As we all know, money does matter. Nothing could be more appropriate than the topic of the financial wherewithal of our day schools. But it is also important to focus on how to put the “matter” back into the money as we keep our eye on the bottom line. With a focus on “matter,” we can increase revenue and make philanthropy more meaningful and impactful for all involved.
From a fundraising perspective, the goals we set are usually bright line markers in the school budget. However, we need to give more visibility and attention to the philosophy, thinking and meaning behind those numbers. Just as core values and Jewish text provide the underpinnings of our schools’ missions, so too should those values ground our fundraising approach in order to give meaning to the work of raising money.
Indeed, in many cases, the exact same core values that guide our education can also serve as a moral compass for fundraising—both for supporters and the professionals conducting the outreach. Consider the values of Am Echad or Klal Yisrael that so many of us set forth in our day school mission and value statements. The concept of one people—one community—joining together can serve not only as a guidepost for pluralism and common values in community day schools, but also as a rallying cry for everyone’s participation in the fundraising of the school: everyone coming together, from different perspectives and with varying capacities, to do their part for the community.
Jewish sources provide inspiration for this message. Parashat Terumah describes the long and varied list of gifts that the Israelites were commanded to give toward the building of the mikdash (tabernacle): gold, silver and copper metals; yarn, linen, and goat hair; ram skins, dolphin skins, and acacia wood. Different options, varied levels of giving, each integral to the construction of the mikdash.
The philosophy of fundraising that we fervently espouse in our school—each family making a meaningful, stretch gift for their family—acquired newfound resonance. This text gave depth and life to a mantra that has become the cornerstone of our fundraising work. We ask each family to do their part and fully participate in a way that is meaningful to them. Our approach to philanthropy is grounded in Jewish text, gives meaning to our work and to each and every gift; no matter if it is gold or yarn, each gift is important as we build support for our school.
Gifts are important, but what makes them “matter” is that “gifts shall be accepted from every person whose heart so moves him” (Exodus 25:2). In this pasuk, we see not only the concept of full family participation in a campaign as “every person” is responsible to give something, but also the idea that people need to feel good and be “moved” to give. Gifts must have meaning to the giver.
Giving meaning, or making things matter, is the responsibility of those raising the funds. As fundraisers and leaders, we need to be sure that we are creating the opportunity for supporters to feel good about giving, not merely to expect them to give out of obligation, a sense of duty, or a history of giving. The beauty of the building of the mikdash is that everyone gives up something, gives generously, and as they do so, they come closer to God. It is a moment of kedushah for them. They feel good in the process as they bring their offerings. So, too, must we as fundraisers elevate the act of giving to a special moment. Indeed, for many young parents, day schools are the first formal giving program that they encounter. Fundraisers must be cognizant of the responsibility to make the experience meaningful and positive as parents embark on their philanthropic journey.
Not only does an abiding philosophy and a deeply rooted values-based approach to fundraising elevate the giving process for donors, it also boosts the work of advancement and development directors. Fundraising work can fall into the abyss of spreadsheets, meetings, reports and lunches, turning quickly into a numbers game that drains the energy of the professionals leading the effort. Grounding development work in the core values of the school and Jewish text gives meaning, strength and pride to the work of the professional. There are so many layers of inspiration to uncover in our Jewish core values that can serve as a mobilizing force in our outreach efforts. We need to adopt those ideals, apply them to our work and make our outreach work richer.
On the ground, we can give meaningful experiences to potential supporters in simple ways. First, we need to seek to understand the needs of our donors. Too often, we as fundraisers think about the needs of our institution—our goals and our cause—rather than taking the time to understand the wishes of our donors. Understanding the impact that potential donors seek to make is key to making the experience meaningful for them. I am not advocating a shift in institutional priorities based on the interests of a donor, but I am advocating a commitment to understanding the motivations and goals of a donor.
Once we truly appreciate what inspires that donor, we can build a relationship based on that interest and determine how that passion may fit within the context of the institution’s goals. Some donors may be moved by the idea of the continuity of the Jewish people, others may be touched by the pluralistic nature of a school community, and others may be moved by a fulfilling experience as a volunteer leader. There are so many aspects to the rich life of day schools; we must relate to each donor individually and uncover their unique connection to the school as we seek to make giving more meaningful.
Second, we need to consciously remind our supporters, board members and staff colleagues that development work is not an add-on to the school, but rather another expression of the school’s values. Consider publishing your school’s annual report through the lens of each of your core values: your school gala through the lens of Am Echad; grandparents day through the value of Dor l’Dor; your financials through the value of Tikkun Olam; your volunteer recognition through Derech Eretz. These are subtle reminders that the advancement of the school, through fundraising, is integral to the school’s values and has deep meaning. At board meetings, submit your development reports with a relevant textual quote at the bottom of your progress report. It makes the numbers meaningful, and connects them literally to Jewish values and text.
In our school, we developed a Statement of Philosophy on Development. We were inspired by the intentionality and philosophical underpinnings that were set forth in our school’s Statement of Philosophy on Education, and we created our own for our development work. We use it when we orient new board members, train campaign volunteers, and guide our development committee work. It grounds both the professionals and the volunteers who partner with us, and it helps develop core principles that ensure that our outreach work is principled, and not transactional.
Third, we need to remember that fundraising is not about dollars, it is about people. In order to focus on the people and foster a personal and meaningful experience between volunteers conducting outreach work and potential supporters, we developed a “Meet the Campaign Team” insert into our rollout campaign letters. We included a photo of the volunteers with their families, and had them complete the phrase, “JPDS-NC is….” (in four words or less.)
This helped create a meaningful and personal basis for outreach, as potential supporters learned about what motivated others to engage and, of course, reflected on their own meaningful connection to the school. It naturally invoked the questions: What does this school experience mean to my family? How would I complete this phrase? By stimulating a potential supporter to think about these questions, the giving (and asking) experience is more values-based.
If we approach our work with a sense of responsibility in creating meaningful giving experiences, and we focus on “accepting gifts from every person whose heart so moves him,” then we will create a deeply rooted culture of philanthropy in our schools. This culture will elevate the giving experience, position us to raise even more funds, and keep us strong and proud in the process. In this way, we will truly make money matter.
Adina Kanefield is the director of institutional advancement of the Jewish Primary Day School of the Nation’s Capital and is a development and strategy consultant to nonprofits. firstname.lastname@example.org