Friday, June 05, 2020

Many years ago, I spoke at a conference about how Jewish nonprofit long-term care facilities might not survive unless they changed the way they did business. I suggested that areas they needed to address included fundraising effectiveness, reimbursement formulas and the need to run pristine facilities that were all clean, innovative and reputable. Today, diverse Jewish nonprofit organizations face similar challenges as they face the coronavirus pandemic.

My last column tackled whether the pandemic will affect fundraising. Comparisons to previous national financial catastrophes lead to the conclusion that the U.S. will eventually rebound. How are Jewish nonprofits faring in the short term? The answer is obvious: many are suffering from diminished fund raising and some will close. Why?

It goes back to my hypothesis: if there are strong fundraising and funding mechanisms in place because its mission resonates, and the organization is transparent and demonstrates that its good name is deserved, it will be among the fittest that survive this unprecedented crash.

Next, let’s understand the current state of the economy. We were hit by an economic blitzkrieg unlike anything since the Great Depression. Tens of millions are now unemployed. The stock market lost trillions of dollars and is the cause for pension plans and 401ks plunging in value. Businesses are closed and some will never open again or go into bankruptcy. GDP forecasts are ghastly. Congress continues to “print paper” for stimulus and relief programs but these will only bury this country in greater debt. It is a hideous state of affairs.

The economy will eventually bounce back. The alternative would be more catastrophic so let’s not walk down that path. Consequently, understanding what we mean by “survival of the fittest” and who will get through this financial disaster is an imperative. Here are some key components the nonprofits needs to have in place to make it through this mess.

The fundraising resiliency of nonprofits depends on several factors. Foremost is this principle— half of the people in this country give for one reason and one reason alone—someone asked them. If you don’t ask, you won’t receive.

Other cogs in the wheel are a strong online and social media presence. Have you noticed lately how your email inbox is besieged with e-blasts with links that take you to nonprofit websites? Facebook, Instagram and Twitter also are flooded with sponsored ads. Just know this. No presence, fewer donations. A strong direct mail program also helps.

What nonprofits must comprehend is why people give. Here are the most popular reasons. People rally in times of crisis to nonprofits or give religious tithing (ma’aser). Some folks give to a cause like the American Cancer Society because someone they know was touched by cancer; it’s a psychological rationale for self-preservation from that disease. Other reasons include guilt, tax benefits, a moral obligation to give, donor recognition, peer pressure and making a difference. Nonprofits must know which buttons to push to generate donations for their organizations.

Those organizations that have the resources, especially the big ones like the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, Wounded Warriors Project, Shriners Hospital, and St. Jude’s Hospital are inundating the airwaves with ads because they have the means to do so. While some have seen a philanthropic decline, they are strong enough to endure and power through.

One organization, Global Citizen, whose mission is to fight global poverty, raised billions of dollars through a very powerful technique: it mobilized leading celebrities to support its annual music festival. Lady Gaga, Elton John, Jennifer Hudson, Queen, Coldplay, Usher, Adam Lambert and many others brought in millions and millions of dollars to an already strong base of support. It also assembled prime ministers of countries like Canada, England, Norway, New Zealand and India among others to promote the cause. Even if the organization doesn’t hold its September music festival this year because of social distancing, it has many other options because of its stronghold on celebrities.

Institutions of higher learning such as Harvard University, Yale, Princeton and the like have billions and billions in their endowment funds and are least concerned about getting through this financial crisis.

Here’s the bad news. It’s the “little guy,” such as small Jewish nonprofits, that doubtless will get hurt. Regrettably, those without a solid base of support, no ongoing online or social media presence, start-ups and those with little or no reserve funds face the greatest challenge.

Charles Darwin coined the term “survival of the fittest,” his signature phrase for evolutionary theory. Where is your Jewish nonprofit on the pandemic ladder?

Norman B. Gildin has fundraised for nonprofits for more than three decades and has raised upwards of $93 million in the process. Formerly a Teaneck resident for 34 years, he is the president of Strategic Fundraising Group, whose singular mission is to assist nonprofits raise critical funds. He can be reached at [email protected]