How Our Federation is “Sayin’ Thanks”

When was the last time you were thanked?

Saying thanks (DC)By Zach Briton

Today and always, a core priority of the Federation system continues to be to raise the funds necessary to ensure that as a community, we can touch, save and change lives. At The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, we take this responsibility very seriously and are proud of the impact we are making with the dollars we have raised. But last year, as we continued to face the challenge of increasing competition for philanthropic time, talent and treasure from the many worthy causes in our community, we were faced with the question: how does our organization stand out?

As we pondered how best to address the issue at our Federation, we recognized that none of the support we provide to the community would be possible without our generous donors – individuals from across Greater Washington who are committed to ensuring a strong, vibrant and caring Jewish community now and in the future. It was time to expand our focus beyond the important work of raising the dollars and into enhancing our culture of appreciation.

Fundraising literature is replete with the truism that we should thank donors seven different ways during the course of a year. With this in mind as we considered what was next for our organization, we found ourselves ready to lead the charge on a culture change that would turn a 36-year old Federation tradition on its head.

Thirty six years ago, our Federation launched the first ever “Super Sunday.” This annual day of community building and fundraising came to be replicated far and wide across the nation. We felt great pride to have created such a meaningful event that, at the time, was helping Federations collectively raise millions of dollars. In spite of the success of Super Sunday, we came to the realization that our innovative program was in need of a remake. After so many years, Super Sunday was becoming increasingly frustrating for volunteers as they struggled to reach people in a world filled with cell phones and caller ID. The time had come for our next innovation, and Sayin’ Thanks was born.

The first Sayin’ Thanks, launched on January 28, 2015, was a new type of phone-a-thon designed to merge the worlds of fundraising, engagement and gratitude in a way that would leave nothing but positive feelings and appreciation from both our donors and volunteer base. Our calls had only one mission: to say “thanks” to our generous supporters. Our inaugural event saw more than 200 volunteers join us to thank our donors and share with them, through an anecdote or two, the impact they are making on the lives of their fellow Jews here in the DC area and abroad.

The response was overwhelming.

Our volunteers connected with 5,000 donors that day, either with a conversation or by leaving a message (which we didn’t do on Super Sunday) – a substantially higher number of contacts made per person than when our volunteers dialed for dollars. Volunteers overwhelmingly reported feeling energized to deliver messages of gratitude and to leave such messages for the donors they could not reach. For those donors who never want to receive phone calls, a group of volunteers penned 1,500 thank-you notes by hand.

“I can imagine a lot of people will be smiling when they listen to their voicemail,” wrote one volunteer in an email to Federation staff that night, describing a lift that lingered long after the event. “I felt so proud to be a volunteer and donor. I still have a smile on my face.”

For their part, the donors were delighted, and, in some cases, shocked. “I almost fell over in my chair when the volunteer said, ‘I am NOT asking you for money – just calling to thank you personally,’” wrote one donor in an e-mail. “I am so used to getting calls asking for money, which made this experience so refreshing,” he noted, adding that the phone call “makes me want to continue to give annually, because it’s legitimately appreciated.”

While our fellow fundraisers may worry that scrapping an event like Super Sunday would leave money on the table, we know that it doesn’t. Rather than betting we will reach most donors during a one-day Super Sunday program, we instead conduct numerous smaller phone-a-thons throughout the year. But the goodwill generated by Sayin’ Thanks renews and strengthens our connection with our community. When people feel appreciated and that their donations are recognized and impactful, they will be more likely to continue – and to increase – their giving.

And so, as we prepare to host the second annual Sayin Thanks 2016 on January 31, we invite you to consider a new question: when was the last time you were thanked? We feel confident that it is something you won’t soon forget and we know our community members won’t either.

Zach Briton is the Campaign Director of The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington.