February 24, 2024
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Competing With Israel for Dollars

Why are this year’s end-of-year fundraising campaigns different from all previous years? Although the question is closer to Chanukah than Passover in timing, it’s still very relevant.

When it comes to end-of-year giving, now is the time for a reality check: It’s too late to strategize for these campaigns in the fourth quarter. Plus, the October 7 massacre and Israel’s war further complicate campaigns this year. With pressing needs competing for donors’ attention, it’s truer more than ever.

 

The Facts

In this season of giving, let’s examine some sobering facts about nonprofits. I addressed the annual challenge they face in my book “Learn From My Experiences”:

It has been shown that nearly one-third of annual charity donations occur in December. In addition, 12% of all giving generally takes place in the last three days of December! About 54% of nonprofits begin planning their appeals in October… November and December are considered the most popular months to make asks from donors. Almost one-third of nonprofits raise between 26-50% of their annual contributions from their year-end ask.”

Some organizations even earn up to 70% of their revenue during this time. Competing with the Gaza war, therefore, can be a dilemma, especially with the economic floodgates open to that cause.

No need to list the myriad Israeli nonprofits seeking contributions right now for fear of leaving out worthy organizations. Besides, the list seems endless. But if you haven’t been approached by Israel-focused charities in person, by direct mail or by email, Rip Van Winkle wants a word with you. The need is dire, and the Israeli economy is sinking because of the war, making matters even worse.

At the moment, we see a normal bifurcation of donations flowing to local and Israel-bound organizations. One headline in The Times of Israel from October 21 reads: “Jewish giving to Israel spikes as US Jews grieve after Hamas atrocities.” The article continues, “Leaders say the level and intensity of incoming cash for Israel since Oct. 7 is highest in 50 years.” But the same article states, “Still, traditional fundraising venues, including synagogues and federations, were proving durable.” Depending on their size, resources and inner strengths, some local organizations may even have experienced dramatic increases in their regular fundraising activities.

During the 1967 Six-Day War and the Yom Kippur War, Israel raised funds at unprecedented levels. The same article said Julie Platt, the Jewish Federations of North America chairwoman, “remembered similar periods when she was a child and her parents were active in pro-Israel fundraising—during and after the 1967 Six-Day War and the 1973 Yom Kippur War. American Jews feared Israel’s survival and opened their pocketbooks in response.”

“For me as an adult, I’ve never experienced a day like today,” Platt said. “Since the Hamas attack, it doesn’t feel like a trickle of support,” she said. “It feels like a flood.” The total amount raised may be less now, but the crisis inspired a rekindled sense of giving among many who had lost their fervor for Israel. As a result, generosity and Jewish unity have increased to a level not seen in recent times.

 

What About Strategies Here and Now?

eJewishPhilanthropy’s (eJP) November 3 online edition describes how nonprofits are pivoting to meet the challenges now, especially with aid to Israel surging. An article reports, “The Jewish Federation of North America said it alone had raised over $600 million.” It continues, “Even though resources are finite, Paul Bernstein, CEO of Prizmah: Center for Jewish Day Schools, told eJP he believes donors will stretch themselves in a time of trouble. It’s not as if we’re playing a zero-sum game. We’re playing a game where people will do what they can for Israel, and then we’ll see a lot of people double down on their own communities as well.”

How can local organizations avoid inattention when everyone is focused on Israel? We must still protect the vulnerable during this time without compromising services. Consider this: If you can tie war-related efforts to your cause, expect concurrent support for your needs and Israel’s (e.g., displaced Israelis who need education, shelter, mental health and support jobs). Any valid connection to Israel helps.

 

Other Practical Steps Include:

  1. Don’t panic and stay calm. Things should return to normal once the situation stabilizes.
  2. Do what you planned to do and make your case. While acknowledging Israel’s unique circumstances, people will also contribute charitably to local needs.
  3. Major gifts reign supreme. Carry out those in-person appointments.
  4. Direct mail campaigns hold weight. Tweak the letters as necessary, but also remind your donors everywhere of their tax-deductible contribution. E-blasts should complement your mail piece.
  5. Giving on your website should be seamless. Avoid pop-up distractions like “How about making a monthly gift?” or “Sign up here to volunteer.” Focus, focus, focus on getting the end-of-year gift.
  6. Prepare your phone lists. An effective fundraising campaign also involves personal touches over the phone.
  7. Keep reminding your donors about your excellent work. Post philanthropic impact reports on social media.
  8. Partner with businesses with a humanitarian interest in your community.

Getting an accurate picture of the war’s impact on fundraising will take months. As seen in past crises, organizations must use proven fundraising methods consistently and adjust strategies to keep operating. The current crisis can split donors’ allegiances, but let’s give people credit for understanding local needs. In times like these, Jews invest in their heritage because they believe in Am Yisroel Chai. Here and in Israel.


Norman B. Gildin is the author of the popular book on nonprofit fundraising, “Learn From My Experiences.” He is the President of Strategic Fundraising Group, whose singular mission is to assist nonprofits to raise critical funds for their organization. His website is www.normangildin.com.

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