The Selling of Philanthropy

by Sherri W. Morr

If our President of the United States can be sold why can’t philanthropy. If Wal-Mart knows when a woman is most likely pregnant by her purchases why can’t we know who might be interested in our nonprofits? If it can be determined that most folks will order the barbecued chicken pizza opposed to the pineapple/cheese filled crusts (even though the pineapple costs less) why can’t we assess who might increase their giving to a new category?

Where are all the best and brightest Jewish men and women who understand these things who could help us out? They are clearly the ones comprehending algorithms. When the Israeli company SodaClub bought a product like the Soda Streamer and knew how best to market it to the degree orders come from the entire world, resulting in the product becoming a $1 billion dollar business – and just so you can make seltzer in your home or office! Why are we not collaborating with these smart startup nation geniuses to help dissect the mystery of who is giving and why?

I read with great interest the June 23, 2013 New York Times Magazine article dealing with these precise issues. The entire time I was reading I could not stop wondering if this is the way of the world… projecting, summarizing, and hypothesizing; if so, then Jewish based fundraising is sorely behind. Are our organizations dissecting the numbers so as to better understand who gives and why they give, perhaps based on who/what they give to and how much they give? I know some organizations receive lists of names that are non donor and live in wealthy zip codes. But these are just names and they come with no connectors or data to really know who they are. Staff and leadership end up making cold calls and we all know how tedious and unsuccessful cold calls are.

But I do think we must have some of the best minds in branding, marketing, and advertising. I also think our young adult population has the same social media tools available to them as any smart specialist who works for Wal-Mart. It was a matter of collecting the data and targeting those who could be persuaded to vote for Obama. Or purchase prenatal vitamins. So again I ask, why can’t Jewish philanthropy do this? Such data mining could result in connectors to donors, or new prospects having had similar experiences to exactly what an organization’s mission is.

Let’s look at an example. For quite a while now companies who create, produce and market video games have been taking flack because their games may be too violent, use way too many guns, and lack any educational value. Even though the games are fantasy, some have said such games keep teenagers in a zone of non reality; they become so mesmerized they do not know good from bad, right from wrong, and they ultimately lack social skills. Generally they are loners, some angry that perhaps the world owes them something they can only have by committing horrific acts. This may be an extreme example but hear me out: isn’t the company who makes these games (certainly with none of the unfortunate consequences intended) possibly the very prospect to speak to about educating our children. Isn’t it possible the company might want to see more children get to attend Jewish Day Schools, or may be interested in supporting counseling programs for troubled youth and families? Just think of the PR the video game company could command in the community (“Hey we’re the good guys”).

Perhaps this brief article is a different kind of fantasy; perhaps philanthropy cannot be sold in a way that markets support for issues like synagogue funding, or social services for the poor and elderly. My point is to put those smart heads together and find out.

Sherri W. Morr has spent the last several decades working and consulting in the Jewish community as a fundraiser, a teacher, and trainer, most recently as Director of the Western U.S. at the Jewish National Fund for 12 years. She has completed an MA and received an honorary doctorate from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. Her work outside of the Jewish world at independent schools, the Baltimore Symphony and Tufts University have given her an awareness beyond practice in the Jewish community. Sherri has 3 grown sons and lives in Los Angeles, California.