Is this story familiar to you?
Upon arrival for a meeting with the synagogue’s leadership, the synagogue’s president shares with me that Josh Cohn, the chairman of the board and majority stockholder of SHOPHERE, a large department store chain in the Northeast where everyone shops, lives 30 minutes away. He and his family attend another synagogue nearer to their home. Josh Cohn is known to be philanthropic for both Jewish and non-Jewish causes, locally and nationally. The first question the president asks me is “how do we get to Josh so that he contributes to our synagogue?”
Or this one?
Neil Goldstein is the majority owner of a major league baseball team. He has a vacation home that is a 15-minute ride from the synagogue I am visiting where he spends most of the summer. The synagogue’s leadership shares with me that Neil has never attended anything at their synagogue, even though they have made an effort to include Neil and his family in all of their mailings for educational programs, special events, as well as the monthly newsletter. He, too, is very philanthropic in his home community as well as internationally. The leadership wants me to tell them the magic formula for Neil to contribute a 6 or 7 figure gift to the synagogue.
Yes, I have changed some of the details of these stories. But both of them are in fact true. The advice I offered was that both Josh and Neil had to know about the synagogue from personal experience before the synagogue leadership could expect anything more than a token gift, if that. Perhaps the synagogues’ rabbis might call and ask for a personal meeting. Wealthy people are often approached for meetings by leaders of national and local not-for-profit organizations. Most rabbis calling Josh or Neil have some cache and importance in their eyes.
The best prospects for such large size gifts are people who are already congregants of your synagogue. You know them. They may be giving large gifts to the local hospital and art museum. Every year, you see them in attendance at High Holy Day Worship, and perhaps one or two times throughout the year when they have Yahrzeit. If they have school age children, you may see them occasionally at religious school gatherings for parents.
Of course there should be an engagement plan for every congregant. But for such individuals with significant giving capacity, having an engagement plan well before there is a need to ask for a very large gift is vitally important.
There are exceptions to the stories described above. A 200 family synagogue in the Northeast had a capital $2 million+ campaign. The largest gift – mid 6 figures – came from the son of the synagogue’s oldest congregant. A titan of the hedge fund world, he attended High Holy Day Worship in the midst of the campaign and was introduced to the rabbi. A casual conversation led to a gift several weeks later.
Happenstance is not a guiding principal of fundraising. Having a plan to engage and involve persons with significant giving capacity will most often lead to success.