Guides & Resources

Diversity Essay: Fundraising in the Jewish Community

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The views expressed herein are those of the author. They do not necessarily represent the views of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, or the organizations with which the authors are affiliated.

By Henry D. Lewis, CFRE, Development Consultant Associates
AFP DC, Greater Washington Chapter

It is understood that people and institutions within a community relate differently to that community than do outsiders and outside institutions, and this is written with that in mind. Fundraisers in/for the Jewish community operate by an entirely different set of rules.

Jewishness, or the state of being Jewish, relates to one-or-both of two factors -- religion and culture. Some Jews are very religious and closely observe (adhere to) the requirements and strictures of Judaism, the religion. Some Jews are Jewish by heritage/culture -- that is, they grew up knowing they were Jewish and learning what was "important," they observe the better known Jewish holidays, but don't consider themselves religious. And, of course, there are varying combinations/blendings of the religious and secular.

The social/political/religious views of Jews cross the spectrum, from liberal to conservative -- with the latter being a relatively small percentage of Jews in North America.

The "Orthodox" are the more "fundamentalist," those who adhere to millennia old practices, and the "Reform" tend to modernize their observance, and view some of the old "traditions" as being "obsolete." Some of the more orthodox are often identifiable by their appearance -- incorporating religious elements in their mode of dress, and living in distinct communities. And those in the middle accept the label, "Conservative" -- without the extreme meaning it has in politics.

"Reform" and "Orthodox" can often be political synonyms for "liberal" and "conservative," and, to some extent, can suggest the causes they'd support.

Charity, or better -- giving to help others, is a concept/practice that has existed in the Jewish community for as long as recorded history. It grew from a "helping your neighbor" framework to the concept of "Tikkun Olam" -- loosely translated as "helping or repairing the world."

Jews often give to a diverse range of causes/organizations, including many attached to other religions. For example, the CEO of a charity affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church mentioned that the Archdiocese was about to begin a major capital campaign, and that many of the initial major donors would be long-time Jewish friends of the Archbishop.

Many Jews don't see giving to a program run by a church as representing giving to that church, they see it as giving to help the people the church is helping. They are, however, more likely to support causes/programs with a non-religious appeal. The best programs, those most likely to be supported by the Jewish community, are those that relate to (directly) helping people.

It is said, within the Jewish community, that because of their history of persecution, Jews have become more sensitive to others-being-treated-badly; and, often, Jews will take "the extra step" to show/prove (usually to themselves) how willing they are to support other religious/ethnic/cultural groups in helping people in those communities.

And, because of that same persecution, Jews are often sensitive to being treated differently, and, at the same time, to being treated as if they are sensitive/touchy. The best approach to the Jewish community is "matter of fact." If you're not sure of something, ask. It's better to admit (not plead) ignorance, with an openness (not eagerness) to learn.

The best approach to the Jewish community is through its leaders. But, they are not always who you might think they are. In many communities the formal leader of the religious community is often a major influence -- but not necessarily so, here. There are Rabbis who are well known and respected, but the Rabbi (who, by definition, is a teacher) of a congregation may lead the religious services and head up synagogue-related activities, but may not be the center of influence we look for in creating a fundraising leadership.

The same goes for wealthy/visible business people -- maybe, maybe not. And gender is often not a factor -- decision/opinion makers could just as easily be women, as men. Who the actual leaders/opinion-makers are can vary, ask around....

If you're going to put any effort into fundraising in Jewish communities, make the effort to learn the "what-and-when" of the (important) religious/cultural holidays. It might be counter-productive to try to solicit on-or-around Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashanah, Passover, Shabbos/Shabbat (the Sabbath), etc. And, except for the Sabbath, those holidays are usually on different days each year in the Gregorian calendar -- Jewish holidays are based on the ancient lunar calendar.

So, while you're keeping all that in mind, remember that Jews want to be, and tend to be, involved in their communities -- as opinion makers, volunteers leaders and donors. You just have to know when/how to ask. Sounds familiar, doesn't it?

© DCA, 2002 Reprint granted with permission from Henry Lewis, CFRE

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08 Dec 2023 Guides & Resources
08 Dec 2023 Guides & Resources
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