To Give … or Not to Give…

by Maxyne Finkelstein

As we approach the holiday and begin to reflect on the story and lessons of the Haggadah, it is an appropriate moment to consider the issue of freedom of donors in the Jewish philanthropic community. During the past year I have become acutely conscious of the ease of which professional colleagues reference organizational supporters as “my donors”. Listening to this language one can envy the relationship but also come to believe that there is some organic possessive connection with individuals who provide voluntary support.

As many have learned through experience, relationship with donors is often fragile and not only has to be earned but stewarded on an ongoing basis. Those who believe that donors are tied to them and their cause for the long term can be unpleasantly surprised when a supporter decides to move on to the “next best thing” without notice. While we may be one people, we are a people blessed with the choice of many paths for our philanthropy and engagement. We often express surprise when the philanthropic choice changes but it could have resulted only because were not listening actively for clues or creating the opportunity for a frequent and productive conversation.

The concept of donor freedom and choice requires much more exploration and investment to sustain and grow support in a very competitive market. The increased sophistication of many individual donors and foundations has brought a generally healthy skepticism and an increased focus on producing measurable results to earn and sustain loyalty. At the same time, each development professional knows that the best prevention for donor fatigue is the personal relationship where one understands what individuals seek in order to remain part of a shared vision combined with a continued sharing of personal passion. A next best strategy in engaging donors is often encouraging involvement in the evolution of the organizational mission, either actively as leaders and volunteers or passively through targeted communication and increasingly social media.

As Moses brought his people through the desert, they had many days of distress and complaint. The food was bad, accommodations were poor, disease was rampant and inter-group discord was common. As a leader Moses understood that these people were the people of God and not the people of Moses. He knew that in order for them to remain with him on this endless venture they would have to retain a sense of common cause and each time they weakened he had to work harder to retain support. Moses was called on to listen to clues or he would stumble and to find the right language to continue reengage those who followed in order to keep their spirits high.

As we prepare to celebrate Passover let us benefit from the lessons of Moses and keep working towards our common vision and be sensitive to the fact that the gift we receive from our donors is truly a gift… one to be cherished and appreciated.

Wishing a Chag Pesach Sameach to all who come together to celebrate and reflect in the coming days.

Maxyne Finkelstein is Chief Operating Officer, Birthright Israel Foundation.