Regaining Our Fundraising Strength: A Longer Horizon

by Robert I. Evans and Avrum D. Lapin

As the summer of 2010 comes to an end, we should enter the final months of the year with an updated fundraising strategy and, for those of us in the Jewish community, we should utilize strategic approaches for the High Holidays and end of year appeals. While being proactive is always key to end of year successes, every Jewish agency should take stock of what has occurred during the first half of 2010 and explore how to integrate the proven, effective approaches into the High Holiday and “end of year” fundraising efforts.

Clearly, we are a nation in transition, rebounding ever slowly from incredible financial pressures and attempting to regain certain aspects of “normalcy.” Unfortunately the period where we find ourselves today appears to be a slower rebound, perhaps slower than many have predicted.

GuideStar* recently surveyed 6,434 U.S. non-profits (out of more than 1.6 million non-profits and houses of worship) and 580 private foundations to gauge what changes their organizations had experienced in the realm of contributions, services, staffing, and much more, between Jan 1 and May 31, 2010. The findings illustrate that 2010 continues to pose unprecedented challenges, especially in terms of new, effective fundraising initiatives. Guidestar’s research did not identify non-profits dealing with Jewish issues per se, but this is a time that we contend that there are probably no differences between Jewish non-profits or others. We are all facing the same challenges!

Guidestar’s results have made the rounds of many commentators and we want to chime in on our interpretations of the report and suggest some viable approaches to make fundraising results among Jewish non-profits stronger for the balance of 2010. With this being said, we still remain cautiously positive about the second half of 2010 and believe that assertive efforts throughout final months of the year will contribute to end of year success, as well as stronger positioning for 2011.

The June 2010 GuideStar survey found that:

  • 40% of those surveyed have seen further declines in contributions
  • 63% have had an increased demand for services
  • 8% believe they are in danger of closing
  • 32% increased the number of volunteers they used and 48% continued to utilize the same number of volunteers

But they also found that:

  • 30% of the non-profits surveys saw an increase in contributions
  • 28% had contributions remain the same
  • 41% increased their annual budget in 2010 from what it was in 2009, however in order to balance them 17 % reduced program services and 11% laid off employees

These and other reports reflect clearly that the non-profit sector continues to face difficulties, and even those organizations that have been able to remain somewhat strong throughout the downturn in the economy are still dealing with how to rebuild and sustain their financial strength.

But a closer look at these figures shows that considerably more than half of those in the survey see charitable support at least as good as that of last year’s … and the final months of the year always show stronger results!

With these findings in mind, we suggest that non-profits consider a revamped approach immediately as they continue on their strategic paths.

Have a Plan and follow it!!!! Do you have a formal plan that is written and endorsed by volunteer leadership and professional staff? Even a simple calendar that identifies deadlines enables a non-profit to focus better and strategically. Watching the calendar for appropriate milestones is especially critical this year because of how the Jewish holidays fall.

Note that the last three weeks of 2009 made a major difference to many non-profits in their year-end results. While we have always seen donors rallying at year’s end, last year’s activities were especially intense. We hope for and expect the same in December of 2010.

Thank your volunteers … again! Volunteers, from Board members throughout the ranks of every organization, have taken on a new importance in this environment as many non-profits have turned to volunteers to take on roles once occupied by paid employees. Show appreciation as there will be continued reliance on the services of volunteers in the coming months and year ahead.

Be open about the figures from the first half of 2010. Be honest to donors about where your agency’s finances now stand. Financial transparency is part of the “new normal” and we urge all non-profits to share more financial information with donors. Use these reports to show proper (and good) stewardship of their charitable support. Your organization should communicate clearly what the first half of 2010 has been like in terms of changes in finances, services, staffing, and utilize this information as a selling point for needed support for the remaining months of 2010 and beyond. Donors want to see improvement but they need to understand what needs still exist and how their impact can be felt.

Emphasize Jewish impact on your services and delivery systems. Part of what sets apart Jewish causes is the impact on Jews so do not shy away from highlighting your distinctive impact on Jewish agendas. If ever there was a time to feature important aspects of the Jewish community, it is now!

Plan strategically for 2011 now. Examine what areas really need focus in the remainder of 2010 and look ahead to 2011 now to develop an approach and detailed plan to implement.

Because we are clearly in a period of uncertainty for effective fundraising, we encourage all Jewish non-profits to consider the four steps highlighted here but we would also like to hear what unusual steps you are considering to maximize fundraising results. Share those with us at and we will report some of the most creative ideas in future commentaries here.

*GuideStar’s survey findings can be found on their website.

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