Unbelievable Comments from Jewish Boards … Sad but True! And Rude, Too!

By Robert Evans

I have had the great experience of attending various board meetings of different Jewish organizations lately … including synagogues, day schools, and other respected agencies. Here’s a smattering of comments and statements that probably suggest that as a community, we Jews are not as inviting, warm, and welcoming as mission statements and websites might have us believe! We will expand upon penny-wise and pound-foolish thinking in future blogs, but for the moment here are a few thought-provoking ideas.

Board #1: We are spending far too much on printing and postageeven though our rate of emails read keeps declining. My response: return to “snail mail” and see how quickly people suddenly read about the activities of your agency. Even if 40-50% of your email readers open the message (which would be a very high open rate), recognize that you have a problem and that your information is not getting to the majority of your members, congregants, donors or other friends. Return to old-fashioned methods – especially since people receive so much less mail today that they are likely to open and peruse even advertisements!

Board #2: Members of our congregation are the core of sisterhood and men’s club so non-congregants can’t belong to our satellite organizations. My response: use the men’s club and sisterhood to open doors and don’t set up barriers to membership and Jewish congeniality. What a wasted opportunity!

Board #3: Let’s spend more on our security precautions, given the increased pressures others seem to be facing. Synagogues and other Jewish organizations are setting up more barriers at the front door, despite no major reports of Jewish facilities being targeted for malicious activities or specific terrorism. We still need to feel a warm and welcome greeting when we approach our institutions and being “buzzed in” by an impersonal greeter and then being asked to go through a metal detector does not convey what each of our organizations contends in their mission statements. Let’s review security, perhaps consider less costly approaches, and keep visitors in mind as we craft new guidelines that are less costly but take advantage of the experiences of others.

Heard on the street about donor relations: A major donor (of more than a one million dollar gift) has not received any formal or informal thank you from the volunteer leadership or the highest paid executive officer yeteven though more than four weeks have passed since the gift was solidified. How often do seven-figure gifts get made that leadership (professional staff as well as Board members) can’t pick up the phone and express a warm, sincere thank you? Perhaps a lack of appreciation of large gifts by Jewish nonprofits is a legitimate reason wealthy Jews go elsewhere to make their visionary gifts!

A perplexing situation: A Jewish day school raises under $500,000 annually; its last major campaign preceded the downturn in the 2008-9 economy but did not reach its announced $10-11 million goal so it borrowed the needed $2.0 million to move forward. Now they want to retire the debt and intend to ask donors for their financial support. My response: most Americans have personal debt, especially a substantial mortgage on their home. In their minds, why help the school reduce/eliminate debt as this does nothing to grow programs; support faculty; introduce new, creative educational models; and plan for the future. Donors want vision and passion today; reducing debt is the most difficult type of campaign to mount. Therefore, our consistent reco9mmendation is to turn the proposed campaign into a positive, strategic activity that focuses on building endowment.

Each of these snippets can create hours of Board discussion … and heated conversation will undoubtedly create some differences of opinion. Our general recommendation is: always consider how you would like to be welcomed, talked about, and be embraced as a friend, donor, congregant, or as a potential visitor.

Robert Evans, founder and president of the Evans Consulting Group, a full-service firm that helps nonprofits meet and exceed their strategic and fundraising goals, appears regularly at major conferences and his commentary and blogs attract significant attention and command discussions. Now in its 25th year, Evans Consulting creates and leads fundraising campaigns, facilitates strategic planning processes, engages in donor research and cultivation, coaches nonprofit leaders and performs a number of other development-related services. A regular contributor to eJewishPhilanthropy.com, he can be reached at revans@theevansconsultinggroup.com.