Think Local: Seeking Foundation Funding for Synagogue Programs.

I hear this question a lot: “what about pursuing grants from foundations for our synagogue?”

Every synagogue leader believes their synagogue is special and is doing great work. Our religious school is bursting at the seams and so many parents participate in family education opportunities every month.  There must be a foundation interested in supporting synagogues or Jewish causes that would love to support us!!

Like politics-in the words of the late Tip O’Neill – most charitable giving, including grants from foundations, is local.

An important component of all fundraising is developing relationships.  Whether you are asking a congregant for $1 million, or a foundation for $25,000, developing and nurturing the relationship between you and the rabbi – as a representative of synagogue leadership – and the wealthy congregant or foundation program officer or board member is key.

When I make a presentation to a synagogue leadership group on planning and implementing a comprehensive capital or endowment campaign, I always speak about the four Rs of Fundraising:

Research: to know everything that you can possibly know about a potential donor. About their family, about their jobs, their involvement in the community, involvement with other charitable organizations, and their role in your synagogue.

Romance: this is the cultivation phase. You want to engage potential donors in a conversation about the future of the synagogue – this is the “vision thing”. You just don’t want to make a cold call and go and see a congregant who you want to ask for a significant gift and then go and ask them. Take your time and focus on developing the relationship.

Request: You always want to ask a potential donor for a specific amount of money. This should be based on their prior giving as well as the norms in your community for leadership giving. And what you have discovered during the Research and Romance phases.

Recognition: Donors must be thanked, and they should also be recognized in a public fashion. This should be based on the culture of your synagogue. I have visited synagogues that have plaques everywhere – I often say “plaques on every pew” – and I have visited synagogues that have a framed plaque of an alphabetical listing of all donors to a recent campaign hidden in the corner or the lobby.

Back to our discussion about foundations. Looking in your own community is the best place to start. Who are the major foundations that are funding programs of Federation agencies? Who are the board members and program officers of those foundations? Is anyone a congregant in your synagogue?  This is the “Research” phase I have described above.

A good starting point for researching local foundations is through the Foundation Center. Spending $30 to access their foundation directory online for one month should be money well spent.

Review the foundation’s website and learn as much as you can about past projects they have funded. Go and meet with the program officer and/or Executive Director to learn about the foundation’s mission and priorities and see how the synagogue’s project in need of funding fits these specs. This follows the “Romance” phase.

Sometimes, the Jewish Community Foundation – as part of or related to a local Jewish Federation – has funding available for special projects for local Jewish organizations, including synagogues.

The application guidelines of a foundation should highlight the maximum amount that an organization can request.  A foundation’s website often notes past recipients and the amounts of their grants. Such information should be helpful. Request Phase.

After researching about the foundation and meeting with its leadership, you should have a sense whether the foundation is interested in a particular synagogue program. Writing the grant proposal should be the easy part of this. Foundations have proposal guidelines to follow. And the best advice I can give is to write clearly and simply and follow the guidelines.

For many North American Jewish organizations, foundation support accounts for between 10% and 15% of their overall budgets.

For North American foundations, take a look at the Legacy Heritage Fund.  It funds synagogue-based projects for congregational education, Israel Engagement, and Synagogue Music. Grants are for up to $25,000-$30,000 and may be renewed for multiple years.

The Covenant Foundation provides funding for creative approaches to Jewish education programming that “perpetuate identity, heritage, and continuity of the Jewish people”. Collaboration with other synagogues or other local organizations (Jewish Federations, JCCs, Bureau of Jewish Educations) always increases your chances to receive foundation funding.

Should you have a question about a local or North American Foundation or need assistance with the foundation grant process, please feel free to email me at, or call me at 973-477-6424.



1 Comment on “Think Local: Seeking Foundation Funding for Synagogue Programs.

  1. Very informative post, David! I think it’s great advice for anyone interested in approaching foundations for funding. Your blogs are insightful and practical. Thanks for sharing!

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