Is the G.A. a gateway to fundraising in the U.S. for Israeli nonprofits?
No! and Yes!
by David Maeir-Epstein
The General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America will take place this year in Denver, Colorado, November 6-8, 2011. Some 3000 Jewish leaders, professionals and laypeople will attend sessions, small group and plenary, designed to present successful models of Jewish communal work, to shed light on the issues of the day confronting Diaspora Jewish communities and to a lesser extent Israel.
Outside of the meeting rooms, usually at basement level, is an exhibition hall made up of a couple hundred cubicles with tables, banners, closed loop videos, baskets of small give-aways such as candies, imprinted pens, buttons, booklets, reprinted articles, CD’s and the like. Behind the tables are one or two organizational representatives, more than happy to give you their shpiel, urge you to give them your business card or register your contact details on their list.
In recent years, the number and percentage of Israeli organizations taking booths at the G.A. Exhibition Halls has grown, as more and more Israeli nonprofits realize that they have to be more proactive in order to develop supporters in North America. The key question that needs to be answered is whether the G.A. is a gateway to fundraising in the U.S. for Israeli nonprofits?
For many the answer is no, particularly if their booth at the exhibition hall is the sole focus of their business at the G.A. While it is true that the average income of the lay leadership attending the G.A. is about $400,000 per year, it is my guess that the average income of the Exhibition Hall browser is less because the top leadership is too busy with presenting at and attending the sessions to spend much time strolling down the basement aisles.
Just as philanthropists rarely surf the net looking for organizations to which to contribute, the G.A. participants are not strolling down the Exhibition Hall aisles seeking new beneficiaries for generous contributions. While it is the fantasy of every exhibitor organization that in return for every fifty-cent freebie that they give away, the grateful G.A. participant will leave a check many times that value, the most they can realistically hope for is a name and email address. Whether the Israeli nonprofit can parlay that into a contribution down the road depends on the amount of follow up they invest in the months following the G.A. Unfortunately, few have the wisdom and the fortitude to pursue their new-found acquaintances and convert the brief encounter into successful friend-raising followed by fundraising.
Finally, a G.A. in Denver will undoubtedly mean a below average number of registrants as historically the G.A.’s on the east and west coast have attracted higher participation than the center of the country. Federations may also be limiting their staff attendance in light of the financial downturn.
How to use the G.A. as a means to your goal of developing new sources of suppot in the most cost efficient and effective way
The G.A. is an opportunity to be present at a place where key leadership, professional and lay, convenes from far flung cities. The cost to fly to meet these people at their home communities is prohibitive in comparison to pitching your tent at the G.A. However, unless you have done your homework and identified specific people and specific communities ahead of time, set meetings and appointments and filled your schedule above and beyond staffing your table at the exhibition hall, your investment of time and energy will probably not pay the dividends for which you were hoping.
The process of making appointments both at the G.A. and before and after must begin two months prior to the GA. The month of September, therefore, in 2011 is critical as Rosh Hashana begins towards the end of the month and poses problems in communication as the holidays mean days out of the office both for us Israelis and for the Americans.
Start with your existing donors, foundations, friends, relatives and their friends. Spend an hour or two a day communicating by telephone and email. All too often we take the easy way out by sending an email and then wasting valuable time waiting for a response. Much more effective is making the phone call first and then following up immediately with an email confirming what was agreed upon, and with further telephone calls to reach agreement on the specifics of the meeting place and time. Meetings can be with existing or potential donors.
Can you have a “Friends” of your organization host a parlor meeting in his or her home community before or after the G.A. or at the G.A.?
September 2nd is the deadline for the early bird discount for registering your organization for a table in the exhibition hall. You can register for a table, but cancel your reservation if your appointments don’t justify the trip, however a 50% deposit on the table is non refundable. After October 5th there are no refunds for the cost of the table.
You might want to consider sharing a booth with another Israeli NGO, either one similar to yours or perhaps “dafka” one very different than yours. Alternatively, there are consultants like me who rent a booth and represent a number of their clients, thus reducing the price per organization and the number (if any) of organizational staff needed to attend the G.A.
The key to the exhibition booths is the gathering of business cards and email addresses. This can be done both “manually” through individual conversations with passersby and those who inquire about the content of your organization. It can also be done with the incentive of a raffle in which the prize is something that you can provide without great expense.
For those staffing the booths, there will be “down time” when you will yourself be able to stroll down the aisles and take a look at what your colleagues from Israel and North America are offering. Sometimes this can result in the development of cooperative ventures based both on your organization’s needs and upon your strengths and services you can provide.
If your organization is one that has graduates or numbers of people who will likely be at the G.A. you might want to consider scheduling a “reunion” or a special program to be held either in a hotel room, meeting room, lobby area or restaurant. If you do, it is my suggestion that you do so on the first or second day of the G.A. in case the event results in the need for follow up with some of the participants that could be done in situ rather than after everyone goes home to the four corners of the world.
David Maeir-Epstein has been to many G.A.’s in the past decades, some in his capacity as a Federation professional (Boston, Cleveland, St. Louis, Louisville), in his capacity as the Israel representative of Federations in Project Renewal (Los Angeles, Baltimore, Houston and Central New Jersey), and as the Israel Desk Director of the AJJDC. In the past decade he has attended G.A.’s as the representative of his Israeli nonprofit clients. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.