Founders, executive directors, and fundraisers affiliated with schools and non-profit organizations of all sizes converged upon the hotel for a full day program offering them the chizuk, vision and tools to be most effective in their work. The diverse crowd of men and women – from across the New York/New Jersey region and beyond, including two from Europe; representing out-of-town Day Schools to chassidishe mosdos – listened attentively to each speaker, jotting down notes of the valuable lessons they were learning.
The camaraderie between attendees and their mutual respect of the common cause to help Klal Yisrael’s communities was visible in every aspect of the loaded program – including the amiable schmoozing and networking throughout the day.
Yet, at the same time, there was no attempt to hide some of the more challenging realities that those in the room face on a day to day basis. With his infectious good nature and sense of humor, Rabbi Dovid Goldwasser, shlita, Rav of Khal Bnei Yitzchok and noted author, opened the program and spoke of the positivity and dedication necessary to be successful in the field – and offered practical tips to help achieve that goal.
Rabbi Goldwasser related a poignant story where he met a veteran fundraiser and asked him how his “avodas hakodesh” was going. The man was downcast and refused to answer; it turned out that he was on his way to resign due to his inability to raise funds in today’s tough economic climate. However, after being reminded by the Rav how holy and valuable his work is, he continued working that day and saw a level of success that he hadn’t seen in years – and stayed on. “Hashem could help us rise above all statistics and limitations,” Rabbi Goldwasser concluded. “All we need to do is dream and not give up.”
Nuts and Bolts
Judging by the crowd’s reaction to Rabbi Goldwasser’s words, his message was warmly received, but, beyond the vision, successful fundraisers must also learn the most successful practical tools of the trade – with many rules of the game being rewritten on a constant basis. The program was filled with practical advice from seasoned insiders coming from a variety of angles.
“My entire trip was worth it if it informed me of even one good idea,” remarked Rabbi Dovid Morgan, co-founder of Ateres Girls High School in Gateshead, England, “and I’ll be returning home with a lot more than that.”
Nary a minute of Rabbi Richard C. Bieler’s presentation went by without another unique insight, anecdote or tip. Rabbi Bieler is the founder of R. Bieler Consulting, and has decades of fundraising and outreach experience on behalf of institutions like Yeshiva University and Ohel.
Rabbi Bieler spoke of the tremendous benefit vs. cost ratio of courting the support of major donors and detailed some of the steps to accomplish that. He related the fascinating story of how Ohel courted the support of philanthropist Harvey Kaylie, who was impressed by an Ohel foster family, began by contributing small toy clowns for an Ohel event, and eventually dedicated a major summer camp campus. Some of the points touched upon by Rabbi Bieler were how to identify potential major donors, familiarize them firsthand with the organization’s work, and cultivate a long term relationship in a professional manner. “We kept one of the Kaylie clowns in the office to encourage us when we had a difficult day,” he remarked.
Next up was Yitzchok Saftlas, President of Bottom Line Marketing Group, who has decades of marketing experience with hundreds of organizational, political and corporate clients and is the visionary behind the Master Fundraiser Forum. “Marketing is the way you spread your message,” he summed up succinctly.
In his PowerPoint presentation, Mr. Saftlas showcased various ad campaigns, newsletters, and other projects and examples, in order to illustrate the tips and ideas that he shared. Some of the principles that he expounded upon were balancing creativity with effectiveness – the need to produce materials that will impress donors, yet effectively communicate the cause.
While sitting down to lunch, Dennis Eisenberg, Director of Torah Umesorah’s Leadership and Fundraising Academy, and President of DME Partners, spoke of the unique breadth of the forum. “It makes you know your craft and everything that’s married to it – the whole package in one day,” he said.
Indeed, no possible angle remained untouched.
In order to give attendees a rare window into the mind of the donor, the forum allotted one prized slot to someone on the other side of the fence. Due to a medical emergency, the original philanthropist speaker, Richard Jedwab, CEO of Silk Tree Capital Partners, was unable to attend. With barely 48 hours of prior notice, Bottom Line scrambled and sought a qualified fill-in. They were somehow able to secure Jonathan Gassman of Gassman Financial Group and G & G Planning Concepts to take his place.
Mr. Gassman is one of only several hundred Americans who are certified as a “Chartered Advisor in Philanthropy,” and advises many high net-worth clients on their philanthropic activities. With a perpetual smile on his face and quip on his tongue, Mr. Gassman kept the audience spellbound throughout his presentation, during which he interacted with audience members.
He spoke of various aspects of appearing professional and successful to wealthy donors, while being 100% transparent. But perhaps the most memorable part of the presentation was when he told the audience not to despair or feel slighted by a donor who refuses to donate. He inscribed on the board “SW3/N” which stands for: “Some Will, Some Won’t…So What! Next!” Something every fundraiser can relate with!
One of the Jewish community’s most experienced hands at coordinating successful fundraising events then offered some of his experiences and perspectives. Norman G. Gildin, President of Strategic Fundraising Group, who has helped raise millions of dollars for organizations like Ohel and the Metropolitan Jewish Geriatric Foundation, spoke about the evolving model of fundraising events, which maximize donations and minimize expenses. Mr. Gildin detailed some of the more recent innovations in this area, such as text message donations and VIP receptions.
As the afternoon progressed, the highly anticipated “Fundraising Inspiration Workshop” took place, offering a variety of time efficient tips and perspectives. Rabbi Eliezer Stern, CEO of Yeshiva of Spring Valley, who led a capital campaign to build an 11 acre campus spoke about the Siyata D’shmaya he encountered every step of the way – despite entering the field without a fundraising background.
Noted entrepreneur Shea Rubenstein, Executive Vice President of the JCC of Marine Park, particularly elaborated on the successful fundraising efforts of the JCC’s Project Mazon, which helps families with their grocery bills. Mr. Rubenstein spoke of some of the methods that enabled the organization to receive automatically recurring donations and familiarize powerful elected officials with their work.
The third part of this workshop was delivered by Marty Siegmeister, National Sales Manager for Allied Importers, who has spent his life in the food and beverage industry. Mr. Siegmeister spoke about various successful wine related fundraising methods, including wine tastings and vineyard visits.
The forum’s keynote address was, as they say, last but not least. Rabbi Simcha Scholar, M.B.A., M.A., the renowned Executive Vice President of Chai Lifeline held an open talk with the audience, sharing some of the lesser known aspects of his journey building the prestigious organization.
Rabbi Scholar stressed the need for honesty and gave the attendees lots of chizuk on how to advance past the inevitable setbacks. He related one particularly painful anecdote when Camp Simcha lacked the necessary funds to open, and one major donor turned down the opportunity to assist because “sick children don’t grow.” Rabbi Scholar, on the other hand, takes an entirely different view of the pained holy neshamos he helps – and that belies his success, B’Siyata D’shmaya. “I look at the pictures of the children in my office, and I get to see why I’m doing this,” he explained.
The conclusion of Rabbi Scholar’s talk brought the meticulously executed forum – including nine presentations, three catered meals and networking opportunities – to a close at precisely the time it was scheduled to. Attendees were all fascinated at what they had learned, and gathered all their notes and contact information of all the valuable people they met.
After all was said and done, Rabbi Goldwasser’s words at the beginning of the day – “This is an entire Shabbaton in one day” – seemed more prescient than ever.