First, I want to define what I mean by a “Major Campaign”. What I am speaking about here could be a capital campaign for a new building or renovations of existing space. It also could be an endowment fund to support a particular program of the synagogue – music, youth education – or even to endow “A Rabbinic Chair” to support the rabbi’s salary in the years ahead.
The weeks between Sukkot and Hanukkah are “prime time” for engaging congregants in synagogue stuff. You know that the majority of our communities were together in synagogue on multiple occasions. And the High Holy Days also brought people together with family and friends for festive meals.
So many of us are excited – or hopeful or forward thinking – about the New Year before us and the hopes and dreams for what it will bring.
People are in a synagogue frame of mind.
This is the time – between now and Hanukkah – to meet individually with those in that core group of people in the congregation who have the financial capacity to make a major gift ($25,000, $50,000, $100,000 and up). It could be the first cultivation meeting where the purpose of the conversation is to share the vision of the synagogue and to seek advice. It could be a continuation of this ongoing conversation from prior meetings. Or it could be the actual solicitation.
The High Holy Days give people good feelings about the synagogue. And you want to take advantage of such feelings with this key group of synagogue leaders.
I have heard many reasons why the timing isn’t right for a major fundraising campaign. The uncertainty of the economy is one that I hear most often. I remember years ago, at a UJA Federation Young Leadership fundraising gathering, Ken, the chairperson of the group, spoke of the importance of giving in light of a recent recession. He was a commodities broker who had at different times of his 15-year career made a lot of money and lost a lot of money.
His main point was that while there had been a downturn in the market, history had demonstrated that it always comes back. And that while many people in the room might be feeling “psychologically poor”, we were all still better off than we were five years before.
Ken’s words of wisdom hold true today. Before the most recent recession, the Dow Jones Industrial Average – “the market”- hit 14,000 in 2007, before dropping to 6600 in March of 2009. In recent weeks, despite some fluctuations, the market has been going up and down between 16,000 and 17,000.
This is not to say that everyone in the synagogue community is in great financial shape. Unemployment, or underemployment, for some remains a challenge. And synagogues need to be supportive of fellow congregants looking for work.
Most likely, as leaders of your congregation, you have some idea as to some of the congregants who have significant capacity. This is the group to be targeted for this effort.
The best time for a capital or major endowment campaign is when the synagogue leadership decides such a campaign is vital to its future.
While the time of a rabbinic search might not be optimal to ask people for significant gifts, it is an opportunity to engage people in a visioning and dreaming conversation. Once the new rabbi is hired, meeting the new rabbi continues such engagement. Solicitations may follow a few months down the road.