Planning Ahead for the Big 5-0
Since coming to Posnack Jewish Day School, I have had the great privilege to preside over many celebrations and anniversaries. Each commencement, school opening, and anniversary milestone yields new insight into the place and importance of Jewish day school education in the life of American Jewish communities. Having just begun our 47th school year still mired in the pandemic, I have lately been looking ever more hopefully to our school’s upcoming 50th anniversary. As we get closer, I am going to keep in mind three things, a kind of three-step plan, that I have learned over the years to be essential for marking community milestones.
Step 1: Be inclusive. At its heart, a school community is a family. As with any family simchah, there are many pieces and personalities to manage. From an organizational standpoint, one of the most difficult aspects is making everyone feel invested. For the celebration to be a success, the organization must engage all generations, from the newest school family and faculty member to the founders. Our school has had its share of galas and ribbon cuttings, but we have also used less formal, more inclusive projects to increase engagement across the board.
Step 2: It’s not all about raising funds. Most organizations use big milestones as a way to build endowments and start new capital campaigns, but let’s be honest, no one remembers a capital campaign. They only exist in our institutional memory in very abstract ways. The tangible results are far more visible, and so, more memorable.
This creates a different set of challenges that take us back to step one. The goal for fundraising for major milestones should not only be a number. The goal should be getting every member of the school community to give, from major donors to those who can support a campaign at their comfort level. I cannot begin to count how many times I’ve heard things like, Why should we focus on people who give $180 when we should be focusing on people who give $18,000?
The answer is, you need to do both. First, not giving kavod to the $18 or $180 donor might make them feel less valued, and they may reconsider any future commitment to the school community. Second, that $18 donation could be the start of a supportive relationship that leads to future support well into the future. Galas and VIP receptions are great, but so are PTO ice cream fundraisers and challah bakes, so why not do them all? Jewish day schools cannot survive without successful fundraising campaigns, but if it’s only about development office success and not communitywide success, it won’t be much of a celebration.
Step 3: You should have fun. What was the best part of the last simchah you attended? Was it the speeches? Probably not. Celebrations are about creating joy. The more joy, the deeper the memories. Reaching a milestone, whether it’s a commencement or an anniversary, requires hard work, dedication and often sacrifice. Now it’s time to let ourselves enjoy our accomplishments.
As in step one, the key here should be to engage the community on every level. There will be ceremonies, and receptions and maybe a commemorative volume of essays. The trick here is to both recognize our past and make new memories for our future. Posnack School, for example, has exceptional performing and visual arts programs. We will certainly call on our amazing art educators and student artists for help during our 50th anniversary. We may also call on our alumni artists, some of whom have gone on to careers in the performing and visual arts, for a 50th anniversary arts “homecoming” retrospective.
Fulfilling these three steps can be a difficult balancing act that few organizations can do perfectly, but as one school community, there is nothing we cannot do together, including celebrating an incredible 50th anniversary celebration.