July 23, 2024
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Fundraising Challenges for Shuls, Schools and Other Jewish Non-Profits

Immediately after the October 7 massacre in Israel occurred, the American Jewish community sprung into action and opened their wallets to a degree never before seen in history.

Friends of the IDF has already raised more than $60 million since the Gaza War began. The Jewish Federations of North America has collectively raised approximately $600 million in donations from their local chapters for its Israel Emergency Fund.

Other Israel-related charitable organizations that are serving various sectors of Israeli society have also seen a significant increase in contributions, as Jews across the world realize that not only does the military need financial support but other parts of the country are reeling economically as well.

A staggering $1 billion in donations has been raised for Israel since the Gaza War began.

Several organizations combating antisemitism on campus and addressing media bias have also seen their donations increase since the war started, as Jews also see antisemitism as a much stronger existential threat than ever before.

At the same time, many Jewish schools, shuls and other non-profits that are not specifically associated with Israel have been struggling mightily in their fundraising efforts. Usually, the fourth quarter is a period in which many Jewish non-profits yield more than half of their charitable contributions for the year. This year, however, many of them suffered large decreases in the amount of money they raised in 2023, specifically because of the Gaza War.

The executive director of one non-profit with whom I spoke said that while his organization is making ends meet and is in relatively good shape, they would have been much stronger financially right now had the Gaza War not happened … individual donors would have been much more likely to support their new initiatives and given money more generously. He also told me that if Israel goes to war with Hezbollah in the north, his fundraising efforts will be negatively affected to an even greater extent in 2024.

One Orthodox synagogue in the New York metropolitan area had postponed its capital building campaign during COVID. This past year, it geared up its fundraising efforts for the building—and then October 7 happened. Now the synagogue is rethinking whether this is the best time to make a major push for dollars towards the new building, with so much emphasis on donations to Israel.

The Stamford Chevra Kadisha has a community-wide dinner every year on Zayin Adar, in order to generate awareness and support from the Stamford community for its important work. This year, with Israel on everyone’s hearts and minds, it decided to simply invite the volunteers who perform taharas for a small get-together instead of planning a major dinner. There was no need to stretch everyone’s pocketbooks even further, with so many people contributing to Israel-related causes, said a representative of the group.

Another executive director of a non-profit who I spoke with said that his biggest donor reduced the amount of his donation significantly, citing his contributions to the war effort as the reason. When a major donor fails to give the donation that’s expected, this can hurt a non-profit even more than when smaller donors fail to give.

Not everyone I spoke to said that their fundraising efforts were negatively affected by the situation in Israel. Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald, the founder of the National Jewish Outreach Program (NJOP), said that not only were his fundraising efforts not down in 2023, but he even saw a slight increase. “Perhaps it’s because of the impression that not only is NJOP saving Jews, but because of newfound or increased identities, donors are able to support the many important causes and needs of the Jewish community that they were unaware of before their involvement with NJOP,” said Rabbi Buchwald.

One of the most clever and creative fundraising ideas by a non-Israel-related organization happened right here in the Stamford community. Instead of honoring a specific individual or family at its annual dinner this month, the Bi-Cultural Hebrew Academy saluted its commitment to Israel, as the theme for its dinner was “We stand with Israel…now and forever!” The school lined up a major philanthropist, who pledged to donate up to $1 million to Israel for every dollar donated to the school. This way, nobody who was giving money to the school could say that it was taking away dollars from their support of Israel. What a brilliant idea! The school was able to raise the $1 million for its dinner, an amount that was likely more than they would have raised had they gone the route of simply honoring an individual or a family.

No doubt that our shuls and schools will continue to have a difficult time raising much-needed funds for their organizations, as the Gaza War progresses and our attention continues to be focused on Israel. However, there is still some good news for our Jewish non-profits. What October 7 showed us is that there is a huge amount of money in the Jewish diaspora—and if you can provide an emotional reason for Jews to donate for a good cause, they will respond very generously.

The challenge for all our Jewish organizations—Israel and non-Israel related—is to provide good reasons for each of us to continue to support the important efforts with which we are presented.


Michael Feldstein, who lives in Stamford, is the author of “Meet Me in the Middle” (meet-me-in-the-middle-book.com), a collection of essays on contemporary Jewish life. He can be reached at [email protected].

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