Use Chanukah as a Viable Fundraising Opportunity

Use Chanukah as a Viable Fundraising Opportunity and as a Year-end Opportunity
by Robert I. Evans and Avrum D. Lapin

As 2012 draws to an end and the festival of Chanukah approaches, is there any better way to celebrate Jewish renewal and re-dedication than to make donations to our favorite Jewish organizations? Consider this a call to action, especially using social media options and other non-traditional ways to attract support.

We contend that the message of Chanukah has relevance for every type of Jewish nonprofit and although we are barely a few days away from lighting the first candle, it is not too late for nonprofits to schedule special telethons during the weekdays of Chanukah and to send out a special Chanukah year-end appeal!

Given that in 2012 Chanukah falls early in December, there is a natural relationship that should not go unacknowledged. There is no better way to stimulate Jewish giving than to connect donors and organizations with the story of Chanukah and its poignant message of pride and connection to community.

While many donors schedule end-of-the-year charitable contributions, Jewish nonprofit organizations will experience greater levels of support if they reach out to their donors with Chanukah-themed appeals immediately. This year’s calendar favors special appeals, also recognizing that the fourth quarter in the calendar year, October-December, represents the period when most dollars flow into nonprofit coffers. A study shows that between 2003 and 2009, 33.3% of charitable donations powered by Network for Good were made during the month of December, accounting for $127.1 million, while two-thirds of these charitable donations occurred during the remaining eleven months and accrued to $254.4 million.

Many Jewish organizations are sensing that there is a greater push from secular organizations to increase fundraising efforts during November and December and the Christian-focused holiday season. But our non-scientific observations of Jewish nonprofits during the last few years reflect a reluctance to use Chanukah creatively with their fundraising efforts.

Chanukah is a joyous holiday when we spend time with family and reconnect with loved ones. We recount the miraculous story of Judah and the Maccabees as we eat chocolate gelt and spin toy dreidels. We are encouraged to exchange gifts with family and friends but we note that as Jewish communities have integrated into the majority community, giving has become more prominently associated with Chanukah.

The story of Chanukah makes it a compelling holiday for requesting and making donations. As Jews we witnessed a miracle, and have a responsibility to give back to the community that gave us so much so especially for cash-strapped nonprofits capitalize on this theme.

And for donors looking to make an unscheduled impact on their favorite day school, social service agency, arts and cultural entity or human services organization, engage your favorite Jewish organization and offer a time-limited challenge.

Remember, too, that Chanukah can become a marvelous teaching opportunity for young people. Suggestions that we have heard: encourage children to identify a worthwhile Jewish cause or program and direct a specific dollar gift. Children, too, could deliver new toys to Jewish families and children in need, or dedicated funding for special projects can be sent to Israel-based nonprofits.

There are several steps Jewish nonprofits can take as gift requesters to refocus Chanukah giving for their benefit. In order to ensure conscious giving and to let the central theme of Chanukah drive nonprofits in their fundraising endeavors, consider:

  1. Mobilize immediately and an easy internet-based grassroots fundraising initiative. Introducing a Facebook or Twitter Chanukah campaign is easy to do and will harness passion and dollars.
  2. Publicize your Chanukah effort creatively and loudly.
  3. Use direct mail, social media, and other communications techniques so that donors of all types can understand your nonprofit and can learn about your compelling mission and robust projects.
  4. Don’t stop once Chanukah ends! Rework the year-end appeal into a “one-two punch.” Focus on sending a “last chance” message the final week of December to remind donors that their philanthropy can make a lasting impact in your organization.

The Chanukah appeal and year-end appeals should be positive and show impact. Use simple sentences, active voice and be direct. The critical element during these outreach efforts with prospective donors is to help donors foster and deepen personal connections as Jewish philanthropists with the spirit of Chanukah.

As Chanukah approaches and 2012 comes to an end, we reflect upon all that we are grateful for. Now is a good and meaningful time for Jewish causes to cultivate stronger relationships with their donors and it is also the time for those Jewish nonprofits to acknowledge with gratitude the support received during 2012. As they say in Israel, “nes gadol haya po,” a great miracle happened here. Let’s use that as our inspiration in the weeks ahead.

Robert I. Evans, Managing Director, and Avrum D. Lapin, Director, are principals of The EHL Consulting Group, a fundraising consulting firm located in suburban Philadelphia. They are frequent contributors to The EHL Consulting Group is one of only 38 member firms of The Giving Institute. EHL Consulting works with dozens of nonprofits on fundraising, strategic planning, and nonprofit business practices and strategies. Learn more at

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