Marketing Israeli nonprofits to the Diaspora: first become sustainable at home
by Sharon Udasin
In order to more effectively market themselves to the Diaspora, Israeli nonprofits need first to focus on targeting donors at home, improve their usage of technology and refine their administrative skill sets, field leaders say.
“The Israeli nonprofit has found it easier and more lucrative to look for funds abroad rather than in Israel. That was great during the formative years of Israel when we were a small, fledgeling country. Now the reality of the situation is that our economic growth is faster than [that of] America – America is still richer, but Israel is growing faster,” said Jonny Cline, owner and editor of Fundraiser.co.il. “The painful truth is that the US donor is likely to be suffering himself, or more likely to want to help more locally.”
“If the US donor sees that we are making a concerted effort among the population that might actually enjoy, or make use of, the services we offer, they will be more likely to put their hand in their pocket. In that case he will be more likely to say, “If you’re making a real effort within your limited local resources, then we are much more likely to want to help you advance that much further because we see that you’re really trying.”
First and foremost, Cline and colleagues agreed, as Israel grows and expands as a country, its nonprofits must establish a reliable donor base from within its borders and secure their status as self-sufficient entities in order to continue to receive funding from abroad. But these organizations could also attract more Diaspora contributors by restructuring their management bodies and improving their technology and social media, according to some.
“The Israeli nonprofit sector must first become self-reliant, capable of raising money within Israel and among its own people,” agreed Judith Recanati, 60, founder of Natal: Israel trauma center for victims of terror and war.
To the Jewish Agency’s social media manager Florence Broder, Israeli nonprofits have the drive and the passion to market their organizations globally, but they exhibit an impediment she calls “founders’ syndrome.” Broder, who spent four years at UJA Federation NY prior to moving over to the Jewish Agency, also brings the perspective of working, and interacting, in both Israel and the U.S.
While the purpose of a nonprofit organization is certainly not to make a profit, Broder observed that the leaders in Israel are often so absorbed in launching their new ideas that they don’t focus first on a sustainable way to fundraise – “they don’t realize they have to give a gift to the organization or fundraise,” she said.
Also, Israeli nonprofit leaders need to take into account that in order to attract American (and other Diaspora) donors, they must provide an easy way for the donors to donate and still find their donations tax deductible in their home-base country.
“The tax structure in Israel isn’t conducive to fundraising as the US structure,” Broder said.
One organization, Yonatan Ben-Dor’s Israel Gives, actually helps circumvent this problem. Israel Gives is a “charity portal” that allows donors to contribute to any of Israel’s 26,000 charities through their website, so that a donation is tax deductible in America.
“I think that before our site came about, it was both difficult (for tax reasons) and risky to donate directly to Israeli non-profits,” Ben-Dor said. “We’ve helped by creating a financial portal for both tax-deductible US giving and also a platform for researching and connecting to Israeli NGOs, and I think that this has, and will continue to, greatly increase Diaspora giving to Israel.”
Larger Israeli nonprofits, like universities, museums and Magen David Adom, already have their own 5013C systems set up in the United States, but for small Israeli charities, Ben-Dor’s system can be very helpful in overcoming what otherwise would be a barrier to reach potential donors.
“[Our site] also reflects the desire among Diaspora Jews to donate directly to Israeli NGOs, to control the allocation of their philanthropy, and not to donate indirectly to Israel through their Jewish federations,” Ben-Dor explained. “I think that the Jewish federations can tame this trend, and I’m willing to help them do so, but until they do, donors will increasingly donate directly to Israel, and more and more will be doing it online.”
Aside from providing an easier route for Diaspora donations and becoming more self- reliant within Israel, nonprofits must becomes more organized and professional, Broder added.
At the same time, she continued, Israeli nonprofits have yet to use technology or social media in such a volume that broadcasts seriousness about their groups and demonstrates an ability to market themselves globally.
“I don’t understand it because all the technology comes out of Israel. It’s a very hard thing for me to reconcile,” Broder said. “They’re all here – what’s the problem? What’s not trickling down?”
To this day, in her opinion, the Israeli nonprofits that are the most successful in reaching out internationally are those whose public relations and social media is “done by American olim,” who she feels are just much better at marketing.
“It’s a whole cultural thing,” Broder said. “You need someone who is an American who understands the world… Everyone wants to access the American money.”
In addition to social media marketing techniques, she explained, the groups would benefit from investing in creating extensive databases, increasing manpower, updating websites with obvious “donate buttons” and issue electronic reports to financial backers.
All of these tools can help the nonprofits connect to global donors on a more personal and convenient level, a crucial ability that experts feel is lacking across the board.
“Israeli nonprofits in general are not doing a good job reaching out to the Diaspora,” Ben- Dor added. “Most that do attempt to reach toward major institutional funders and not toward the Jewish public, which creates a large divide between the Israeli nonprofit sector and international Jewry. What is mostly lacking is the will to market themselves to the public – and not just to write grants – but also the financial means to bridge that gap, and the understanding that there is a value in reaching out to the Diaspora and in building a real partnership.”