Ten Tips for Enhancing Your High Holiday Campaign

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For many synagogues one of the largest fundraising programs and a significant revenue source, is the annual High Holiday appeal. It makes sense that synagogue leadership would try to capitalize on the largest crowds of the year in attendance at the synagogue and the emphasis on giving Tzedakah at that time of year. These appeals often were included in a speech by the president or rabbi on Kol Nidre night in front of a packed sanctuary. The congregation would hear about the needs or dreams of the congregation and its leadership and how the money from this appeal was critical to meeting those needs and dreams. This speech was usually followed by ushers collecting pull down tab pledge cards, or in many congregations, families and individuals committing money and having those pledges announced from the bimah. While this practice still continues in some congregations across the Jewish world, the majority of communities have gravitated away from this high intensity, high pressure approach to fundraising to more of a strategic longer-term Kol Nidre campaign. Here are ten tips for success.

  • Start early. Successful High Holiday appeals don’t begin Rosh Hashanah or Kol Nidre night. You should already be preparing now in May/June if not earlier. In many congregations, the Kol Nidre/High Holiday campaign represents one of the most significant fundraisers of the year and it warrants significant time and effort to maximize its success. You can’t just roll out the same campaign and do the same thing or make the same speech every year and assume you will maintain or grow your numbers.
  • One size doesn’t fit all. What works in one kehilla won’t necessarily work in another. You need to design a campaign based on the culture and values of your specific congregation. Does your synagogue publicly recognize different levels of giving, or is mentioning specific families or gifts frowned upon? Are major gifts recognized as major gifts or are all gifts treated equally whether they are for $18 or $18,000? Do you prominently display names and dedication plaques throughout the building or are few if any on display? Knowing how your community gives and responds to requests for philanthropy is very important.
  • Be strategic. Successful High Holiday appeal campaigns should be mapped out with timelines and plans for each step. When does the first letter go out? How many different letters will be used? Will calls be made? When will they be made? Don’t leave these things to chance. Consider:
    • What is the time frame for your campaign?
    • What different modes of communication will be used?
    • Will letters be sent to all members?
    • Will phone calls be made to major donors or will there be a phone-a-thon clean up campaign?
    • Is social media part of the plan?
    • Will you follow up the fundraising campaign letters with emails to build excitement and energy?
    • Will you use pull down tab cards for those people inspired over the holiday itself?
    • Will you have chair people for the campaign or is the campaign more passive?
    • Can people make gifts to your campaign online? Is your campaign featured on your website?
  • Use different communication for different groups. Not all communication is the same. If you have a few $10,000 plus givers you might not want to send them the general High Holiday appeal letter. Instead, they might receive a call from the rabbi, president or another $10,000 + giver. For members who gave last year for the first time, there might be a specially targeted letter thanking them for last year’s gift and asking them to participate again. Consistent givers might receive a letter acknowledging their constant support and asking for their continued participation. Do you have a special note that is sent only to associate or part-time members? Many kehillot have members or former members that have moved away or are in situations that don’t allow for their active participation but that have warm feelings towards the synagogue community. A note wishing them a wonderful New Year and inviting their participation in the campaign might be appreciated and successful. For those that offer community wide Yizkor services, do you have a letter with a gift card and envelope that can be handed out that welcomes the community and gives them a way to say thank you by making a donation? There is a general rule in fundraising that says “If you don’t ask, you usually won’t receive!”
  • Be clear about goals. Do not keep the budget goal a secret! If there is a budget number connected with the campaign then those involved in running the campaign should be aware of that amount. If you have a goal related to membership participation, that number should be shared as well. A major mistake made by synagogues when fundraising is that they rarely let people know what they are trying to raise. How can you meet or exceed your fundraising goal if you don’t know what your goal is?
  • People give to people. Emails, letters and brochures are important and useful in getting the message out but nothing replaces members speaking to fellow members about the synagogue and why supporting the community is important and meaningful.  Face to face meetings or, at least, speaking by phone is the single most direct and effective way of raising money.
  • Make your talking points and pitch relevant and meaningful to the member. If you give your leadership talking points related to why people should give to the campaign, make sure those points speak to your regular members, the Jew in the pew! Whether speaking from the pulpit or talking to individual members, having a clear and thoughtful case for giving is key to maximizing any development campaign. While there will always be some members who give for Kol Nidre simply because that is “what you do,” more and more donors give because they are inspired by the case or the story or the purpose of the campaign. Also remember it is important that the message is positive and upbeat. If the message focuses on raising more money to “keep the doors open,” most donors will tune you out as people don’t like to give to sinking ships. Let your members know about the good things that are being offered and done because of their generosity and the dollars raised! 
  • People want to matter. Part of a successful High Holiday fundraising campaign is staying in touch with your members throughout the year. If the first time some of your members hear from the synagogue since last Yom Kippur is a letter to buy tickets for high holidays and to make a gift to the High Holiday appeal, those members will likely be resistant to giving. Most of our thriving kehillot pay attention to the concepts of Relational Judaism in connecting to members repeatedly throughout the year. Your goal is that members feel good being part of your sacred community year-round and strive to be as supportive as possible.
  • You can never say thank you enough. Thank you notes are essential to cultivating the relationship between the donors and the synagogue. All donors, no matter the gift size (you never know when an $18 donor might one day become an $18,000 donor), should be thanked via a signed letter. You can and should also thank everyone who gave in your newsletters, from the bimah, etc. Some synagogues send a list of high holiday donors to all members or pass the list out the evening of Kol Nidre. One of the main differences between an appeal and a campaign is that during a campaign the Kol Nidre speech or request for giving (usually delivered by the president) can be used to thank those who have already given and thank in advance those members who haven’t yet done so, whereas, in an appeal,  the president’s talk usually makes the case for the need and neglects  to focus on the thank you aspect.
  • When your fundraising campaign ends, data review begins. The end of the High Holidays usually represent a chance to take a deep breath and then move into the program year but it is essential to collect the right data and create a report. There is much detail that can and should be figured out so that you already have a head start on next year’s campaign. This information can include:
    • Did you reach your budgetary and percentage goals?
    • How many people made gifts?
    • What was the average gift?
    • How many people gave for the first time?
    • How many previous givers didn’t make a gift this year?
    • How many people increased their gifts?
    • Did people respond more to emails, letters or phone calls?

In the final analysis, maximizing an effective High Holiday campaign takes some strategic planning, active solicitation and participation of staff and lay leadership, and a clear case for giving. The days of the passive appeal which includes sending a single letter or making a speech and receiving pledges on Kol Nidre night are mostly gone. By following the above tips, you can raise the much needed dollars your synagogue needs to survive and thrive and at the same time have your members feel good about their participation in the process.

GOOD LUCK with this year’s Kol Nidre/High Holiday campaign. 

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