By Rachel Canar
These lessons are, of course, for everyone and mistakes that all kinds of people make. The examples and quotes given here are all from actual Israeli Development Directors and NGO Directors and come directly from my experiences working as a fundraiser and consultant in Israel. There seem to be some cultural differences that make these 10 specific mistakes more likely to be made by Israelis.
- Not giving enough respect to the donor/ treating donors like friars.
An Israeli fundraiser recently said, “Just send me people to take on a tour of our project and if they don’t give me a check after, then my name is not Shlomit!” (name has been changed). Many Israelis who work at NGOs think donors are just friars with money. Many donors are very successful business people – they didn’t make their money, or grow their fortune by being idiots. Stop acting like someone out of the movie Salla Shabati and treating Jewish Diaspora donors like naïve idiots. That is a sure way for you, the fundraiser, to look stupid and not raise any money.
- You (mostly) can’t solicit a donor prospect at your first meeting. It takes time to cultivate donors by getting to know them and building a real relationship. Asking for money when you have just met is rude!
- Most Israelis fundraisers don’t do any research on the person. They just think, you (the donor) have money, I (the Israeli) need money. It is a perfect match!” The truth is that most major foundations (and most people with lots of money give through foundations) have clear missions and strategies; donors have personal interests and passions. Don’t waste donors’ time – and this is definitely how they see it – submitting applications to foundations and individuals that are not relevant to what they say that they support. You can ask them for something that they aren’t giving to now, but it must be based on actually knowing something about them and what they are interested in and committed to supporting.
- Stop thinking only about your goals and not about the donor’s goals. While donors love Israel, it is not all about you, your organization or Israel all the time. Be aware of what the donor’s and his or her community issues are. Donors from outside of Israel have many issues that they are dealing with in their own lives, their Jewish communities and their larger communities. You must be attuned to what motivates them and what is going on for them on their end in real time.
- Don’t think the donor owes you something. There are many Israeli fundraisers who think that because we are Israeli and we live here that Diaspora Jews are obligated to give to us. We shouldn’t have to humble ourselves or prove anything to them. They owe us just for being here and doing this when they aren’t. This has never worked and is a great way to make no one ever wants to meet with you again. No one owes you anything.
- Don’t misspell donor’s names or the names of Jewish funding institutions. While a variety of small English mistakes can lend an air of Israeli authenticity, misspelling or misrepresenting the name of the individual or foundation to whom you are applying or who already supports you is a terrible mistake. I know someone who was fired for this. All you have to do is look at how their name is written on their website, letterhead, or email signature. Lastly, when listing donors publicly, you must ask them if they want their name to appear and how. They will thank you for this.
- Contacting a donor once a year to ask them for support is the best way to lose a donor. If they don’t hear from you for a year or even longer after you send them your thank you letter and then out of the blue you ask them for $50,000 again, you will be lucky if they even bother to respond to you to tell you no way. You maintain a relationship with your donors by communicating with them without asking for money through the entire year.
- Not sending formal thank you letters and or sending them very late. Yes, you have to send a regular mail thank you letter for any donation over $50. No, email is not good enough, but if you are in email touch with them, you absolutely should send an email thank you first. Then follow it up with a formal paper thank you that says the amount that they gave, when they gave it and for what. A thank you letter sent more than a month later is almost no longer valid – it will not make a positive impression on the donor.
- Thinking that because a donor has been giving to you for several years and that you have a good and friendly relationship means that you don’t have to be as formal, that you don’t have to send paper thank you letters any more, that you don’t have to turn in things on time, etc. The longer a donor has been giving to you, the higher their expectations and the more you have to really deliver. Taking your best donors for granted has the same result as taking any relationship for granted – divorce!
- Telling them how horrible everything is and how desperate you are for their support. Don’t exaggerate a crisis or even if not exaggerating, don’t cry to donors that without their help you will close. Donors will never give their money to an organization that is not stable or at risk of failure. They think of it like flushing money down a toilet. Donors give to successful projects, or those with hope and potential. Stay positive or you might as well close shop now.
For those living in Israel, you can get more in depth and practical lessons about fundraising in Israel from NGO Catalyst. I founded NGO Catalyst because I saw that there was a need for professional training, mentoring and support for Israeli fundraisers. NGO Catalyst elevates the field, strengthening fundraisers in order to advance the missions of their NGOs. You can learn more here about NGO Catalyst and Rachel Canar, including about the FREE course later this month, Orientation to Fundraising in the Jewish Diaspora.
Rachel Canar is the founder and director of NGO Catalyst and has more than 20 years of professional experience in the NGO sector in the US and Israel.