New Challenge to Summer Camps: Learn How to Raise Funds

Every year at Camp Moshava, a Jewish overnight camp nestled in the Pocono Mountains, more than 1,000 children enjoy summertime staples like arts-and-crafts, boating and Color War.

Yet the camp, sponsored by Bnei Akiva of North America, has no significant indoor gathering space, nor does it have an air-conditioned dining hall.

Its director, Alan Silverman, also pointed out that the swimming pool could stand some renovations, and that it wouldn't hurt to add more sports fields to the mix.

The hurdle in accomplishing these projects, according to Silverman, has always been a lack of money.

"I'm quite reticent to raise tuition," said the director, noting that the vast majority of Moshava families also pay for Jewish day school. "And there certainly hasn't been time to do fundraising, nor has there been any culture of fundraising at the camp."

Initiatives and Goals

No culture of fundraising, that is, until the Grinspoon Institute for Jewish Philanthropy stepped into the picture.

Starting in September, the institute, a three-year-old charitable arm of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation in western Massachusetts, will offer a matching-grant program to 12 Philadelphia-area camps, including Moshava.

Other participating facilities include Pinemere Camp, Camp Ramah in the Poconos, Camp Harlam, Camp Poyntelle Lewis Village and Camp Galil, as well as six New Jersey Y camps that are situated in Pennsylvania.

Institute director Susan Kline explained that the center has run a matching-grants initiative before with great success. The previous campaign — launched in 2005 — focused on 26 New England camps, and garnered more than $11 million.

Kline added that the premise is not just to dole out dollars — although the institute's upcoming program will award funds at a one-to-three match for gifts exceeding $10,000. It's also about pushing staff members to create infrastructures for generating revenue, she said.

"We want these camps to take ownership of fundraising," she said.

To achieve this goal, the institute provides camps with fundraising consultants to help them develop high-performing boards, conduct strategic-planning initiatives and form active committees.

In addition, the center runs two annual conferences for lay and professional leaders, during which attendees learn how to solicit funds, plan donor-site visits and craft camp newsletters, in addition to other skills.

Kline emphasized that one of the main goals is for the camps to learn how to better articulate their value to the Jewish community.

The 2000 National Jewish Population Survey determined — as did the 1990 one before it — that attending Jewish overnight camp positively affects rates of in-marriage, synagogue affiliation, ritual activity and attachment to Israel.

Another study — conducted in 2006 by Steven M. Cohen, a sociologist at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion — found that 66 percent of those who have attended Jewish camps consider their Jewish identity "very important," as opposed to 29 percent of those who have never had that experience.

Still, statistics by the Steinhardt Social Research Institute, a Brandeis University-based data collection center, show that those who attend Jewish camp represent only 9.7 percent of the eligible demographic.

'Make Our Case'

Rabbi Todd Zeff, director of Camp Ramah in the Poconos, noted that increasing enrollment will require the 130 or so nonprofit Jewish overnight camps in North America to keep up with the competition, many of which offer niche or specialty services.

"To attract new kids, we need to have facilities on par with other camps — even non-Jewish camps," said Zeff, who rattled off a long wish list for Ramah, including a new guesthouse, better athletic fields and a much bigger swimming pool.

"The problem is getting on the radar screens of funders who have not previously given to Jewish informal education, and showing them the magic of Jewish overnight camp," he continued.

"If we can make our case successfully," said the rabbi, "we can bring in the needed funds."



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