Foundations Will Save Us?

Not in the spiritual sense, but financially?

It is a common question I hear. The synagogue’s vice-president for Finance does her analysis. The streams of income from dues/annual commitments, religious school, pre-school, and the High Holy Day Appeal have been pretty consistent for the last several years. The Gala has helped raise an additional $50,000-$75,000 each year. But it is a lot of work and the synagogue has to spend $20,000 to make it successful. Besides all of the volunteer and staff hours it takes.

Despite all of this, a gap remains each year of $25,000-$50,000.

Someone at a synagogue board meeting makes the suggestion to seek out foundation grants. Not-for-profit organizations apply for grants all the time-why shouldn’t our synagogue? We could write a well written proposal and the foundations will love it!

Life should be that easy.

Like all fundraising, being successful securing foundation support is dependent on developing and nurturing relationships. With foundation board members, and with foundation program officers. Many well written proposals sent blindly – without establishing any kind of relationship with anyone from the foundation – to foundations requesting support most often end up in a pile – today, a digital pile- or in the circular file.

Maybe there are congregants who are on the board of a family foundation. How do you know? Ask at a board meeting if anyone is aware of congregants who serve on a foundation board. And ask the rabbi.

There are some online resources to check out as well. Check out the Foundation Center to explore further foundations in your locale. The information you will find here will indicate basic areas of interests (“Jewish organizations”, “synagogues”) as well as names of board members.

Check out my blog on this topic from a few years ago. 4 ½ years later the process of securing grants outlined then still holds true. I cannot stress enough the importance of developing relationships.

One question to consider: Do you think it is better, or easier, to pursue a foundation grant of $50,000 for general support, or ask 5 congregants for an annual gift of $10,000 (or even 10 congregants for $5,000)? The latter path is most often the more successful one.

There is no guarantee that foundation funding will continue from one year to the next. If you are successful in securing a grant, you should remain in touch with the foundation staff, and board members if appropriate, keep them informed of your progress and how their money is being spent. Unless the grant was for multiple years, you will have to go through the same process again in a year’s time.

It is also not uncommon for foundations to periodically to go through a strategic planning process where their priorities change. And this might put any future funding for the synagogue at risk. And then what do you do?

The 5 congregants giving $10,000 annually I referred to above are actually more likely than foundations to continue their giving over multiple – most likely, many – years.

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