From the Board: A Few Things I've Learned About Fundraising
I recently had the privilege of attending a Prizmah convening of development professionals for some of the largest day schools across the country. Hosted by The Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Maryland and ably facilitated by our new COO, Elissa Maier, the convening was a wonderful example of the important role Prizmah can play in bringing schools together to learn from outside experts and share best practices. The high level of discussion, dedication and creativity was impressive. With presentations ranging from how to train and engage lay leaders in cultivating and soliciting donors, to optimal ways to connect with alumni, the discussions were energizing and thoughtful, and they provided practical ideas for raising the funds needed to make our schools excellent and accessible.
Fundraising is something all of our schools must do, and those that are the most successful learn to create strong partnerships between the school professionals, board members and other volunteers. Properly trained and motivated volunteers can be an extremely effective part of our schools’ fundraising teams. Some volunteers are great connectors but aren’t comfortable making the ask. (On p. 48, Traci Stratford offers excellent advice for working with board members who are ask-averse.) Some volunteers lead by example and bring an air of authenticity and integrity when they are simply present at a solicitation. Others have a compelling story to tell about how the day school has impacted them or their family. And some volunteers have the experience and comfort level to make the ask to the right person in the right way. Each of these volunteers can be extremely helpful in building an effective fundraising effort, especially if paired with a skilled development professional.
The best development professionals I’ve worked with have provided me with the information, skills and confidence to be an effective part of the fundraising team. Some have taught me by example, others have provided me with step-by-step training, and others have learned with me as we were confronted by unexpected questions and challenging reactions. It’s important for volunteer fundraisers to experience the satisfaction of a successful solicitation, just as it’s critical to learn to shake off those solicitations that miss the mark. As my federation director once told me on a community mission to Israel, “If you don’t want to throw at least one person off the bus, then you haven’t brought enough people on the trip.”
Over the years, I’ve learned a few things about fundraising that may be helpful.
1. People give for a variety of reasons. Find the one that fits your potential donor and you are more likely to be successful. Some people give out of a sense of obligation, some when they are passionate about a project; some give to make a deep impact, some to make a statement to others; some give when they perceive a personal benefit, and some just can’t say no to the solicitor. All of these are legitimate reasons for giving.
2. People give to people they know, like, respect and trust, who “put their money where their mouth is,” and who make them feel good about themselves and what they are doing. Most important, people give to people who ask. Although that may seem obvious, far too many gifts are left on the table because no formal ask was made.
3. People like to feel part of something bigger than themselves. Donors who give to a day school aren’t just helping one child or one program—they are helping to build a strong Jewish future.
4. You can never thank a donor too much. A donor who isn’t thanked properly or made to feel good about their participation is unlikely to give again.
The development convening I attended is just one example of how Prizmah can help day schools enhance the way we fundraise and, more important, enhance the way we tell the story of how important excellent day schools are to the future of our Jewish community.