Field Research: Analysis

To train rabbis for today's congregations, Hebrew Union College- Jewish Institute of Religion adopts a three-pronged educational identity as seminary, graduate institution and professional school. In addition to rabbinic literature and Jewish history, professional development courses are necessary to train students for the practical role of rabbi as 'CEO of the Synagogue.' One of the essential roles of a congregational rabbi is as fundraiser, a position that induces anxiety for many clergy. Despite the complexities, the opportunity to encourage philanthropy can be one of the most sacred roles of a religious leader.

Inspired by our tradition's prioritization of tzedakah, we sought out insights from experts in the field who could help encourage fundraisers face the task with enthusiasm while connecting our giving with Jewish traditions, texts and attitudes. Through the inspiration and the generosity of the College-Institutes's president Rabbi David Ellenson, we traveled east to west and in between seeking stories and recommendations from some of the most successful Jewish fundraisers in the country. With our eyes on developing resources for rabbis in the field, we appreciated the opportunity to gain perspectives from rabbis who have successfully inhabited the role of fundraiser. The following summaries are the fruits of our labor, reflecting many hours of interviews and analysis. Organized by topic heading, each corresponds to the questions that we used to guide our conversations with these master fundraisers. Be sure also to view some of our video recorded interviews here.

Generational Giving
As Generation X and Y rabbis emerging into the field, our approach to donors will be radically different from the strategies of those who came before us. Patterns of philanthropy have changed over the past several decades. With the emergence of the internet and customization in all areas of life, giving has become increasingly specific and targeted. Philanthropists want to know to which fund they are contributing, what percentage of the organizations budget goes to programming, and how the donors can be active in their philanthropy. According to Will Schneider of 21/64, "The biggest and most often discussed difference between previous generation and ours is an increasing interest in tracking impact and what I would call, 'hands on' philanthropy." Schneider provides on such example, "Donorschoose.org is an education nonprofit that allows teachers to post specific requests for their classrooms. This type of one-to-one philanthropy had really never existed before en masse." As an inter-generational organization, 21/64's raison d'tre is addressing generational differences spanning grandparents to young adults.

Similarly, representatives from the Jewish Funders' Network explained to us that younger philanthropists want to roll up their sleeves and get involved with their hearts and their funds. From JFN's perspective we learned that the older previous generations gave to Jewish communal organizations because that was expected of them. That generation knew when the Federation's Super Sunday rolled around they would donate money to help the Jewish community and to show their identification as a Jew. In contrast to philanthropy as a means for one's identification, the younger generations want to feel that their money is making the biggest impact that it can. Consequently, the younger generations are more likely to give to non-Jewish causes than a few generations ago.

Most of the Jewish professionals with whom we spoke observed generational differences, but there were a few who reported no difference in giving patterns. According to Rabbi Jonathan Stein, when younger generations join synagogues and have children their giving patterns will come to resemble past generations. This optimistic perspective identifies life cycle as factor for giving more so than cultural trends.

Role of Rabbi as Fundraiser
Many rabbis come into the field wanting to inspire, support, and educate their congregants. However, as the 'CEO' of the synagogue rabbis often take on financial responsibilities, the most important being fundraising. The majority of the rabbis we interviewed are senior rabbis, who are all involved in fundraising at their synagogues or organizations. For the most part, fundraising is one of the responsibilities of senior clergy. Rabbi David Posner told us that he was an associate rabbi at Temple Emanu El for over twenty years and was not responsible for fundraising. According to Posner, donor cultivation is the senior rabbi's responsibility, because in many cases the senior rabbi has relationships with the congregants and the associate rabbi is responsible for supporting the senior. Rabbi Steven Leder told us that the important work of fundraising does not take place in the 10 month period of a capital campaign, rather the rabbi raises money over ten and twenty years of a relationship with the congregant.

While we anticipated the rabbis we interviewed to complain about the burdens of fundraising, many of them reported that their responsibilities of cultivating philanthropy in their congregations is particularly rewarding. People are constantly bombarded with advertisements promising fulfillment and satisfaction through material possessions, the culture of fee for service is dominant in our society. The synagogue can be a welcome respite from these messages. While donors are sure to benefit from the contributions they make, the rabbis has the opportunity invite investment in a greater legacy. When asked, several rabbis shared that they engage traditional texts in the process of donor cultivation in order to inspire giving in an authentically Jewish manner. The rabbi needs to balance the dual role of teacher and development professional and texts often omitted from discussions about contributions. Several rabbis cautioned the over use of texts that may not resonate with donors. The philanthropist should feel inspired without having their sense of tradition undermined. Rabbis need to be cautious not to use religious jargon excessively or invalidate the potential donor's Jewish authenticity.

While rabbis' role in fundraising is central, they function as part of a team. Throughout our research, we learned about the benefits of hiring fundraising professionals. Giving advice and training solicitors, the fundraising professional brings expertise to the process. Rabbi Jonathan Stein shared with us that he worked with professional fundraisers during his first fundraising endeavor and they helped him get over his fear of fundraising by giving him tools and techniques to make it comfortable for both him and the donor. A rabbi provides comfort in times of mourning, and celebration in times of joy, the rabbi is the most logical person to approach donors. An invitation from the rabbi to share in the vision and dream of a project or the future of the organization is likely to be received well. The rabbi has the ability to create community while improving it at the same time. While inspiring us to teach and preach, Rabbi David Ellenson elevated the mitzvah of encouraging tzedakah as one of the most rewarding rabbinic tasks.

