Engaging Jews Across the Spectrum: Targeting Messaging to Achieve Fundraising Success

If the challenge presented by the Pew survey is that Jews in America are a varied and fragmented bunch, than the opportunity is to reframe these differences as interests and focus our work on increasing the engagement of these interests.

by Robert Evans and Avrum Lapin

The recently released survey from Pew Research Center, “A Portrait of Jewish Americans,” has attracted significant attention and conversations continue – including here at eJewishPhilanthropy and elsewhere – with game-changing implications.

Chief among these observations are the following:

  • One in five Jews (22%) now describe themselves as having no religion;
  • Only 32% of Jews in the youngest generation (the so-called Millennials) identify as Jewish on the basis of ancestry, ethnicity, or culture;
  • More than half (55%) say being Jewish is mainly a matter of ancestry and culture;
  • More than half (56%) say that working for justice and equality is essential to what they believe it means to be Jewish; and
  • Two-thirds of Jews of no religion say they are not raising their children Jewish.

Let us be clear, the report of the demise of the Jewish people is clearly inaccurate, overly simplistic, wrong, but frightening. The Pew survey instead reflects something equally important with significant fundraising implications: the American Jewish community is changing and with this evolution comes substantial opportunities for Jewish nonprofits to connect, or even re-connect, with new constituents and key stakeholders.

Changing Attitudes = Updated Messaging

The Pew survey indicates that “being Jewish” or “acting Jewish” can include very different attitudes and activities for many different Jews. Attitudes about support for Israel are changing, working on Shabbat can be part of living a Jewish life, and believing in God and acting in accordance with laws of the Jewish faith are not mutually exclusive. Regardless of whether the leadership of a variety of synagogues, “legacy” institutions, JCC’s, or Federations agrees with these new attitudes, they are probably here to stay, and Jewish nonprofits must adapt to the needs and desires of their constituencies in order to survive and thrive.

We are not advocating for “mission drift” or re-tooling, nor are we suggesting that synagogues should dramatically change their services or programming. However, recognizing that there are changing reasons for individuals participating in Jewish communal activities is a critical step in understanding how to direct compelling requests for philanthropic support. For example, imagine that a synagogue’s Capital Campaign leads with the central messaging of “creating a home for Jewish children for generations to come.” If a prospective major donor is raising his/her children in the Jewish faith but is married to someone who practices another religion, it might stress “Jewish content and knowledge” rather than “a Jewish home.” Presenting a dated message to a contemporary audience, one that messaging will not resonate with him/her, will result in the loss of a gift.

What Do Donors Love?

At EHL Consulting, we believe that any fundraising initiative, even a standard annual appeal, should be approached first by careful planning and donor research. For large campaigns, we always recommend starting with a Pre-Campaign Assessment, a formal fact-finding and market research activity that involves individual interviews, statistical analysis, and rigorous reporting. However, for smaller campaigns and year-round initiatives, the information that nonprofit leaders need is most likely right at their fingertips: reviewing past donations.

Most donors have a specific area within the organizations they support that is especially close to their hearts. For supporters of a Community-based Jewish Day School, it is the reach of their alumni and the access for their graduates to positions of leadership in Jewish Community as well as level of success in the business and professional world. Within a JCC, this might be the adult educational offerings, the summer camp, or the cultural efforts.

Determining these specific interests, and then crafting fundraising appeals and requests based on these interests, is a great way to increase fundraising success rates. To determine these interests, professionals can review giving histories. Does this donor always support capital campaigns for the school? Do they earmark their contributions for education? Have they never responded to an endowment request? Some simple sleuthing can be quite revealing!

The Importance of Segmentation

Tailoring messaging to the right people at the right time can lead to increased contributions and decreased frustration from donors. Most nonprofits already segment their annual appeals, sending different letters to major donors, average donors, and lapsed donors. However, segmenting email communication and other forms of correspondence throughout the year is a great strategy to boost the engagement of all donors.

The easiest place to segment donors is within an email subscription platform. Segmenting the newsletter subscription base is as easy as breaking the list of subscribers into separate groups, sub-lists, or categories. These groups allow you to send targeted email newsletters that better appeal to the intended audience.

Examples of these groups could be:

  • Major, Mid level and General community-based donors
  • General newsletter subscribers
  • Interest: adult education programs
  • Interest: childhood education programs
  • Interest: community service
  • Legacy and bequest donors
  • Israel advocacy donors
  • Local businesses

For the Capital Campaign example we mentioned before, this may mean sending three variations of the same email: one focusing on the positive impacts a new building will have on education, one detailing the importance of passing along Jewish traditions, and one highlighting how critical the building is to creating a space for civic engagement and community service activities. These three different messages ultimately all have the same goal: to raise money for the Capital Campaign. However, by targeting the messaging, this campaign becomes much more compelling to each group of donors.

Focusing on Opportunities

If the challenge presented by the Pew survey is that Jews in America are a varied and fragmented bunch, than the opportunity is to reframe these differences as interests and focus our work on increasing the engagement of these interests. Donors have always been individuals; some prefer endowment efforts while others give during events, etc. The only difference now is that nonprofit professionals cannot blindly rely upon the “basic Jewish-ness” of their donors as a unifying call-to-action. If this “new” reality, the findings of which have really been with us long before the Pew Study was a twinkle in a researcher’s eye, is that some Jews care about Israel and others don’t, or that some Jews are passing along their traditions and others aren’t, then nonprofit professionals must accept and adapt.

Robert I. Evans, Managing Director, and Avrum D. Lapin, Director, are principals of The EHL Consulting Group, a fundraising consulting firm located in suburban Philadelphia. They are frequent contributors to eJewishPhilanthropy.com. The EHL Consulting Group is one of only 38 member firms of The Giving Institute. EHL Consulting works with dozens of nonprofits on fundraising, strategic planning, and nonprofit business practices and strategies. Learn more at ehlconsulting.com

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