by Don Weitz
The short answer is “yes.” The reasons why will take a bit longer.
According to research by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life released in 2011, 28.9% of the U.S. population, or about 91 million Americans, consider themselves Evangelical Christians. In brief, Evangelical Christians believe the Bible is the unquestioned Word of God and is literal in its interpretation.
Psalms and other books put forth the command to support Israel. “Those that bless Israel shall be blessed, those that curse Israel shall be cursed” (Genesis 12:3) – This is a major motivator of Christian support for Israel. Evangelicals are not a defined denomination. Rather, adherents are found in Baptist, non-denominational, independent, Bible, and other churches.
“American Friends of…” and Israel-based nonprofits face a demographic crisis. The Jewish support base is aging; major sources of financial support are dying. Estate planning, while a worthy goal, is not often successfully pursued. If your organization has focused its fundraising efforts only within the Jewish community, then decreasing support may already be evident.
One way to combat this trend is to widen the market focus beyond the Jewish community, to allocate resources to educate and seek support within the Christian demographic.
But wait. What about the widely held belief that all this love from Christians really masks their intent to convert us Jews? In my 20 years working with Christians on behalf of Israeli causes, I have learned to accept the embrace of Christians as sincere without secret motivations or evil intent.
These folks have a phenomenal “heart for Israel” – a term I’ve often heard used when discussing various humanitarian projects in Israel as well as tourism. Christians are motivated and proud to support Israeli projects, especially those that benefit people of diverse backgrounds.
So, how do you approach this largely uncharted territory? I recommend a series of steps:
A U.S.-based “American Friends of…” organization can establish relationships with Christian pastors, ministry, and organization leaders in their regions. Form interfaith alliances, learn about and understand each other’s beliefs.
If you produce an annual fundraising event, honor a local Christian leader for the good works s/he does in the community. You may find this leader reciprocating by garnering support for your humanitarian projects in Israel.
Make friends with folks at your area Christian radio and television station. You may be invited to go on the air to discuss your organization’s needs and describe ways listeners can show their support.
Christian conferences / conventions are held in many communities around the US. If your organization has the capability, set up an information booth in the exhibit hall. Hand out information, provide a form (or computer) where folks can register. There are denominational conferences, others exclusively for pastors, youth leaders, or Christian school administrators.
Work to establish an email database to keep folks aware of organization projects and needs. Then send out brief, informative updates via email services to keep them engaged. Always include links to your web site and provide links to forward the email. When the email is forwarded, your link to sign up will engage others to learn about your cause.
If possible, develop part of your web site to appeal to Christian visitors. Consider placing banner advertising on targeted Christian web sites to drive readers to your web site for additional information and the opportunity to donate (and get onto your database).
Facebook and Twitter can also be ways to engage potential supporters. When budget allows, emotion-packed television infomercials placed on Christian networks are a very cost-effective though expensive way of motivating support.
As an Israel-based nonprofit, a smaller marketing budget may motivate you to associate with other organizations, perhaps an umbrella organization that can provide marketing support that will benefit several organizations simultaneously.
When walking the exhibit floors at countless Christian conventions, I’ve often thought how great it would be if humanitarian organizations in Israel would form a unified group, establish a marketing plan, set up an exhibit at such events, and reach directly into the Christian community, thus creating an additional foundation of support.
Produce Israel tours, perhaps interfaith, to include visits to beneficiary projects as well as the holy sites and modern aspects of the Land. This way, not only is a life-long relationship forged with your organization, but with Israel as well.
Don Weitz is a Dallas-based Israel tourism and fundraising consultant focusing on the Christian market. [email protected]; www.linkedin.com/in/donweitz