Fear of Fundraising
Quite a few of the rabbis we interviewed confessed to a fear of fundraising at some point in their rabbinate. Many of them shared one common fear; they do not want to look like schnorrers. Rabbi Don Goor shared the following reminder from his teacher, Rabbi Isaiah Zeldin, "asking for money is helping someone else to do a mitzvah." Fundraising is about collecting or organizing money to make the goals of the community come to fruition. If done appropriately, it is a sacred act.

Another fear that rabbis expressed was asking for the wrong amount. Throughout our research, we found that Jewish institutions do not fare as well as secular institutions often because Jewish fundraisers do not ask for large enough donations. Penny Friedman of Interact for Change, a network for creating innovative, inspiring philanthropic solutions, suggests fundraisers use Wealthengine.com to see the scale of a donor's philanthropic capacity. Rabbi Paul Kipnes shared with us that when a donor gives once they want to be asked again and they will continue to give.

Donor Recognition
Knowing that thanking those we give is one of the most important steps of the process; we invested different methods of donor recognition. When asked, most of the fundraisers said that naming opportunities are the most common way that they recognize donors. Besides formal recognition, they reported that thanking the donors personal was also very important. The naming of rooms and schools in synagogues is controversial because the space belongs to the entire community. Although the very wealthy in the synagogue can afford to sponsor a new chapel or school building, all donations reflect a fulfilled commandment regardless of amount.

On the other hand, Marla Abraham, from the Jewish Federation of Los Angeles, presented us with a more positive view of naming opportunities. She commented on the historic value of the plaque honoring the women's knitting circle at the Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island from the turn of the 19th century. She admitted that it may have seemed 'tacky' for them at the time, but the plaque preserves their memory at the oldest synagogue in America. She suggested the possible benefit of dedicated spaces. If a person who values Jewish learning contributes significantly to developing the synagogue's library, a name plate will remind that person's progeny of the values central to their family.

We have been taught many times that the rabbi's role, as symbolic exemplar is particularly crucial in the area of philanthropy. Despite the fact that the rabbi's salary is drawn from the operating budget of the synagogue, rabbis often feel compelled to make significant contributions to capital campaigns. Rabbi Don Goor shared with us that his temple board recommended that he and his partner dedicate a space on their new campus. Although he was hesitant to participate in a naming opportunity, he recognized that this was important to his community.

Fundraising success stories
Rabbi David Posner shared a wonderful story of how a wing of Temple Emanuel in New York was funded. An elderly woman came to the synagogue after the death of her husband hoping that the rabbi could officiate at the funeral. She was not affiliated with any synagogue at the time and Rabbi Posner knew that helping her was the menschy thing to do. Out of gratitude the widow offered a significant portion of the estate to the congregation. The gift was unsolicited, but the warmth she felt inspired the woman from the rabbi and by his commitment to her during a difficult time. He reminded us to respect everyone that comes through our doors, whether appearing rich or poor.

Rabbi Jonathan Stein shared a story with us about the first time he received a million dollar gift for his congregation. In the middle of a donor cultivation meeting over lunch, the middle aged couple pledged a million dollars to the fundraising effort. After the lunch he and the temple president went outside and gave a shout of joy that they had raised this donation for the congregation. He described that feeling as one of his greatest fundraising moments.

Marla Abraham, a former instructor of fundraising for the School of Jewish Communal Service at HUC in LA, is now Director of Premier Philanthropy of the Federation of Greater Los Angeles. She told us a story of the emotions connected to philanthropy. Marla recounted the experience of a general caucus, when members of the Federation's board are required to make a pledge and then explain what Federation and philanthropy mean to them. She told us that she was nervous going into this meeting with businessmen because she was not sure how they were going to respond to sharing the story of their journeys. At first, the men sitting around the table were hesitant until someone finally stepped forward and tearfully offered his story, everyone continued in turn. She was delighted about the emotion behind their words and the role that philanthropy and the Jewish played in their lives. Philanthropy gave their lives meaning and definition beyond what she ever imagined.

Marla Abraham, Director of Premier Philanthropy of the Federation of Los Angeles
Rabbi David Ellenson, President of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion
Shep Englander, Jewish Federation of Greater Cincinnati, Ohio
Rabbi David Gelfand, Temple Israel of the City of New York
Sharna Goldsecker and Will Schneider from the Bronfman Foundation 21/64
Rabbi Don Goor, Temple Judea, Tarzana, California
Staff of Jewish Funders' Network, New York City
Rabbi Lewis Kamrass, K.K. B'nai Yeshurun Issac M. Wise Temple, Cincinnati, Ohio
Rabbi Paul Kipnes, Congregation Or Ami, Calabasas, California
Rabbi Steven Leder, Wilshire Boulevard Temple, Los Angeles, CA
Ruth Messinger, President of the American Jewish World Service, New York City
Karmi Monsher, Women's Department of the Jewish Federation of Los Angeles
Rabbi David Posner, Temple Emanuel, New York City
Rabbi Peter Rubenstein, Central Synagogue, New York City
Rabbi Jonathan Stein, Temple Shaaray Tefila, New York City