Program-Directed Donations: Giving Small Nonprofits a Chance to Grow

By Dr. Elana Heideman

Donors want choices.

And they want to know where their money goes when they give. They want to know how they are making a tangible, quantitative difference that makes it worth their time and money.

For any nonprofit, a significant percentage of funds accrued from donations is allocated for the many overhead costs involved in fulfilling the organizational mission. This translates of course into staffing costs – which no donor wants to pay for. Unfortunately, small start-up nonprofits have little choice but to expend more than 50% of their budget on staff. And that raises eyebrows. It turns donors away because they can’t understand how the staff is just as important as the output that is considered to be the “measure” of the organizational success. It is, of course, the staff that actually makes it happen.

So if donors want to see a very visible ROI but small nonprofits need the staff to make that happen, how can the two be reconciled? Can it be a worthwhile funding opportunity? What are the numbers that define “success” for a donor?

We at The Israel Forever Foundation are a small team of women spread across two sides of the ocean – Israel and Washington, DC – working primarily through a virtual office with the added bonus of a family friendly work schedule and less overhead costs on office space. We create top-notch content, original programs, optimal displays and inspiring social media engagement with nearly all part-time staff . Why? Because that is what we have to do to work within the limits of our seed funding and existing budget.

At our inception, we decided to follow the theory that “if you build it, they will come.” We believed that Israel Forever would make such a positive impact in the Jewish world that people would see the value of an organization that focused entirely on making Israel personal, and making Israel engagement virtually accessible to every Jew in every corner of the world in every way they might personally want to feel engaged.

Facebook? You got it – along with over 320,000 fellow followers whose love for Israel Forever is evident in their likes, shares, comments to our original content and the ongoing response to calls to action. Twitter? Right there with you – at over 13K fans who follow @Isrl4Evr because we share the best of the best articles we read along with our own blogs and links. Love to look at pics? Pinterest and Instagram are perfect eye candy, featuring images and graphics that make you come back wanting more. We are reaching the vocal and proud as well as those who may not want to shout out their IsraelLove in a public forum.

With everything going on in the world, we need to cater just as much to the private feeling of connection for that is what will ensure the next generation shares the Israel connection passed down from our ancestors. That, in essence, is what Israel Forever Foundation does – we inspire Israel every day, encouraging people to feel Israel at home, in their hearts, and in their lives without focusing on conflict, mainstream media headlines, or the politics and advocacy that is so often – too often – driving Jews away from having any connection at all.

So how does all of this translate into potential funding? This is where the problem lies: we don’t sponsor hundreds of local programs per year; we simply don’t have the budget or (wo)manpower for it. Instead we provide the tools and resources for countless educators, community and youth leaders to compliment their own local programming with Israel engagement and opportunities for personal activism. The implementation is in their hands – we give them the insightful readings, the inspirational quotes, the discussion questions that empower them to build upon. We believe in creating partnerships, giving resources for free, and sharing the voices of Jews everywhere; we do all we can to tear down the walls of organizational territorialism that too-often diminish our potential for success in the Jewish world.

Small nonprofits like ours are most certainly deserving of the same attention and love as all the big names that raise $31 million dollars in a single night, yet many obstacles stand in our way. Because the three questions most donors have are: Where does my money go? How are you REALLY making a difference? And why should I donate to you over another bigger, more well-known organization?

No, we can’t put their name up on a wall (just yet). But we can give donors the choice to funnel gifts to budget-funding categories for programs so that every individual can direct their dollars to the initiative that speaks most to their heart – whether it be for the expansion of the Virtual Citizen of Israel network, The Israel Memory Project, Balfour Initiative or many other possibilities. And with every dollar, that program becomes even more viable and has the potential to reach even more Jews and Jewish communities in every corner of the globe.

Program-directed giving is just one more way we are making the Israel connection a dynamic, personal expression of Jewish life and identity. As we reframe the “ask” from “Will you give?” by reinforcing a positive initiative of “How would you like to make your gift?”, we are simultaneously offering individuals a chance to personalize their donation as well as their an expression of activism for the sake of Israel and the Jewish People.

So while we continue to seek out that million dollar budget we dream of, we make sure to offer the highest quality of Israel engagement possible, educating individuals, communities, and donors alike. As we continue to make a difference, we hope others will see the value of investing in what could be a facet of the Jewish unity that we all hope to see in our future.

Dr. Elana Heideman is Executive Director of The Israel Forever Foundation.