What a Charleston Fundraiser Teaches Us

By Jill Goldenberg

This past weekend, I was in Charleston with three friends from college. I had never been there, and, until three weeks ago, Charleston evoked images of quaint homes and Prince of Tides marshland.

With the horrors inflicted on a Bible study group in the Emanuel AME Church on June 17, that all changed. Arriving in Charleston last Thursday, all four of us needed do something to honor those killed.

The night before our trip, I learned of a sold-out unity fundraiser – sponsored by the hotel where we were staying – to support and benefit the Charleston 9 families. Upon arriving at the hotel with only 90 minutes before the event, we searched for and found Margeaux, the hotel’s lead organizer of the event, and implored her to give us the honor of attending. After receiving her text saying yes and quickly taking cash out from a nearby ATM, we witnessed an extraordinary evening with an outpouring of love, unity, forgiveness, and community.

This story has every element of what we all need to do to connect to our donors. Thank G-d, we are not raising funds for the same reason, but my friends and I felt we HAD to be part of the Charleston community. We felt that the event director did US a favor, we felt BLESSED to be there, and our connection to the cause gave US purpose and meaning.

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This is what happens when you shift from transactional fundraising to relational development. This is how, with a shift toward a thriving culture of philanthropy at your school, you will make your donors feel. And, as a bonus, you will receive the blessing of being the enabler of others’ opportunity to give. Teaching another to fish is, of course, the highest level of Maimonides’ levels of tzedakah. But enabling others to give? That elevates giving to even greater heights because it ensures sustainability for the cause and empowers both the enabler – that’s you – as well as the donor.

In the almost nine years of my work with schools here at PEJE, especially as the director of Generations, our endowment-building program, we have data set after data set that tell us that schools with excellence in governance are durable and sustainable. Simply put, you will raise more money and serve more students by improving your governance.

You may know that a great board has three – and only three – roles:

  1. Support, hire, and fire the one employee of the Board – the Head of School.
  2. Ensure the mission is fulfilled.
  3. Exercise fiscal oversight.

What does that last one mean? Most board members know it means they have to know how to read a balance sheet and a budget. Here is the secret, though: Fiscal oversight is much, much more than just ensuring that the finances are in order – it means that ALL of your board members come together in whatever way they can to play a pivotal role in raising funds.

How many of you have heard, “I’ll be happy to serve on the board if I don’t have to raise money?”

Here is a hard truth. If any of your board members are exempt from playing the role they MUST play, you have the wrong people on your board. I don’t mean to scare you. I just want you to consider that fundraising is sacred, and every one of your board members has the right to feel that they are doing sacred work by enabling others to give. Really.

So, let’s expand the definition of fundraising so your board members can have that opportunity. Even those who tell you they hate to fundraise must play a role. As a beginning step in your transformation, how about creating a board thank-you-athon so your board members can interact with those whose philanthropy make your mission possible? You can give your board members other roles, too. They can identify potential donors, make introductions, write thank you notes, provide information about prospects, join donor meetings, and yes, ask for the donor to invest in the school. When every board member is engaged in some way, you will see increased philanthropy from both your donors and from your board.

PEJE’s Governance and Fundraising Academy, that met this week in Boston for a three-day intensive training, gives schools the tools. The trainings, an expert coach, PEJE’s support, connections to other schools, and a plan – all of these together enable the participating schools to transform their boards. Of course, whether you are in the program or not, you must put in the time, passion, commitment, and audacious championing of a culture of philanthropy. If you do, you will see results. That is the ROI we have seen from other schools.

This coming week, we conclude the Book of Numbers, which is filled with detailed stories of individuals who have worked together to make change. My favorite example is the five daughters of Zelophehad, who successfully petitioned Moses for a change in the inheritance laws. They presented a united front and brought about change.

Like the Charleston 9 fundraiser with whites and African-Americans, young and old together, change happens with leadership and unity, passion and commitment, and work and action. As we close one book of Torah and begin another, let today begin the transformation that your school deserves. Chazak, chazak, v’nitchazeik, Be strong, be strong, and let us strengthen one another.

Jill Goldenberg is PEJE’s Executive Director. Prior to her current role, Jill was the Strategy Manager for Endowment and Legacy promoting endowment building in Jewish day schools through the Generations program.

cross-posted on the PEJE Blog