Appeals for charitable giving, especially at key points of the year, are part of the Jewish calendar and a predictable part of our tradition.
As Rosh Hashanah approaches, we expect the customary High Holiday appeals to begin. This year, of course, things may well be a little different.
Over the past 12 months, we have been responding and adjusting to the many changes in our professional and personal lives brought about by the state of the economy. We think it is important to focus on how those changes will impact on this holiday season, and how we, as Jewish donors and volunteers, should be prepared to act, support and lead.
A time for celebration and a time for forgiveness, we, as Jews, know the important messages of the High Holidays. But accompanying the apples, honey and shofar-blowing, we should expect even more appeals requesting charitable support to sustain our Jewish organizations.
We are reminded that giving tzedekah is our responsibility as a Jewish people, and that we should perform mitzvot, but how do we deal with numerous requests in this economy? How do we decide the best way to allocate our limited funds?
Today's donors must wade through these requests and effectively discern which organizations to support. If Jews do not support their own community and resources, the vibrancy that has characterized the local, national and global Jewish world will be significantly diminished.
There are at least three questions folks should ask themselves before they make a charitable contribution today:
· Is my gift going to make an impact?
· How will my gift be used?
· Who is going to benefit from my gift?
These questions will help us decipher why we are truly giving. We must then figure out our main interests and philanthropic goals, and how can we achieve these in regard to our current fiscal capacity. Once we determine how we want our gift to be utilized and what impact we would like it to make, then we must research our potential options. Annual reports are especially good indicators of an organization's health, funding priorities and programmatic goals.
We suggest speaking with board members to learn about a group's identified needs and objectives for the coming year. In addition, many organizations are now listed on GuideStar, Charity Navigator and other Web sites that provide descriptive information, as well as nonprofit ratings. Regardless of your approach, as a donor, you must feel that your charitable contributions are making a difference and fulfilling your personal wishes.
Here is some advice for volunteer leaders who help raise funds from friends, relatives, colleagues or business associates in an environment where competition for charitable dollars is especially fierce. Just as we suggest that donors must take important steps during this holiday season, "askers" must also adjust their approach.
Outreach efforts must be gently more aggressive than before, yet they must speak with sensitivity and understanding about the circumstances and capabilities of your constituents. We strongly suggest enhancing personal contact. Get out in front of potential donors, and speak passionately with them about your organization's needs and plans.
Acknowledge the challenges of the times, yet provide a variety of giving options that may enable certain members to give over a number of years or through deferred gifts. Remember, donors want to see proactivity, transparency and sheer determination in the drive to provide high-quality services that make a difference.
Though this Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur may be different from the past, it will still be a time to join with family to celebrate life, reflect and seek forgiveness for the year to come. As the Jewish people have persevered for thousands of years, we must consider key entities in our community to ensure continued growth.
We must provide the most generous support we can, and offer our valued time to those nonprofits that truly touch our hearts. With this conviction in place, we can expect a very sweet new year.
Robert I. Evans, managing director, and Avrum D. Lapin, director, are principals of the EHL Consulting Group of Willow Grove, which works with dozens of Jewish nonprofits on fundraising, strategic planning and nonprofit business practices.