The Old Becomes New Again

by Steve Rakitt

We read so much about “high tech” ways of reaching donors that we may forget that the “high touch” approach is still very much desired and required. A recent change in the way the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta is doing business blends both.

Faced with a young, rapidly-growing Atlanta Jewish population, Federation – like many other non-profits – has enhanced its website and launched a branding campaign, utilizing email, viral marketing, Facebook and other social media to connect to a large number of potential donors.

At the same time, we went “retro” last summer, creating a new Philanthropic Advancement department, assigning four dedicated and knowledgeable members of the Federation staff full-time to meeting with donors. This is a major shift away from the traditional staffing approach to the Federation annual campaign. These colleagues do not have other responsibilities – no committees, events, supervision or meetings. Rather, they are charged solely with building relationships with donors. Over 1,000 donors and prospects have been assigned to the team, another colleague and me – including major donors and a large number of others who are not yet donors.

Early results are encouraging.

In just six months, these Senior Philanthropic Advisors (SPAs) met personally with 324 donors. They spend their time listening carefully to each individual or couple, seeking to better understand their philanthropic dreams. Feedback from the donors is extremely positive, telling us that the SPAs provide a meaningful connection to the Federation and to the community. Conversations are wide-ranging, including Jewish and non-Jewish community needs, ways to get their children involved, current and testamentary gifts and more. We expect that these donors will express their generosity far beyond the annual Federation campaign and are prepared to help them do just that. At the same time, donors who have met with a Senior Philanthropic Advisor in the last 6 months have increased their annual contributions by an average of 4 percent.

We have identified a number of key metrics that we’re watching and learning about along the way. We’ve learned (again) that donors want to be heard. They want a chance to ask questions and learn more about how their contributions are being used. They want a chance to give feedback and suggestions.

While a “high tech” approach is a new and critical way to reach a broad spectrum of our communities, it’s the “high touch” approach that never goes out of style.

Steve Rakitt is President & CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta and writes on a blog known as “Rakitt Redux”.