By Barry S. Mael
What should we do to deal with the harsh realities of budget challenges amidst the bigger pressures of coping with crisis? That’s the question on the minds of all synagogue leaders. In this current crisis we are dealing with the physical closure of our synagogue buildings. Our communities are working hard to carry on virtually. With the cancellation of many programs and the inability to run in-person events (including fundraisers) there is a tremendous financial burden. It’s easy to feel that with the current financial crisis, how can we possibly ask for money and fundraise? The answer is, you can! You just need to change or adapt your methods. Here are 10 tips:
Virtual galas – Many synagogues had or have scheduled in person dinner dances , galas and the like. I wrote about this in Keep Your Annual Gala And Make It A Virtual Event.
Silent and live auctions – Many synagogues hold silent or live auctions and they can take place virtually. There are online companies and programs to help hold auctions online. These online auctions can reach a greater audience and build excitement while raising much needed funds for a good cause. This is also a great way to support local businesses.
Event cancellation appeal – In some cases when a program was being planned for months away but doesn’t seem feasible, you can do an actual cancellation appeal to your membership and friends. Be transparent and honest and let your members know how the current situation and the cancellation will negatively impact the organization. Ask people to give what they would have contributed to the event.
Raffles – Raffles are a great and relatively easy way to raise funds. There are several creative raffle models that can be found by doing a simple online search, such as the 50/50 which involves the sale of raffle tickets with the proceeds being split evenly between the winner and your organization. Obviously the efforts to find or solicit attractive prizes will broaden the field of potential ticket purchasers. You can always spend a percentage of the ticket money on the prizes. Don’t forget you might need a state or county permit.
Create a Virtual Walk/Run – I have seen several stories about people raising money through walk/run challenges. Participants collect pledges per mile, for overall distance and completion and they can complete the challenge in their home on the treadmill or bicycle – or, weather and social-distancing permitting, outside.
Make Your Yizkor Appeal or Milestone Kiddush Virtual – If you traditionally hold a Yizkor appeal in conjunction with the holidays why not continue virtually and include a scroll of donors on your website? You can keep adding names to the list online which you can’t do if you have printed actual booklets. Monthly events such as a milestone Kiddush to recognize special life cycle events or simchot can also be continued even if there isn’t an in-person Kiddush. The funds can be collected to help struggling families or first responders in the community. Or think about a weekly Virtual Kiddush which members can sponsor. This is a great way to increase the future Kiddush fund.
Seek Technology Sponsors – Many synagogues are using Zoom, StreamSpot or other virtual platforms. Why not open opportunities for members to sponsor monthly or annual payments for the program? In addition, if the synagogue needs to invest in cameras or additional upgraded laptops those are great sponsorship opportunities as well.
Sponsor a Class or Lecture – Many people are attending our virtual classes and programs – what a great chance for people to show support and celebrate a birthday or anniversary or mark a yahrzeit by sponsoring any kind of virtual class, lunch & learn Havdalah service, etc.
Start a Monthly Giving Program – If this was on your back burner, move it forward now by introducing a monthly giving program which allows members to commit to a monthly recurring donation amount to the synagogue. The amount can be adjusted depending on how the donor is doing at any point in time.
New endowment opportunities – The crisis has opened up the potential of new kinds of endowment opportunities that should be explored as normalcy is restored. How about endowing a series of virtual programs that will continue to be held or a staff person to continue this heightened level of programming or membership connectivity? If the synagogue is doing any emergency fundraising to help community members that momentum could lead to creating a restricted fund or endowment for tikkun olam or chesed projects in the future. You might find some donors get really excited about this opportunity.
Financial stability is important but congregational support/engagement is even more so these days. Connect with everyone on a regular basis. Use this time to check in with members, donors and their families and update them on the positive impact your synagogue is having on community members. This is a chance to strengthen relationships with donors by communicating clearly and openly.
It is gratifying to see that in times of crisis so many people are turning to our synagogue communities for connection and support. People who feel connected to our synagogues will step up and show their financial support to the best of their ability! Don’t fear asking for those much needed dollars during a crisis.
Barry S. Mael is Senior Director, Synagogue Affiliations & Operations, USCJ.