vendors throughout the city to ask them to partner in our efforts and donate proceeds from sales on and around the Day of Giving to Jewish education.
In an environment of scarce resources—students, funders, teachers and others—our natural inclination is to compete. We believe, however, that as a community we are better served harnessing this competitive energy to grow the field of day school education and find ways to build off of one another.