By Richard A. Klein
One of the oldest of Jewish traditions appears to be getting a noticeable pushback in some of American communities, especially smaller ones. There is increasing resistance over the past several years to personal solicitations for federation and synagogue fund raising campaigns.
This phenomenon occurs at the same time that many congregations and smaller federation campaigns are finding themselves financially-challenged. Their response is stepping up mail campaigns and some key phone calls. But in many communities, current leadership is shying away from the one most tried and true, highly effective ways to increase contributions: Meeting donors face-to-face and making the case for increased giving.
The net result of avoiding such encounters is that it leaves large sums of money on the table, avoids discussion about legacy giving and distances leaders from prospective donors and volunteers.
The reasons for avoiding this best means for raising the bar are numerous. Call them rationales or even excuses: Personal solicitations are presumptuous. Face-to-Face is intrusive. There are not enough hours in the day to have such meetings. I don’t want to destroy any friendships. Meetings like that make everyone uncomfortable.
Fears are part of the equation, and the fear of rejection is high on everyone’s list. If I ask for money, will I be rejected in one or multiple ways? It’s sometimes challenging to explain that someone rejecting an overture for a contribution is not personally directed, but more likely is aimed at the cause or for personal reasons.
The negative assertions often win out against the potential benefits. Yet personal solicitations can and should be a way to express gratitude and appreciation – or even recognition – for previous donations. Getting together with donors is a way to communicate how funds are being allocated and listening to donor interests.
No personal solicitation should ever dictate or demand anything. Donors have every right to give or not. Strong-arming any prospective contributor is simply removing the potential for a meaningful gift now or in the future. Such encounters can destroy friendships and relationships.
But having real Jewish conversation about the needs of the community, the compelling stories of overseas hardships or congregational requirements can build trust and positive results. Equally important is the opportunity to listen to what the donor considers most important. Input from contributors can set the tone for current and future campaigns.
Personal encounters are also opportunities to recruit individuals to playing a more active role in a federation or congregation. We can inquire about the person’s interest in activity, leadership and involvement of any kind. This isn’t so easily done when simply sending a mail solicitation or even in a brief phone conversation.
Lack of confidence is often a reason for people avoiding personal meetings. To borrow from Star Trek’s Dr. McCoy, “I’m a doctor, not a campaign solicitor.” There are no born campaign volunteers. But anyone and everyone can be trained and given the appropriate information and direction. The winning combination is usually two people soliciting together, often with one being more experienced.
Will personal solicitations save the day, build better federation campaigns and solve the financial worries of congregations? It’s usually the best response to sagging bottom lines, cutting back on programs or allocations and reaching for non-existent rainbows or miracles. And it all begins with using the phone and making the appointment.
Richard A. Klein is a 20 year Regional Director for Network communities with The Jewish Federations of North America. He is a past President of The Jewish Federation of Greater Charlotte, past President of a Charlotte congregation and author of “Putting the Fun Into Fund Raising.”