Planning Your High Holiday Appeal

Now is the time for communications and fundraising professionals to begin planning strategically about the direct mail, online solicitations, special events, and other types of important “touches” with current and future donors that will take place during the High Holiday season.

by Robert I. Evans and Avrum D. Lapin

Is a special High Holiday appeal part of your organization’s campaign plan? With barely 80 days remaining until Rosh Hashanah, time is running short! This year’s calendar requires strategic thinking for maximum success, as we note that this year, Rosh Hashanah begins on Wednesday, September 4th, just two days after Labor Day, and Yom Kippur starts on Friday, September 13th, thereby presenting some time-sensitive issues that need to be coordinated quickly.

In 2013 synagogues and other Jewish nonprofits must plan their High Holiday appeals very carefully. Sent too early, they may get lost during summer vacation. Sent too late, they may get lost in the shuffle, besetting families as they deal with the start of the school year, holiday preparation and, of course, the last chance at summer vacation.

At EHL Consulting, we believe in and encourage strategic planning. The challenges presented by this year’s Jewish calendar can be seized to promote accountability and strong planning within Jewish nonprofits. Now is the time for communications and fundraising professionals to begin planning strategically about the direct mail, online solicitations, special events, and other types of important “touches” with current and future donors that will take place during the High Holiday season.

Step 1: Review and Establish Your High Holiday Appeal Goals

Too often, synagogues and other Jewish nonprofits fail to determine the specific goals they are trying to reach with their High Holiday appeal. “Raising more money than last year” is not specific enough! Yes, everyone wants to improve upon last year’s totals … but by how much? Is success measured as a larger overall total, more new donors, regaining lapsed donors … or all of the above? Are you targeting specific donor populations in order to reach these goals, or sending a form letter to everyone on your list? How are you measuring these outcomes?

By defining what success looks like, you’ll know when you’ve reached and hopefully surpassed it. Creating specific data points will help organizations gather the type of information that will be useful for planning future development initiatives, and creating a cycle of improvement.

Step 2: Create Your Communication Schedule

Now is the time to establish your communication schedule so that your objectives are achieved within the correct timeframe, and importantly, do not overlap with each other in ways. Acting early will help to avoid high-stress and less successful situations down the road. We all know that when time is running out, tensions can run high. Being proactive is always the key to success in the ways of fundraising.

In order to execute your High Holiday fundraising appeals most effectively, begin today by creating an integrated fundraising and communication calendar to map out important milestones leading to the High Holidays. This includes defining the required action steps and acknowledging hard deadlines.

Step 3: Involve Volunteers

Regardless of how previous High Holiday appeals have been structured, we suggest forming a volunteer committee, assigned to reach out to potential and repeat donors to ask for their financial support.

Making the High Holiday appeal a larger group effort will allow for more personalized follow-up to appeals and add a new dimension to the outreach efforts.

Step 4: Focus the Message

The High Holiday appeal is a great time to showcase organizational progress. Update constituencies with what showcases activities and impact, how and what you have learned, what great new strategies have been discovered, and the plan to keep this momentum strong going forward. By demonstrating ongoing growth and plans for continued success, the campaign message should inspire individuals to make an investment in the organization’s future by giving more substantial gifts.

Step 5: Incorporate Online Fundraising

Online fundraising is here to stay and will continue to escalate in the coming years. Is your organization using email and social media as part of its High Holiday fundraising campaign? It should be! Online fundraising has the potential to significantly increase donations from a variety of donor constituencies as well as heighten awareness of your organization. Online appeals are more “shareable” than their direct mail counterparts: donors who are inspired by your appeal can easily pass it along to friends and colleagues, or post about it on social media. Plus, online charitable giving has become the method of choice for many donors who prefer the simplicity of making a gift with a click of the mouse.

Online appeals are a cost-effective option for connecting with first-time and low-level donors. Remember, moderate and small gifts can add up and provide the funds needed to get you to your fundraising goal. It is also important to recognize that all organizations enjoy more success in fundraising for the long-term when they offer many different ways to give for donors of all giving levels and inclinations.

Important, too, is the level of trust you can establish with your new online donors. If you’re asking for personal information, make sure you clearly display your privacy policy. Some donors will want reassurance that your site has a secure server before they type in their credit card information, and most want to know that you won’t sell their email address or spam them. But by all means, capture those names! Include a clause that states that donors will automatically be added to your mailing list, with the unsubscribe option available at any time. This provides another means of communicating with those who are interested in your organization.

Plan Now for Success!

We hope that all Jewish nonprofits will take our advice to heart and plan immediately and aggressively for an effective and strategic High Holiday appeal effort in 5774/2013. We recommend that new approaches are considered and implemented, especially becoming even more targeted and innovative in the outreach this year. Most importantly, be timely! As we have said in the past, fundraising is a 12-month activity, yet there are barely three months until the High Holidays. Therefore, make the most of these summer months and be sure to plan now so you don’t fall short of your fundraising needs and expectations come September.

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 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

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