Be Jewish Calendar Conscious

Be Jewish Calendar Conscious: It’s time to get working on Holiday appeals

by Robert I. Evans and Avrum D. Lapin

The holidays are never on time . . . either too early or too late . . . or so the old line goes.

With the first six weeks of 2010 under our belts, most people have settled into the new decade and a “fresh” calendar. Holidays come and go, the kids are back in school, and everyone is now into “the new normal” that allows for different perspectives on the economy, fundraising and the new ways of the world. Whatever you may think about what the next 6-12 months will bring, deadlines and milestones still present themselves!

Take out your Jewish calendar now and be advised: important dates may be just around the corner and they require strategic thinking. This year, the first Seder is on Monday, March 29th and erev Rosh Hashanah is on Wednesday, September 8th. To some, this “warning” might seem premature, but for a Jewish non-profit now is the time to begin planning strategically about direct mail, tele-marketing, special events, and other types of substantive interactions with current and future donors.

We note that almost every congregation and virtually thousands of Jewish non-profits consider – and probably conduct – special appeals, especially in conjunction with the High Holidays but some come during the Spring, especially prior to or just following Passover.

Now is the time to get started. Being proactive is always the key to success in the ways of fundraising. With only eight weeks until Pesach, what steps have you considered to roll out your new and innovative appeal plans? Rosh Hashanah begins just two days after Labor Day, which also presents some time-sensitive issues that need to be addressed well in advance.

In order to execute holiday fundraising appeals effectively, we suggest beginning today by creating a fundraising calendar to map out important milestones that includes looking at required action steps and acknowledging hard deadlines. Having a timeline that delineates the day-to-day fund development activities as well as identifies organizational meetings and events will enable your leadership to determine the best approaches and the pace in which steps must be taken.

Procure help; reach out to others. Regardless of how you have handled previous appeals, we suggest forming a volunteer committee to focus on holiday appeals, especially the efforts you take at the High Holidays. If you have a leadership group already working on these efforts, we recommend expanding the number of volunteers to account for the condensed time frame.

Executing direct mail efforts, sending e-newsletters, and making phone calls all become very exhausting when only a few individuals are taking responsibility. Make this a larger group effort but be sure to have a leader for task delegation and reporting purposes. Adding more people will allow for more personalized follow-up to appeals and adds a new dimension to the outreach that you intend.

Caution: some organizations are functioning almost on “auto-pilot” because they have conducted Holiday appeals for so many years. This is the year to change systems, innovate, and consider ways to attract more support.

Utilize the opportunity to show progress. The upcoming Jewish holidays always present chances for an organization to provide an update to constituencies. Tell them what you have already done differently in 2010, how and what you have learned working through the period of the Great Recession, and how you plan to keep momentum strong throughout the remainder of the year. Demonstrating growth and plans for continued success will inspire individuals to make an investment in an organization’s future or increase the level that they are already giving. Reflecting responsibility in your organization’s budgeting shows continuing sensitivities to financial pressures.

We hope that all Jewish non-profits will take this advice to heart and begin to plan strategically for more effective fundraising plans for the balance of the year. Be even more aggressive and innovative in your outreach this year, but most importantly be timely. As we have said in the past, fundraising is a 12-month activity. Therefore, make sure to plan ahead so you don’t fall short of your fundraising needs and expectations.

Robert I. Evans, Managing Director, and Avrum D. Lapin, Director, are principals of The EHL Consulting Group, of suburban Philadelphia, and are frequent contributors to EHL Consulting works with dozens of nonprofits on fundraising, strategic planning, and non-profit business practices. Become a fan of The EHL Consulting Group on Facebook.