Consider High Holiday Campaigns

shofarPart Two

By Robert Evans

The High Holidays are certainly a time when Jews – regardless of their level of engagement or observance – feel most connected to their Jewish selves. It is a time when Jewish organizations of all kinds seek to inspire Jews to step up their involvement and, yes, to possibly make some charitable gifts. But how effectively do organizations design compelling appeals during the High Holidays, especially when so many Jewish organizations are competing for charitable dollars? The following are recommendations for Jewish nonprofits other than synagogues.

In yesterday’s post, I highlighted the importance of the High Holiday appeal for congregations. But what about other Jewish nonprofits, including day schools, defense and policy organizations, Federations, social service agencies, and Israel “friends of” organizations? In my decades of experience in the Jewish fundraising world, I’ve seen a few stellar examples of High Holiday appeals. But too often, this has been an underutilized resource. Too many Jewish organizations have reached out to donors around the Days of Awe in a pro-forma, uninspired manner. A good number don’t even try. But they are missing a crucial opportunity. Here are a few reasons why:

  • Jewish organizations may very well have an easier time raising money around the High Holidays than synagogues. Like synagogues, they can tap into the wellspring of Jewish identity during this period. But unlike synagogues, they don’t have to interrupt prayer and reflection to ask for donations on the holiest days of our Jewish calendar.
  • The fourth quarter is, far and away, the strongest period in the domestic calendar for charitable giving. This year, Rosh Hashanah falls on September 24, which is less than a week before the start of the fourth quarter. Timing is on your side!
  • Experts predict that 2014 may surpass the record for total charitable giving set in 2007 – before the financial meltdown known as the Great Recession. If it doesn’t, it will surely come close. If your organization doesn’t tap into this spirit of generosity, others will.

While Americans are a giving people, most individual donors don’t maximize their giving capacity. And we, in the Jewish community, are perceived to be among the most generous! Even if someone has already made a philanthropic commitment to support your agency, don’t be afraid to ask for a separate High Holiday gift. Remember this counterintuitive rule of fundraising: the more time that passes after a donor’s last gift, the less likely that donor is to give in the future. This is one reason why colleges and universities are so successful at fundraising; they strategically time their requests. They manage to stay in their donors’ minds without overstaying their welcome. So ask and then ask again!

A successful High Holiday appeal is like any other campaign. It requires strategy and planning. Consider forming a committee to plan the appeal. Utilize all the platforms at your disposal: email, social media, and direct mail, to reach your intended audience. For this to really work, the High Holiday appeal must somehow be different from other campaign asks.

  • But here is a concept that I really like: organizations could concentrate their High Holiday appeal on lapsed donors. What could be a better time to start giving to an organization again than just before the proverbial book of life is opened? Therefore, I urge that you review your donor rolls and focus on those who have not made any type of gift in the last 12-36 months, highlighting a concept of “we miss you!”.

For “friends of” organizations in the United States raising money for Israel, this year’s appeal comes at a critical time. Every corner of life in Israel was and continues to be affected by the war in Gaza. The operations of every Israeli nonprofit have been impacted on some level. Israeli organizations must use their communications to American donors to demonstrate the impact the organization has on Israeli society. As part of the High Holiday appeal, groups must provide some concrete information about how the conflict has affected the organization. There’s a sense, misplaced or not, that some organizations – particularly those that are less well known – are “using” the conflict to raise dollars. Donors will always be skeptical, and we want a healthy degree of skepticism. That’s what keeps nonprofits on their toes! If a case can be made that the war in Gaza has created new needs for your organization, then by all means make it and link it to the High Holidays. Just be honest, straightforward and eschew exaggeration. At the holiest time of the year, you are asking Jews to invest in the Jewish state and the global Jewish community. That is something to be proud of, not something to shy away from.

Jewish organizations must not be afraid to call upon the language and paradigm of the High Holidays to frame the request. The High Holiday appeal must be targeted, special and distinct from an organization’s annual campaign. Creative and strategic approaches will likely yield rewarding results. That’s especially true in an environment in which donors feel confident about the economy. It is certainly late in the game to start thinking about the High Holiday appeal. Ideally, such an effort should be mapped out in the spring, but, I contend, it is not too late to launch a targeted effort. As Rabbi Hillel famously said, “If not now, when?”.

Robert Evans, President of the Evans Consulting Group, has more than 35 years of experience advising nonprofit organizations and conducting fundraising campaigns in major metropolitan areas nationwide. Regarded as an authority on campaign strategy, Mr. Evans is known for his inventive campaign plans that have enabled clients to reach development goals even in the most challenging circumstances. He sits on the Giving USA Editorial Review Board and serves on the National Steering Committee for Giving Tuesday. He writes a regular column for and is quoted frequently in mainstream and professional media outlets.