Ask Rabbi, Ask!!!

The best synagogue campaigns are when the rabbi is actively involved in all aspects.

Helping to write the case for giving and vision statement, Prospect identification, creating strategies for engagement, and soliciting. We often think of rabbis as the “Chief Spiritual Officer”. But the reality today is this: not only is the rabbi the CSO, he/she should be the Chief Engagement Officer, the Chief Program Officer, and the Chief Development Officer – even when there is a development professional on the synagogue’s staff team.

I have often used the analogy that the role of the rabbi in fundraising is much like that of a college president. In a fundraising campaign of significance for capital or endowment needs, the focus will most often be on major gifts – those persons with five and six figure capacity, at least in the campaign’s beginning stage. The adage that 90% of the funds will come from 10% of the people still holds true, even for synagogues. Especially for campaigns with goals of 7 or 8 figures.

A recent Blog I read about church fundraising through bequests challenges this thinking. Firstly, a recent study of Southern Baptist pastors showed that 86% of respondents stated that their church provides no information to congregants about estate planning. If we were to do a similar study of congregational rabbis -for all denominations – it would not surprise me if results were similar.

But what really struck me about this blog was the thesis that pastors need to be careful to not use their influential position for fundraising purposes with their congregants.

Rabbis (and pastors) do often know confidential information about congregants. They visit with congregants at times of their lives when they are vulnerable because of the challenges of life.  The author of this blog shares his opinion that a pastor should not take advantage of a congregant’s vulnerability when asking for significant support.

Rabbis and development professionals would all agree that asking for a significant gift to the synagogue when a congregant’s spouse has just passed away is not the smartest thing to do. Or even the most ethical. So you wait.

And it is always important to ask.  Because if you don’t ask, you don’t get. Or what you get is based on luck rather than an outcome of your own action.

Many organizations have been the recipients of bequests from estates of people who had little or no involvement in the organization. It is probably a rarer thing for this to happen at a synagogue. I told this story in a Blog a few months ago. A very generous guy to many different organizations passes away and leaves $1 million to several Jewish and non-Jewish organizations. For the synagogue he leaves $500,000. The rabbi, after receiving the notification from the gentleman’s estate attorney and a listing of beneficiaries and amounts asks the attorney why the synagogue received less than the other organizations. The lawyer responded, “because the other organizations asked”.

I still believe the rabbi is the congregation’s chief development officer. But like everything in life, common sense is often the best guide to figuring out the right time and right way to approach a congregant with a significant ask.


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