Thursday, August 12, 2010


At JFNA and, in my opinion, too many federations, today there appears to be a growing reliance on websites and marketing as "shortcuts" to building community and the donor base. Large Federations and small view the construction of new websites and enhanced marketing efforts as the way. So let's hire those who allegedly built the Obama e-fund raising effort; let's spend from thousands to hundreds of thousands on new, more accessible websites, and let's "spend as much time on the $100 donor as on the $100,000 donor." It all sounds so great...and so simplistic. Of course we are all looking for the holy grail (sorry). the Hail Mary (sorry again) pass, the quick fix.

Our communities have gone from 900,000 donors to the Exodus Campaign twenty years ago to an estimated 350,000 donors today. And no one...that's you JFNA...has invested the dollars necessary to learn why -- and until you learn the details of the disease, how can you prescribe the treatment, the cure? We have had an epidemic of donor loss...over half a million donors...and we don't understand the "why." We still have 5% of our donors providing 85% of the annual campaign me, an ever-aging population. We know that it takes 1,000 $100 gifts to replace a single $100,000 donor. And, to build or rebuild the base, we are turning to websites and e-philanthropy? Please.

Websites and e-philanthropy cam enhance campaign, build the low-end donor base, and, for some, represent new entry points into our communal work. But, more readily, the real answers can be found by investing dollars to build new leadership and new donors at higher giving levels. Let's look at two modest investments with big returns: Missions for high potential donors and donor retention.

~ It was proved long, long ago that Missions are our best, most effective fund raising and leader raising tools; subsidized Missions can increase participation and results. How many of today's current leaders discovered not only the vitality of the bridge between Israel and Diaspora on Missions but learned of the contributions they could make to modern Jewish history and to community through the Mission experience. In Chicago, several young leaders, already committed to the Federation enterprise, created the Nachshon mission experience -- inviting high potential young men (and now men and women), their friends, professional colleagues, country club chevre, to "come to Israel with me." It was the personal invitation that got them "on the bus" and it was what they experienced that brought them into Federation and community life. Many of these participants are today six figure donors; many more of them are now in leadership positions in our federation. An incalculable success. Yet, when Nachshon is suggested to the lay Chairs of JFNA as an easily replicable national activity, eyes gloss over.

Today, at the highest giving levels, Chicago subsidizes the annual Prime Minister's Mission (whether JFNA holds them or not). Even with many "repeaters," the annual ROI to the Campaign ranges from 15% to higher percentages on a gift-by-gift basis. Baltimore's experience has been the same.

It seems so simple -- invest in Missions and the returns are enormous. Yet, JFNA has even reduced its financial support of the Campaign Chairs/Campaign Directors Missions (and then brags about the results) while refusing all further subsidy of "high end" missions. This leaves it to the federations themselves to determine how Development dollars are best invested. To me -- a no brainer.

~ 900,000 donors to the Operation Exodus Campaign. Yet, how many federations engaged, in the immediate aftermath of that incredible campaign, in converting those Exodus donors and their gifts into Annual Campaign contributions? Most recently, the Israel Emergency Campaign produced a $410 million outpouring of support for the victims of terror and "for Israel." In the IEC aftermath, how many federations compared their Annual donor lists with IEC donors and pursued the latter with the same vigor as they pursued the former? If our communities did so, it was without any leadership or guidance from JFNA. But. it's not too late. These were men and women who, unlike those who made Open Mailbox gifts to help in the wake of Katrina, made their checks out, their payments to the Federation. They did so, in the main, outside of websites and e-philanthropy.

Four years ago then UJC committed itself, at the instance of the largest federations, to bringing together our system's $1,000,000 donors. Two of our federations' most significant donors, very recognizable "names," agreed to Co-Chair this effort. The then UJC CEO assigned himself to staff the effort. AND NOTHING HAPPENED. Last year, the Jerry Silverman undertook staffing a renewed effort. He has "...met with Les Wexner (who was not one of the Co-Chairs [he had been down that road before]) five times" by his own count. Maybe something will come of this effort now...maybe not. Perhaps, Paul Kane was hired to give life to this effort based on his presumed success in engaging mega-donors in New York. Let us pray that this effort bears fruit.

Any reliance on websites and marketing to drive communal involvement and engagement is an embrace of Bowling Alone. It has worked in the social arena but not in the federation environment -- anywhere. If I, as an admitted dinosaur, am wrong, I am almost certain someone will tell me so.


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