Relationships, Relationships, Relationships: Building Community and Raising Money

In recent weeks, relationships have been a dominant theme of my posts. This week is no different. Last weekend, I found myself on a plane going to California for business. I was reading the most recent issue of the Los Angeles Jewish Journal ( There was an article by Susan Freudenheim about Ron Wolfson’s Book on Relational Judaism.

It is all about relationships.

During this trip, I also read another article titled “Clergy Role Tied to Faith Giving”. The leadership of 3100 congregations – mainly churches – responded to a comprehensive survey about giving. 49% of the clergy were not aware of the giving trends in congregation.  A faith leader made the observation that “While many clergy are reluctant to delve into information related to individual giving, it is via their giving that many donors turn their beliefs into a way of living.”

The focus on relationships can help to build a stronger sacred community and improve fundraising.

Many years ago, I read an article on philanthropy in the New York Times that influenced my work with synagogue leaders regarding the role of the Rabbi in fundraising.  The critical aspect of “Making the Ask” was the role in fundraising by the president of the University of Virginia.  The president at the time wanted to focus on teaching. The Chairman of the Board of Trustees who was interviewed for the article said… ”the seven-figure donors, they want to see the president, it makes them feel important. John (the president) had to be out there”.

When I have described the role of the rabbi in fundraising in presentations to synagogue leaders I have often made the comparison of the role of the rabbi to that of a university president.  Maybe in 2013 this is no longer the best comparison as university presidents are known to focus too much of their time on fundraising.  Check out Sunday’s New York Times article on the president of New York University.

Whether it is for the purposes of fundraising, or to simply build and maintain a strong sacred community, the rabbi’s involvement in relationship building is critical.

How might such relationship building happen? Even with a congregation of 100 or 200 families this might seem like a daunting task. Let alone what clergy would feel with 500, 1000, or even more families.

Ron Wolfson offers advice to look to Chabad and the mega church movement and how they engage people. Maybe it is also a challenge of math.  If there are 500 families in a synagogue, each month the goal might be to reach out to by phone or meet in person with 40-50 of them. There are people who you will always see at Shabbat worship, through their committee involvement or at other activities taking place at synagogue. Targeting everyone else not in the core group of synagogue might make this seem like a more doable goal.

And I don’t think that this has to fall on the shoulders of just the rabbi. All of the clergy and professional staff should be involved in this engagement effort.  The more people that the rabbi can touch in a given month, the stronger the sacred community will be.

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