Cultivating New Donors: Game, Set, MATCH!

by Marla Choslovsky

Last month my 18-year-old son competed in Division 2 of the National Scrabble Tournament in Orlando, Florida. At this event, 339 players of all ages vied in five skill-based divisions. Competitors were matched 31 times over five days, with results and pairings refined after each round of play. Scrabble contestants use a clock to monitor a fixed amount of time to allocate to their plays, and skill levels are tracked with an intricate ratings system. Players participate mainly for the love of the game, although some earn cash prizes between $25 and $10,000. This year’s event was reported in the national news when a cheating incident resulted in the ejection of a player from the games.

Working on the day school MATCH program while tracking my son’s hourly progress, I couldn’t help but notice some similarities between the two endeavors. Just as a Scrabble tournament can accommodate a wide variety of players, from the novice to the world’s elite players, so too can MATCH help schools across the entire Jewish day school spectrum. Whether your school has a sophisticated development department or is supported by enthusiastic volunteers, MATCH is an opportunity for you to grow your donor base. Below are four ways to improve your development game.

1. Study your lists. As anyone who has played a living room game of Scrabble knows, breadth of word knowledge is very helpful – the more words you know, the better your chances of scoring points using the seven random letter tiles on your rack. So the first step a casual player takes on the way to competitive play is to study the two-letter word list. Mastery of that file is followed by investigating lists of three-letter words, Q-without-U words, vowel-heavy words, vowel-free words, and more. The most serious players create their own lists.

Similarly, the first step toward a MATCH is studying your lists – of alumni, alumni parents, grandparents and stakeholders in the community. Your current parents, trustees and staff members can help you scrutinize existing lists and generate new ones to identify potential MATCH donors. Examining your lists should be an annual process that will improve your game, not just for this year’s campaign, but for all your future fundraising.

2. Learn new strategies. Once my son determined to become a serious Scrabble competitor, he took it upon himself to learn new strategies. First he learned about tracking which letters have been played, so that he could assess certain variables – for instance, the likelihood of getting a hoped-for letter, or the chance that his opponent holds the coveted X tile. Later he mastered the concept of “rack leave” and learned about end-game plays. As he added strategies to his arsenal, his rating steadily improved; at one point he was listed on the North American Scrabble Players Association website as one of the most improved players on the continent! (Pardon the kvelling.)

Day school fundraisers also need to continually evolve their strategies in order to improve their performance. MATCH, now in its fourth iteration, is a proven approach for helping day schools identify, cultivate, and receive gifts from new donors.  The 1-for-2 incentive for the donor of $10,000 is at first a tactic to cultivate a new giver; successful stewardship of that MATCH patron will lead to a relationship between the person and the school that can last well beyond this grant-making year. This is the ultimate goal of MATCH.

3. Manage your game clock. In tournament play, each game is 50 minutes, 25 minutes for each player. Experienced players learn to manage their clock, to take extra time when they think their seven letters could result in a “bingo” with a 50-point bonus, and to leave enough time for the end of the game.

MATCH also has a time limit. Gifts must be secured by January 15, 2013, and pledges must be fulfilled by May 15, 2013. Applications for a MATCH grant are available online, and will be considered on a first-come, first-served basis.

4. Follow the Rules. The set of rules that Hasbro includes in each Scrabble set is a small piece of paper in tri-fold brochure style. However, the rules for the National Scrabble Tournament are contained in a 53-page PDF file, with those original living room rules relegated to a mere appendix. This massive file details minutia of every aspect of the game. (Apparently, Scrabble, like Judaism, is big on writing commentaries on the rules.) But, in the end, those rules are meant to support the spirit and objective of the game.

So too with MATCH! There are three sets of eligibility rules: schools, donors, and gifts must all meet a laundry list of requirements. However, if you keep the rules in mind and stick with the objective of MATCH – to grow your donor base with new donors to day schools – you will have no difficulty meeting the letter of the law for all those specific terms and conditions.

I am happy to tell you that my son finished 17–14, with a positive point spread of +522, which placed him in 26th place out of 85 competitors in his division. He performed well enough for his rating to reach a new high, thus achieving a personal best.

I am equally happy to tell you that, in the first weeks after the MATCH application went live, more than 80 schools indicated by completing their MATCH School Profile that they will strive to cultivate new gifts for MATCH dollars.

So … it’s time to achieve your personal best! Dust off those lists, fine-tune your strategy, strike the MATCH … and “play” for the love of the day school game.

Marla Choslovsky is the Day School MATCH Coordinator at PEJE, a decade-long volunteer fundraiser for her children’s day school, and a crossword puzzle enthusiast. She can still occasionally beat her son at Scrabble. Learn more by visiting the PEJE website, reading the Frequently Asked Questions, or calling Marla at 617.367.0001 x132.

cross-posted with PEJE blog