Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) is considered the “go-to” tool for improving the world. It is an ageless and extraordinary document consisting of sayings espoused by Jewish scholars who lived from 300 BCE to 200 CE and filled the world with their remarkable wisdom. It offers vision and valuable life lessons that we glean from their sayings.

One dictum, in particular, has universal application. In chapter 5, verse 26, it reads: “Ben Heh-Heh used to say: ‘According to the effort is the reward’.” In the fundraising cosmos there was never a more accurate truism. You put forth the effort and you shall, indeed, reap the return on your investment.

The purpose of today’s column is to recount a story about one of my efforts to garner rewards in the pursuit of success. Each year the fundraising journey gets increasingly convoluted as mitigating factors such as economic roller coasters, unexpected pandemics and dynamic social and migration patterns evolve and impact sources of funding. My hope is that today’s professionals are inspired to put in the necessary effort to realize their financial goals.

An important source of income to one institution for which I worked was the annual allocation to our agency by Jewish Federations. Their budget subventions were critical to plugging holes stemming from our operating deficits. This process included organizing data and comprehensive reports with pertinent information about our agency and as we related to each Federation. Located in Fairfield County, Connecticut, we were accountable to six Federation entities in Bridgeport, Norwalk, Stamford, Westport-Wilton-Weston, Danbury and Greenwich. This process always required late-night meetings in each community where we made presentations.

I often rode through little traveled side roads late at night, guided only by a paper map with tiny print. Yes, this was before the era of the GPS and how, oh how, did we manage? I still maintain to this day that the GPS is probably the greatest invention to have improved the human condition since the wheel.

One foggy night in search of the Federation office, I managed to get lost in a desolate part of Greenwich. Suddenly, I arrived at a secluded, dark mansion. It resembled a gothic castle. I was desperate for directions, parked my car and made my way down a long and winding path in search of a human.

Unlike the manicured and well-lit landscapes in town, there was nary a light at this mansion. I was guided by a flashlight low on battery power as I sauntered by a lawn garlanded with tall weeds. Hollywood could not have imagined a scarier entrance. The front door was adorned with a massive knocker in the shape of a dark black gargoyle. No doorbell. I lifted the heavy ornamental door knocker and the door opened with a hideous creak heard only in horror movies. I smelled an awful, pungent odor as the door groaned open. I took a quick look inside, and it revealed a sparsely decorated huge hall with a tall, dusty staircase leading to a foyer. And, believe it or not, large cobwebs hovered everywhere. That was all my pounding heart could sustain. I bolted back to the car and made my way out of there faster than the Road Runner outrunning Wile E. Coyote.

No one at the Federation office could confirm that such a residence even existed, and they had a good laugh at my expense. But what was important was that their allocation committee approved our funding request. Similar results from the other Federation entities we visited made these late-night adventures worthwhile. But, the visit to Count Dracula’s castle will never be forgotten.

This story resonates with me today because it represents the enormous time and intense efforts we put into just one crucial component of our fundraising program—Federation funding. And because we served an array of residents from each of those communities, it made our case so much stronger. Often members of these committees knew our residents and visited with them as friendly visitors at the Jewish Home. Hence, those late-night ventures to outlying communities were worth the exertion and rewards.

So, to paraphrase Sesame Street, can you “count” on your funding?

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]