Fundraising a Contact Sport at Jewish Federation’s Super Sunday

The ladies of Shaare Shamayim kicking it old-school, writing letters to potential donors.
The ladies of Shaare Shamayim kicking it old-school, writing letters to potential donors. (Photo by Matt Silver)

For the second time in less than a month, a Super Sunday drew a crowd.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia held its annual Super Sunday, the largest Jewish community fundraiser of the year, on Feb. 23, filling to capacity a large event space at the Jewish Community Services Building, as well as four other sites in the area.

Like the other Super Sunday, that big football game played earlier this month in Miami, what occurred over the course of a long Sunday — with shifts beginning bright and early and lasting into the evening — was very much a contact sport. Volunteers manned phones, sent texts and posted to social media.

And some, whose furious work brought back frightening memories of blue book exams and constant hand-cramping, did things the old-fashioned way, writing letters out longhand — beautiful penmanship all — to donors with a history of donating but no phone contact information on file.

A group of seniors from the Congregations of Shaare Shamayim in Northeast Philadelphia seemed much less concerned with hand-cramping and much more concerned with being hung-up on, so they chose to eschew the more contemporary means of popular communication in favor of kicking it a little more old-school.

“In our minds at least, it’s a sure bet that all of these people will return the pledge card or call or go to the website and make a donation,” Maxine Goldman said. “And besides, it’s a lot easier to do this than to call somebody and say, ‘Hi, we know that you’re…’ — and then bang!” She then pantomimed an authoritative hang-up.

“Most people don’t hang up; they just don’t pick up the phone in the first place,” added Jack Belitsky, a member of Jewish Federation’s board of trustees, who joked that it must have been his birthday in order for him to have been surrounded by such a lovely group of women. “Also, sometimes people will respond more to a handwritten note than something that is more impersonal.”

“It’s old-school, but it works,” Goldman echoed, brimming with confidence about the efficacy of the Shaare Shamayim cohort’s approach. “I actually believe that, especially us at this table, we will be generating a great deal of revenue for the Super Sunday drive because we have all these wonderful people who have already given in the past, so you’re pretty sure they’re going to give again.”

Many of these women, just by virtue of having lived in this Jewish community and participated in Jewish charities for so long, recognized some of the names of the prospective donors on their lists.

“That’s what they tell you to do — that if it’s a name you recognize, to add a personal touch,” Goldman said. “A personal touch makes it so much nicer, and it makes it much more likely that people will give.”

Not an empty seat in sight at the Super Sunday call center at 2100 Arch Street.
Not an empty seat in sight at the Super Sunday call center at 2100 Arch Street. (Photo by Matt Silver)

Not quite as tactically savvy as the seasoned veterans, the college students from Temple University’s Hillel made up for with enthusiasm what they lacked in cold-calling experience.

That group was led by Lauren Marks, a Birthright Israel associate for Temple’s Hillel, who’d worked several Super Sundays as a Temple student before graduating to her present position.

“We brought most of the recent Birthright alumni from Temple this morning, probably about 15 or 20 students in all,” Marks said.

As to how the budding fundraisers fared, Marks cited mixed results: “One of our students just made $500 from a single call and has just hit the $1,000 mark for the day,” she said. “Me, on the other hand, I was happy with my $36. I thought I’d been doing pretty well.”

Most apparent from the sidelines was how diligently the volunteers seemed to go about their business. There was minimal lollygagging, even in light of the delicious New York-style bagels and cream cheese just steps away from the phone banks.

Even Susan Freedman, the site captain for the Jewish Community Services Building location, who also serves on the board of Federation Housing, said she’s been involved with charities longer than she’d care to admit and felt compelled to recognize that this was a particularly dutiful yet energized group.

Site captain Susan Freedman announcing the total amount raised so far.
Site captain Susan Freedman announces the total amount raised so far. (Photo by Matt Silver)

“My job is to make announcements welcoming people, and I periodically give the progress, like how much we’ve raised and how many gifts we’ve gotten pledges for,” she said. “Generally just try to keep people excited and enthusiastic. Although, everybody here knows exactly what to do. They do it, they’re dedicated and they almost don’t need any direction at all. They just come in and get right to it.”

Allison Goodman, co-chair of this year’s Super Sunday, agreed.

“(Jewish) Federation’s reach is incredible, and that’s really what I’ve been sharing with my network in asking for their support,” she said.

“Not only does it help to fund things that are a part of our everyday lives — for example, we send our kids to Perelman Jewish Day School and to Camp Ramah, so they support these missions of Jewish life in the community — but (Jewish) Federation also supports our vulnerable populations through food banks and career counseling programs and homes, like JCHAI (Judith Creed Homes for Adult Independence), for people who can’t necessarily live on their own and for our senior population.

“And it’s really important to acknowledge that Jewish Federation is an umbrella organization and its mission is to fundraise to support Jewish life, yes, but also to support any disenfranchised individual in the Philadelphia region.”

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  1. It was my pleasure working at Super Sunday with Holli and Mrs Sue Freedman and the other volunteers, and staff up on the second floor, Even our great councilman, Mark Squilla, who is the best person in City Council was present to make calls. Hopefully everyone who philanthropoly pledged will send in their gelt!


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