Jewish and Federation Fund Raising Are Not Synonymous

by Melvyn H. Bloom

In “What I’ve Learned About Raising Money From Jews,” my friend Bob Aronson writes about a particular kind of fund raising. It is an approach that accurately describes the methods used in the past and possibly still being used by Jewish Federations. But Bob is missing a crucial point: Jewish fund raising is not synonymous with Federation.

There are as many ways of raising funds from American Jews as from all Americans, and certainly as many as there are American Jewish organizations. Many of them have moved far beyond the methods being criticized. Painting all of them with the same brush makes no sense, because many of us are not on that same wall.

The American Technion Society (ATS) has just completed its $1 billion “Shaping Israel’s Future” campaign. That puts us in league with the biggest American universities, one of just 33 with such huge campaigns. (I am using the ATS as an example since this is the organization I know best. I also offer as credentials for understanding Federation campaigning my 15 years at the national United Jewish Appeal, of blessed memory.)

Despite very difficult economic times, we completed this campaign only months behind schedule. And we did it in part by following the lessons Bob outlines in his “2010 Jewish Giving Handbook.”

A few examples:

We are focused on Israel as it is today – a thriving First-World nation – rather than an Israel in crisis or a needy Israel of another era. While we acknowledge that this new Israel faces serious challenges, as it has throughout its difficult history, we do not dwell on them. Instead, we highlight Israel’s remarkable achievements, and present the country as a source of pride and fulfillment. Friends who are involved with our cause have an opportunity to contribute to the future of 21st century Israel.

Focused on the donors rather than on an obsession with each year’s bottom line, we are remarkably patient, allowing months or often many years for relationships to mature. While we show donors how they can impact the issues that will continue to define the country and ensure its future, we tailor opportunities to each donor’s needs and interests. In effect, we turn each donor into a separate campaign and each gift into a charitable investment: what can he or she accomplish to help build an institution, a nation, and science and technology?

We do not ever solicit against other Jewish organizations or non-Jewish ones, a self-defeating effort as Bob notes. I was proud and happy that we have not had such a conflict in a quarter of a century. Instead, we show how an investment in the Technion is an investment in Israel’s future and a path to Tikun Olam. And we do not have annual campaigns for all the good reasons my respected colleague notes; instead, we have multi-year campaigns. Good management relates to goals that can be achieved over time, not how this year’s total or gift compares to last year’s.

There is a certain irony that our community lacks a forum for discussion of the issues across organizational lines. Many years ago, Bob Aronson and I participated in such a dialogue at the annual meeting of our professional association, AJCOP. But normally, federations talk mainly to one another, and presumably make certain assumptions about the rest of us.

We all know of other Jewish organizations that like the American Technion Society are successfully raising funds for a variety of Israeli and Jewish causes. These are organizations that have seen the benefits of the important lessons Bob Aronson rightly urges.

Melvyn H. Bloom is the Executive Vice President of the American Technion Society.