We Need a Jewish Philanthropic Stimulus Plan

Detroit has made its case. The banks have done the same. They alongside states and cities across the country are scrambling to get their share of the government stimulus cash. Given the current state of Jewish philanthropy, maybe we should do the same – but for and from ourselves.

Arguably, those most in need of immediate financial aid – the jobless, the foreclosed, the uninsured and the hungry – are getting more direct help from the philanthropic sector today than any new, taxpayer funded support to General Motors, Merrill Lynch or  the sub-prime mortgage lenders will give them.

Yet, many donors remain on the sidelines, afraid to spend or to give. A self-directed philanthropic stimulus plan could work if it had at its core three important elements:

  1. a strong and clear case for giving that would actually help alleviate the pain in our communities;
  2. actions that demonstrated Jewish organizations were part of the solution not the problem (meaning, no first class staff air travel, no salary increases, real belt-tightening and real grassroots programs that help);
  3. a commitment to communicate the stimulus plan to key constituencies including donors, staff, the media, government officials and members of our communities.

Whether you are a museum, a federation, an advocacy group, a foundation, a day school or a community center, you can be part of a Jewish philanthropic stimulus plan. Look at the opportunity:

  • Your mission matters to some people in your community – make sure you focus on the aspects of your programs that serve community needs best. And if any of those programs are at risk, tell your supporters and your local media what their loss would mean to the quality of life for the people who count on you.
  • Create new ways to give for people who may have less to give this year. Whether it’s a small matching gift fund that targets smaller donations with an earmark for special program needs in this time of crisis, or a simple event designed to keep a valued program alive and well, look to make it possible for your supporters to give and stay connected.
  • Launch a stimulus plan publicly by announcing the need, the goal, the specific use of the funds and your own serious belt-tightening – today that means adding a new notch on the belt and sucking in hard.
  • Include the community in your plan development and rollout – send them a survey online and ask them to rank the programs they think are most critically needed now. And then, follow what they tell you.
  • Talk to your local, state, and national leaders to let them know that the nonprofit community – led by Jewish organizations like yours – has an important stake in our economic turnaround. Show them what you are doing and the numbers of your supporters and clients you represent.
  • Talk to your donors and encourage them to stay involved. Many people are hurting but many, many more still have the capacity to give and want to. In tough times, the Jewish community has always come together. This time is no different. We all need a little community support and we all want to be part of a community that helps. Reach out to every donor and invite them to join you in keeping our communities strong and supportive. Reach out to every community member to let them know we are here to help them through the tough times ahead.

People need to hear something positive and tangible. That is what a stimulus plan can do – get us back on our feet and fixing the problems – not just bemoaning them.

Please send your stimulus plan ideas so I can add them to the list. Thanks.

Gail Hyman is a marketing and communications professional, with deep experience in both the public and private sectors. She currently focuses her practice, Gail Hyman Consulting, on assisting Jewish nonprofit organizations increase their ranks of supporters and better leverage their communications in the Web 2.0 environment. Gail is a regular contributor to eJewish Philanthropy.