Canada: The Fundraising Frontier

by Chaim Katz

I recently attended a fascinating conference in Jerusalem, targeted at the non-profit community. Following the lunch break, we were treated to an entertaining performance by Jerusalem humorist, Jackie Levy. He opened with a series of jokes, aimed at proving that statistics are worthless or, at least, often far from accurate.

The jokes were well delivered and certainly helped contribute to our post-meal digestion. But, the point, although told in jest, had a great deal of merit, especially in the world of Resource Development.

Statistics are probably among the most flexible factors in mathematics and the sciences. They are highly malleable and can be twisted in most any shape or direction, depending on your needs. I once heard statistics compared to the manna that the Jews ate during their 40 year sojourn in the desert. Whenever you’re in need, they are available, and you can flavor them however you desire.

But, levity aside, I’ve attended more than my share of board meetings over the years and seen facts turned every which way to please the members. A 30% deficit on a program becomes a 70% success rate. Membership attrition figures are offset by retention statistics. And so forth.

However, after the dust has settled, the cake has been eaten, and the meeting adjourned until the next quarter, reality returns. When your daily mission requires you to fund all the necessary services under your umbrella, the statistics, as the old saying goes, are gornisht mit gornisht. They are worthless. The bottom line is maintaining an adequate cash flow.

And that brings us to our donors.

The last few years have caused more than a few gray hairs to sprout. Organizations in Israel, long dependent on foreign support, have suffered a tremendous blow. The golden lining was the need for many organizations to trim their budgets, and do away with truly unnecessary expenses. This required downsizing, often at the expense of jobs that were already underpaid. Many became far more efficient and learned new ways to provide the same level of service more cost-effectively. But, when all was said and done, the support was still necessary.

Last year, I was visiting Melbourne, Australia on behalf of an Israeli organization. It is an annual trip to the end of the world (or so it feels) to visit with a warm group of supporters for children in Israel with special needs. I was leaving the home of one donor when I was accosted outside his door, not by thugs, but by Israeli fundraisers. My eyesight is not the best at night but I counted no less than 27 gentlemen hoping to speak to the same person. When I called him later, he told me that he has stopped accepting “cold call” visitors. Without exception, these fundraisers had lost many of their supporters in the US and the UK and were hoping to find some measure of success down-under.

Melbourne, though, is a small community. The people are very friendly and generous. But, you can only cut slices of a cake so thin before they crumble. Thus, like our brethren in the desert, it is time to head out to a new frontier, to a land laden with many bountiful resources.

Welcome to Canada; Bienvenue au Canada.

Though I’ve lived in Israel for nearly 25 years, and in the US before that, I was born and raised in Canada. Looking back, I can truly appreciate how donating is an intrinsic part of Canadian culture. As young kids in grade school, we sold various items to raise money for charity. You shoveled snow in the winter (who didn’t)? A portion went to Tzedaka, even if just a few pennies. Schools always ran fundraising events, not just for their own coffers. People donated time and effort, goods and services, and money.

A recent poll indicated that 85% of Canadians donate in some way. Putting aside the earlier discussion of statistics, it still boils down to a giving culture. So, having offered that lovely patriotic introduction, how does the Israeli fundraiser tap into this incredible resource?

Being Jewish, I’ll answer a question with a question. How do you tackle any new community – through contacts. There certainly are many Canadian foundations that fund programs in Israel. But, the process of application is no different than in other countries. It is an investment of time and energy, and there is no guarantee. Of course, once your name becomes known, you may start meeting directors of foundations, as well as other community leaders. But, it comes back to basics. Establish your contacts.

Use your Israeli database as your point of departure. Many Israelis have close relatives and friends residing in Canada, primarily in Toronto and Montreal, the two largest Jewish communities. Build a grassroots campaign by encouraging loyal local supporters to attract their Canadian friends and family to join the cause. Don’t forget that your donor is not just a financial supporter. Donors should be viewed as your ambassadors. Allow them to help you with your task.

For those who have never visited Canada, they often conjure up an image of the frozen tundra and endless winters. True, there is no shortage of snow in Canada, and much of the country (not the urban centers) is unsettled natural wilderness. But, the Canadian Jewish community is a warm, vibrant assembly of individuals who ardently support Israel and its many causes. For now, you may be the new kid on the block. But, once the neighbors get to know you, you’ll be made to feel most welcome.

Chaim Katz has lived in Israel since 1987. A native of Toronto, Canada, Chaim’s career has spanned three countries and a variety of positions within the private and business sectors. He currently devotes his time to writing as well as operating a Canadian charitable foundation that supports various projects in Israel.