Rethinking Holiday Appeals

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In this season of appeals to potential donors, do your homework, says one local fundraising consultant.

The High Holidays are often seen as a time to appeal for charitable donations. I am often struck by the conversation among many of our friends regarding expectations of donors. 
 
“He or she should be at $___.” “S/he can do ____, why are we not seeing that gift?” And the best is: “S/he can do the whole thing if s/he wanted to …”
 
Some of it is experienced banter, not chutzpah. Much of it originates from a dated and entitled notion among fundraisers that donors belong to the organizations they support. The challenge for volunteer and professional leaders in the philanthropic marketplace is to understand how things have changed. 
 
So for High Holiday campaigns and beyond, here are ways of thinking differently.
 
Engagement and Homework: How many have approached a donor for a seeming “slam dunk” gift and been rebuffed? Why? Perhaps there was no research and no understanding of the donor or his priorities.
 
According to the 2012 Bank of America Study of High Net Worth Philanthropy, 38 percent of those surveyed stopped supporting an organization because they were asked for inappropriate amounts. So many tools exist today to help nonprofit leaders plan their major tasks. It is unthinkable to approach a major donor without anecdotal information and empirical data. 
 
And don’t tell the donor what she should do; make it about the nonprofit’s vision and purpose and how she can advance it.
 
Further to that point, the same study said 71 percent of donors were very strategic in their philanthropy, and 81 percent focused giving based on geography, cause or issue.
 
Motivations for Giving: The Bank of America study also found that 74 percent of high net worth donors give because of the impact of the result of their giving. Plus, 78 percent expect to get satisfaction from giving. 
 
In assessing giving in 2013, Charity Navigator, which evaluates U.S.-based charities on a variety of levels, reported:
 
• 72 percent of donors ranked a charity’s results as a very important factor in supporting it;
• 59 percent of donors ranked accountability and transparency as important; and
• Only 30 percent ranked prior giving as a factor in determining renewal. Yet, in an example of “disconnect,” 71 percent of charities ranked familiarity as a strong driver for repeat giving.
 
So considering why people give, I suggest that loyalty is no longer a factor for most. Rather, most donors are driven by the nonprofit’s ability to make a positive, transparent impact. 
 
Giving to Israel: The generational shift in the community has been felt deeply in Israel-related gifts. Echoing the point about high net worth donors being guided by strategies and results, giving to Israel is increasingly driven by personal priorities, transparency and outcomes. 
 
Many American Jews still give generously to Israel-based nonprofits but are motivated by factors on the ground, not the emotional appeal of earlier generations.Giving is segmented, targeted to reflect interest and priorities, circumventing the traditional centralized system.
 
That is why in High Holiday appeals and throughout the year, you will see many Israel-based nonprofits touting exceptional accomplishments with specific populations or causes, rather than focusing exclusively on their geography, i.e., Israel. No longer relying on historical connections, they demonstrate their specific achievements and the unique space they serve.
 
In the spirit of the approaching chagim, I encourage synagogues, community institutions and Israeli organizations to seize upon every opportunity in our hyper-competitive environment to make their distinctive cases to stakeholders. Understand that change is occurring rapidly, and approaches of the past quickly become outdated. 
 
So reach out to donors; don’t assume for a moment that they will come to you. Refresh your message to meet contemporary expectations. Most importantly, tell your donors and friends why your accomplishments matter, not that you have to get through another year.
 
Avrum Lapin is president of The Lapin Group, LLC, a fundraising consulting firm in Jenkintown. 
 

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