July 22, 2024
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Robert Katz Is Named Senior VP at Bar Ilan University

Robert Katz, a Bergen County resident for the past 28 years and a member of Darchei Noam in Fair Lawn, has been named senior VP at Bar Ilan University (BIU) in Ramat Gan, Israel. This is not his first experience with the University, as Katz began his career in Jewish communal service at American Friends of Bar-Ilan University (AFBIU), where he spent nearly nine years. To say he was happy to return would be an understatement.

“Bar-Ilan is in my blood,” Katz said.

Katz shared his excitement about his new position, and the University, with The Jewish Link as he related how Professor Gal Kaminka of BIU had programmed mini robots to interact appropriately during a game of soccer. Not only did they work as a team on offense, but they anticipated what the opposition might do. He explained that Kaminka had introduced a form of social intelligence to these robots, a concept already being put to good use on the Israel/Gaza border. Drones had been taught to talk to each other and issue alerts. Katz said the professor was now trying to build on that concept. If social intelligence can be programmed for a computer, why not for people? Imagine if Jewish children with autism can be effectively taught that critical ability.

“With proper research funding, the impact on families would be immeasurable. Important community organizations like OHEL would have great burdens lifted from their shoulders,” Katz stated.

Another professor at BIU is a leading Israeli cancer expert. He’s currently in Washington for a cancer research symposium while Katz is working to line up donors to help him continue his important work. “At the end of the day, someone like this could break the code and earn the gratitude of not just our community, but the entire world,” noted Katz.

Katz shared that BIU has an amazing law school, a brand-new school of medicine in Tzfat, an Alzheimer’s research division, another in nanotechnology, strong cancer research and a vision sciences unit. He remarked that it’s a good example of the Yeshiva University concept of Torah Umadda because all students must devote at least 10 percent of their coursework to Jewish studies. He spoke of the school as an education destination, with 30-50 current students hailing from Bergen County.

Best of all, he noted, “It’s an Ivy League-caliber school with an $8,000 annual tuition. And, you only need three years to graduate. Imagine what someone can do with the money they save.”

Katz has been successfully working in the Jewish nonprofit world for 30 years. How he got into Jewish fundraising is a story in itself. Katz shared that his first career choice had been sports radio announcer. Internships as a teenager led him to a producer position working for Marv Albert, as well as with other well-known personalities at NBC. He was on his way to a bright future in sports broadcasting.

One day it all changed. Katz was with work buddies Mike Breen and Bob Poppa, two other young men who went on to have great careers in sports broadcasting, when a program director told them they would have the opportunity to compete for the position of fill-in sports talk show host. The catch was that the time slot for the broadcast was midday on Saturday. Katz, as an observant Jew, immediately knew that this career choice wasn’t meant to be.

His thoughts at the time were, “If I’m already committed to Shabbat and mesora, I might as well take my talents and apply them for the benefit of the Jewish people.”

Katz went on to get an MBA in marketing, followed by his initial years at AFBIU in marketing and as director of admissions. This was followed by a string of fundraising roles, working with Rabbi Riskin in Efrat, at International Hillel, for Rabbi Grossman of Migdal Ohr and, for the past six years, as chief development officer at OHEL. Katz explained that he only works for organizations about which he feels passionate.

Katz made it clear that he has never second-guessed his career choice. “Over 30 years I have met unbelievable people doing unbelievable things for the Jewish people as employees and as philanthropists.”

He cited one example from his time working for Rabbi Riskin. The donor was from the Teaneck area. It was during the Second Intifada. This person had planned on spending $50,000 for a new kitchen. As he watched the news each day, his priorities changed. “The kitchen can wait. I want to protect my brothers and sisters in Efrat.”

While at OHEL, Katz was approached by someone who said he knew of a family down the block whose child went to OHEL. “I want to give them $18,000, but I want to do it quietly.”

Katz commented, “As great as it was walking the halls of NBC, this is well above it.” He went on to say, “There is no greater high than hearing someone say I’ll give you $10,000 or a half million dollars for a Jewish cause, knowing that you had a role in it.”

A superior fundraiser must have impeccable selling skills and believe in his cause without question. Katz absolutely fits the bill.

He shared the fundraising wisdom he has gained over the years. He said he always teaches those entering the field that “you must start with ‘friendraising’ before fundraising. The psychology behind it is that people must be comfortable with the institution and what it represents. Be friendly and hope they trust you to give a donation, time, advice or to just make a connection.” He gave the example of the older donor who may give $100 or $150 each year. “If you establish a good rapport and make them feel the cause is a good one, it’s not unusual for them to leave a large bequest in their will.”

Katz further explained that fundraising is not a transactional service. “It involves developing public trust and transparency.” He continued, “To be successful in fundraising, you must be a connector and a symphony conductor.” You need to know when to ask for money, when for insight and when for volunteer time. The symphony also involves combining the strengths and abilities of everyone in the organization. “Some are event people, others oversee fiduciary aspects. All must work together,” he continued.

Katz concluded by noting, “The only difference between a for-profit and a nonprofit is that the latter doesn’t pay taxes. However, it still has to be run like a sound business.”

By Robert Isler

 Robert Isler is a marketing researcher and senior content writer who lives in Fair Lawn. He can be reached at [email protected].

 

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