One of my High Holy Day memories from childhood is the first time I heard a campaign pitch.
Back in the 1960s, supporting Israel was important to many. I can’t remember if it was Harold Ponn or Harry Feldman – synagogue leaders I recall my dad once telling me everyone liked and respected – came to the Bima as the bridge between Minchah and Ne’ilah on Yom Kippur to ask everyone to buy an Israel Bond. I was impressed with the multi-colored pledge card (was probably very expensive to print in those days) with pretty big dollar amounts that you could fold down and turn in to the ushers.
I doubt I knew what an Israel bond was. Just that it was a way for everyone to stand proud with Israel.
I am a strong advocate of having a High Holy Day fundraising plan. Congregants are in a synagogue frame of mind. They are a captive audience. Lots of eyeballs in the sanctuary. My experience and fundraiser’s gut tells me that Jews traditionally make contributions at this time of year, and of course at the end of the calendar year. Every Jewish organization is asking for money during the Days of Awe. If your synagogue needs to raise money, it makes perfect sense to have campaign tied to the High Holy Days.
Should there be a pitch from the Bima for the synagogue High Holy Day Appeal? If you remember attending a UJA event back in the 1970s and 1980s, a pitch from the “Bima” (the dais in an auditorium or hotel ballroom) was SOP. You were given your pledge card as you entered the room. There was often a well-known speaker, followed by the local community leader.
Remember card calling? It made a lot of people uncomfortable, but was often effective, particularly if it followed an emotional presentation. And then people who didn’t announce their gifts were asked to complete their pledge cards. And turn them in.
The synagogue on the High Holy Days is certainly a different place from UJA events. Maybe people received a HHD Appeal letter. The sanctuary doesn’t seem to be the place on Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur to ask people to fill out a pledge card. So the pitch is just a reminder about the campaign where the Harry Feldman (or Harriet) of today tells a few personal anecdotes about what the synagogue means to him and how it has been there for his family.
Every year, when the High Holy Day Campaign pitch is about to happen in our synagogue, I realize that this is by no means an easy task. Everyone knows it is coming. It happens right before the rabbi’s sermon (imagine if it came after). People are a little edgy. And what they are being asked to do, they won’t be doing anything about it until after they eat 8 hours later, if not in the days after that. If they remember.
So unless we go back to the old days, where your synagogue’s Harry Feldman asks the congregation to complete a pledge card at that moment, the HHD pitch will remain just a reminder. You will need to include one or two email reminders in your fundraising plan.
But all of this – the direct mail letter, the pitch, and the reminders – can be effective in taking advantage of how people feel about the synagogue at this time of year and of course, raising much needed funds.