Reflection: What Do The Numbers Tell Us?

by Robert I. Evans & Avrum D. Lapin

As the recession moves along and the global economy continues to be unpredictable, we, at EHL Consulting, wanted to take a closer look at how Jewish non-profits are faring right now. We polled more than 1,000 current and former clients and other “friends” to get a reading of the mindset of the Jewish non-profit community. While the results of our recent survey are not scientific, they most certainly reflect a positive shift in the overall mood within the Jewish nonprofit world.

Here are some interesting snippets from our poll:

  1. We found that half of our respondents identified that their non-profits have adjusted to the “new economy” through significant fundraising as well as programmatic and administrative changes. This indicates that many nonprofit leaders continually work hard to engage donors in new and innovative ways and are coming to terms with changing “business as usual” philosophies. As the donor pool has narrowed, successful Jewish organizations are reaching out to donors by focusing on direct needs and “immediate impact” donations.  But what is the other half doing?  Business as usual?
  2. We found that thirty-five percent of respondents listed social networking as a way in which their organization has been innovating. However, this statistic has two sides to it. Clearly, Facebook and other venues are becoming much more popular, though the financial return is really quite small. Thus, while the bottom line benefits of social networking are still being debated, one thing is for sure: this trend will only increase and for those nonprofits who have not taken the ‘social online plunge’ now is time to get in the water. Do you have a presence on Facebook or Twitter (or both)? You have nothing to lose.
  3. More than one-third of the people who responded to our survey listed the vitality of their nonprofit agency and the state of the U.S. economy as serious impediments to moving ahead with their activities. These responses remind us of the need to keep our long term perspective of the Jewish non-profit community as some Jewish pessimism still dominates. While pessimism spreads like wildfire, especially when dealing with charitable organizations and their respective donors, renewed optimism often takes somewhat of a leap of faith before firmly taking hold, starting with only one or more toes in the water. So we hope that when we re-test our pool of respondents later in 2009 we will see some evidence of a more positive approach.
  4. In a not surprising response, only eighteen percent had a more positive outlook for charitable giving as it impacts your organization. This relatively low number is attributed to the ‘wait and see’ approach of optimism that we noted above among many Jewish nonprofits. While non-profits continue to receive donations in all categories, reductions that many Jewish nonprofits saw in the first months of 2009 is a reason for the caution in this response. As we get closer to the high holidays, we hope that donations will certainly increase and so, too, will the confidence of donors.
  5. We asked, “Are you optimistic about your non-profit’s health during the next six months?” Seventy percent of respondents responded Yes. This is clearly a more positive reflection on the mood that is beginning to spread throughout the Jewish non-profit community, indicating that belt-tightening as well as other measures taken earlier this year are making a positive impact on operations as well as on fundraising!

We are not out of the woods yet, but if we take anything from this informal poll, it is that the Jewish nonprofit community is in the same position as their non-Jewish counterparts . . . being somewhat realistic, trying to be upbeat and innovative, but with a keen awareness of the challenges that continue to be out there.

We, at EHL Consulting, will continue to monitor these trends and promise you a comparative set of survey results to be released in the early fall.

Robert I. Evans, Managing Director, and Avrum D. Lapin, Director, are principals of The EHL Consulting Group, of suburban Philadelphia, and are regular contributors to EHL Consulting works with dozens of non-profits on fundraising, strategic planning, and non-profit business practices. Become a fan of The EHL Consulting Group on Facebook.