Saturday, May 15, 2021

No one could have predicted on January 1 what a topsy-tursvy year 2020 would be. The most skilled crystal-ball gazer would have been ridiculed. And yet, we are in the throes of a pandemic never envisioned in our lifetime, economic turmoil unlike anything experienced since 1929 and societal upheavals where conventional values and mores are ripped asunder.

The Boston Business Journal reports that Massachusetts nonprofits have lost $8.6 billion during the pandemic. Imagine Canada estimates the financial impact on registered charities in Canada to be between $9.5 and $15.7 billion. Seismic losses in the billions are also expected in the U.S. but it is still unclear how much has been lost.

In view of this, nonprofit organizations everywhere are collectively scratching their heads trying to figure out what to do with their fundraising plans. Two fail-safe methods to raise large funds—major gift solicitations and major events—are taking big hits for obvious reasons.

Major gift giving still occurs but with many hurdles. Social distancing and wearing a mask make it increasingly difficult to make appointments with major donors. Inevitably, philanthropists, older baby boomers who are the most susceptible to transmission, are reluctant to waive self-sheltering to meet one on one with fundraisers. Attending a major event, such as a gala, is excruciatingly difficult considering people are not rushing out to get infected by someone carrying the disease. Who wants to take a chance and be the recipient of a fatal virus? How’s that smorgasbord coming along?

What are Jewish nonprofits doing?

A quick survey shows that nonprofits are banking on their good reputations to “virtually” spirit their way through the pandemic and raise money. Here is what some are doing.

Eli Beer, founder of United Hatzalah in Israel, came down with the virus. It is an amazing story of someone who fought for his life and recovered. United Hatzalah recently held a virtual event, “Saving Lives Sunday,” featuring stars such as Jay Leno, Rona-Lee Shimon and Lior Suchard in a salute to first responders. In addition, Beer has constantly shared his and other heroic stories on social media to keep their names in the public square. Unending messages from Beer and luminaries such as U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman keep appearing like the Energizer bunny.

One Israel Fund is dedicated to supporting the welfare and safety of men, women and children of Judea, Samaria, the Jordan Valley and the communities of Gaza evacuees. It shares videos of the important work it does through regular e-blasts. They also created a “virtual” tour series and run educational webinars to initiate the uninitiated. An online lottery was held, always a popular attraction, especially with folks sheltered away. Arranging fascinating interviews with prestigious members of Israel’s military is another way to show fulfillment of its mission.

Here’s a novel approach. Ever attend a virtual golf, tennis and card outing? After 26 years and having postponed the real thing, the Jewish Home Foundation of North Jersey is holding a Zoom event this month. It will feature sports figures and cameo appearances by guest celebrities, all on Zoom. This event garnered upwards of $4 million in net revenue over the years. But, this is the first time it won’t be held in person. It counts on a great reputation and sponsors to carry the day.

Sharsheret raises funds to combat breast and ovarian cancer and is holding a tri-state virtual benefit honoring various awardees. It relies on a sterling reputation and the beneficence of generous patrons to achieve fundraising goals. Letters, advertising, word of mouth and social media are instrumental in mass-publicizing this virtual event. Only time will tell how successful it will be, but this is the new approach in the COVID-19 era.

A standard fundraising activity is the parlor meeting. I always joked about inviting people to a parlor meeting. In my mind, inviting folks to a “parlor meeting” was the sure kiss of death for attendance. After all, why would you want to attend a gathering where the purpose is clear? Times have changed, and donors are seeking freshness. So, this revamped method on Zoom, or some other virtual means, is the new normal.

A day will come when we will resume traditional fundraising. One thing for sure, successful nonprofits must stay in regular touch with donors. Is your nonprofit virtually there?

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]