Federations, Philanthropy, and the Power of the Collective

By Moshe Hecht and Miriam Brosseau

On Tuesday, April 17, at 11am, it happened. The campaign was over.

The result?

More than 4500 donors had contributed over $3 million in just 24 hours. The campaign rallied nearly twice as many donors as it had the previous year, and hit 50% more than its goal, raising funds and friends for the 12 participating organizations – all Jewish day schools.

The day was a rousing success, not just for the impact it made on the organizations involved and their communities, but for the precedent it set. The “Raise Toronto” Giving Day demonstrated and validated a model of collaborative giving that has the potential to radically redefine Jewish philanthropy in this generation.

Andres Spokoiny’s article, published on July 24 in eJP as part of a curated series responding to AVI CHAI’s report on Giving Jewish, speaks of Federations and private philanthropy as “two sides of the same coin” and advocates for “(A) more effective systems of ethics and communal accountability for both, and (B) a mutually reinforcing relationship between the two.” There is, we believe, a third side to this “coin” which can be neither ignored, nor disconnected from the other two sides: the power of the collective.

Spokoiny references the nascent potential of other approaches, saying, “…the growth of giving circles and crowdfunding are two examples of how new philanthropic models might be created as the old models drift further into the past.”

In our work at Charidy, we see that these models are not only alive and well, but garnering massive success for the organizations ready to take on the challenge that such radically inclusive funding presents. Not only do they represent the future of philanthropy, they also present an opportunity for Federations especially to reconnect with their communities – and return to their communal roots.

Organizations, as it is said, no longer have the monopoly on organizing. How can Federations and private philanthropists alike respond to these realities?

We suggest the following principles:

  • Never give alone. Everyone feels the need to belong (which we’ve written about before). And charitable giving can provide that sense of connection and meaning that we all crave. The exhortation to never give alone means providing opportunities for every level of donor to contribute, and ultimately benefit from that pride of connection and impact. The Giving Day model suggested above is an opportunity for Federations and private foundations to connect with one another and the community, creating a rising tide that lifts all boats – organizations and individuals alike.
  • Use urgency wisely. Urgency is a core tool in any fundraiser’s toolkit. But a donor comes away with a very different feeling knowing that not only is the cause to which they contributed urgent and important, but that the entire community is rallying around a singular mission, now. As we saw with the “Raise Toronto” Giving Day, that builds a connection not only to the mission, but also to those who share in supporting it, in a palpable way.
  • Integrate and iterate. The best fundraising, and the best philanthropy, is deeply aligned with an organization’s programming. Data from one feeds into and builds off of the other; in the best cases, this creates a virtuous cycle of giving, creating, learning, reflecting, and giving again. Collaborative, timely campaigns that involve donors of every level (and, we’ve seen at Charidy, are also effective at converting volunteers into donors and fundraisers) turn into high-energy marketing campaigns for existing, successful programs, and become a de facto community-wide vetting process for new ideas.
    Recently, I (Moshe) was standing with a veteran Federation leader in a call center for a large Federation-affiliated organization. The call center (what we call an Operations Room) was part of an integrated communication plan that included social media influencers, email marketing, some guerilla stunts, and other tactics. He looked at me and said “I thought Super Sundays were dead … but the way we’re doing it here, it’s making it sexy again!”

The “Raise Toronto” Giving Day is an example of an idea that is, like so many Jewish ideas, both very new and very, very old. Federations and private philanthropists/foundations alike are all in this business for the same reason: to make a meaningful, positive impact on the community. The thing is, as we learn in Pirkei Avot, we should not separate ourselves from that community. Federations are the most strategically positioned organizations to pioneer this impact revolution due to the combination of their local, on-the-ground presence, resources, smarts, and “macro-level” thinking.

As Spokoiny writes, “Federations are also rethinking and reforming how they operate in response to the new environment, and, as they continue this exciting work, they may introduce participatory models that don’t only engage the departing mega-donors more, but the micro-donors in new ways as well. Now, this optimistic vision of elite-led democratization can’t by any means be counted on – but neither can it be counted out.”

The power of the collective is real and ready to be harnessed. As leading Jewish institutions continue to rethink and reform, the entire community will see the benefit.

Moshe Hecht is a philanthropy futurist and Chief Innovation Officer of Charidy, a crowdfunding program that has helped 1,500 organizations raise over a half billion dollars. Moshe is an accomplished entrepreneur whose passion lies at the intersection of technology and charitable giving. When Moshe is not at the office, he is writing music and enjoying downtime with his wife and three redheaded children. @moshehecht @wearecharidy

Miriam Brosseau is Charidy‘s Director of Marketing and a serial digital dogooder. She loves great storytelling and is obsessed with strengthening communications for mission-driven organizations. When not strategizing, collaborating, or wrangling awesome content, she’s a mom of two young boys, a singer-songwriter, podcaster, and lover of all kinds of geeky things. @miriamjayne