As the Year Turns, Are You on the List?

By Robert H. Isaacs

Like so many Americans, Jews sit down at year’s end to make decisions about many of their charitable gifts. While we may be guided by the Jewish calendar or a fiscal calendar, it is often the secular calendar that determines when we make most of our charitable gifts. And the final quarter of the secular year is an important time for nonprofits, particularly the month of December. It is the time when many Americans review their finances, examine tax implications, and allocate their charitable dollars. No Jewish organization should miss this opportunity to maximize year-end giving.

It is no secret that the American Jewish community is facing a time of enormous challenges, as well as vast opportunities for innovation. Survey after survey has documented a shifting demographic and religious landscape. Jewish organizations continue to be in a period of transition and the people they serve are defining their Jewish identity in new ways. Though there are many challenges ahead, there is also ample reason to hope that many of our institutions will succeed at making Jewish life more meaningful and accessible. Jewish organizations – and congregations in particular – must be on a sound financial footing in order to mitigate challenges and capitalize on opportunities. Given the uncertainity that the future holds, we must take advantage of all opportunities to build our financial resources.

In 2016, Americans gave more than $390 billion to America’s nonprofits and houses of worship – the highest amount in our history – and we are likely to see even higher numbers this year. While Jewish organizations are not seeing the same kinds of large donations that are now the norm in higher education and other sectors, there is every reason to be hopeful about gift potential.

As donors draw up lists of organizations they will support at the end of the year, don’t assume that your synagogue or organization will be on that list! This is the most important tip I can offer: Take proactive steps to inform donors about your needs. Reach out to donors or members with letters or even phone calls. Don’t rely on impersonal emails or social media to get your message out. Make sure your needs are clearly defined and that your “ask” is personalized and compelling.

As you reach out to your donor base, as the secular year draws to a close, make sure to vary your message: Focusing on different goals or aspects of your organization will likely resonate with different donors and potential donors. Even as you highlight your organization’s needs, make sure that you focus on the positive and present the “ask” from a position of strength and excitement, not panic and desperation.

Ensure that your website has a secure online donation system; the “donate” button should stand out and be clickable from every page and be a different color from your overall webpage color scheme.

Even if your organization successfully ran a High Holiday appeal, you have every reason to keep going with an end-of-year-appeal. Some Jewish donors are inspired to give by the High Holidays, but others consider it a time of personal reflection and not the time to focus on charitable giving. For those who are motivated by the year’s end, your organization needs to make a compelling case for why it should receive support.

Additionally, keep in mind that even as I write this article, Congress is working on a major overhaul of our tax codes. These potential changes will have significant implications if passed, possibly negatively impacting the tax benefits to donors for charitable giving. And while we can’t predict what will ultimately be passed, we do know what the benefits are for 2017 and we should emphasize them with our donors.

Every nonprofit has limited resources, and by no means do I suggest that your organization put all of its remaining efforts for the year into an end-of-year-appeal. Every organization must assess its priorities and assign tasks appropriately, but I believe every nonprofit should engage in some form of end-of-year fundraising. All of our community’s great organizations should be letting people know about the valuable work they are doing and offering donors the chance to invest in a meaningful cause.

Remember, many of your current or potential donors will be drawing up their lists of the organizations they choose to support. Make sure that your organization has made a persuasive ask so that it can rise to the top!

Robert Isaacs is Chief Executive Officer of the Evans Consulting Group, a firm now in its 26th year, that helps nonprofits meet and exceed their strategic and fundraising goals. Evans Consulting advises nonprofits, manages fundraising campaigns, facilitates strategic planning processes, evaluates nonprofit business practices, engages in donor research and cultivation, coaches nonprofit leaders, and performs a wide variety of development-related services. He spent more than 20 years in executive roles at two large synagogues and a major JCC and is passionate about sharing what he’s learned. He has been a frequent and sought-after presenter at national conventions, focusing especially on contemporary approaches impacting on and relating to fundraising, budget management, working with outside contractors, building staff teams, and ethics in the workplace. He can be reached at