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Safe-Guarding your Post-Pandemic Synagogue Requires Fundraising — Respectfully

The post below originally appeared in The Forward on May 15, 2020. 

Even while the world is experiencing chaos and confusion, it is inspiring to see organizations, particularly community based and religious institutions such as synagogues, engage with and draw in their communities in meaningful ways.

The unknown is most definitely challenging, and over the past two months, people have turned to their local communities for support, comfort, inspiration, and some measure of normalcy. As synagogue communities and their leadership look ahead to the coming months of reopening and re-calibrating, they must not sit on the sidelines while other causes and nonprofits compete assertively in a contracted charitable space.

Synagogue leadership and clergy need to think creatively to determine the appropriate approaches to connect with congregants and stakeholders around financial issues in compassionate but intentional ways, similar to how they have stepped up brilliantly to offer new ways to learn, pray and support each other. They need to talk about achieving shared philanthropic goals through engagement, beginning with the challenge of transition to a “new normal” and planning forward, with the clear understanding that it will likely look a little bit different than it did in the past.

Here are some strategies to achieve this:

Communicate. Let your community know what is going on and see the full scope of specific services, programs, and activities. Demonstrate how you are not only an active and connected synagogue family, but also a caring circle of people that understands and strives to meet the needs of its members. Use this chance to rise beyond the transactional and show your congregation’s true value.

Gather Confidence. We often talk about philanthropy as a passionate act, which it certainly is. Giving is also a considerate and righteous act. As a community we help each other and ensure our continuity and growth. If the community is seen as compassionate and giving, its members and constituents will behave similarly in return.

Muster the Facts. Determine and evaluate your financial needs, whether they are directly related to the current crisis or if they were pre-existing and perhaps exacerbated by the crisis. Be transparent and open about the situation, the fundraising proposition and the objectives. Present a realistic and clear fundraising goal, instead of just launching a broad Emergency Campaign. Your community’s goals and aspirations still exist – and it is okay to be honest about them and why they remain timely.

Involve, Prepare, and Mobilize Leadership. Nobody should feel that they are in this alone. Frequently, fundraising is relegated to the Executive Director or to the Board president or to the rabbi; it is often outside of the comfort zone for many others.. But in times of crisis, just as there is a need to innovate in order to serve the community spiritually and educationally, there is also a need – gently, respectfully, appropriately, but directly – to organize and innovate around supporting the community philanthropically. And it is the role of professional and volunteer leadership together to consider approaches and agree on an action plan. People follow leaders, so carefully recruiting a leadership team unique to the situation and the objective is key. Approach each team member individually, say “join me,” and ask them to lead by example with you.

Gather Data and Evaluate Capacity. You know your community. This is a time when the phrase “we’re all in it together” has never been more true. Synagogues have been so creative in engaging their communities while we have been physically distant. Determine and evaluate the capacity of your community and who can help you achieve your goals and meet your needs in a motivating and genuine way. Use information – wealth data and anecdotal information together – to understand what you might be capable of raising and who might be approached for what and by whom.

Tell Your Story. Share information and plans with your constituents. This may be in stages, but ultimately it must include the synagogue community at large. Start with your leadership team and then a specific group of major donors and leaders. Be transparent and honest, and approach them with compassion. Constituents must feel part of the process. Communicate the priorities and financial needs, as well as how everyone can help and join in.

Everyone Decides for Themselves. In the current situation many people want to help. Allow donors and prospective donors to make decisions about giving for themselves. It is okay to engage in the conversation about your community’s needs and challenges, and it is okay if they ask you to continue the conversation later. Every donor will hopefully give at their own pace and capacity. If approached appropriately, with courtesy and compassion, they will likely be honored that you thought of them to help transition your synagogue forward.

Crisis Animates Innovation. This crisis has forced nonprofits and community organizations to be innovative in engaging with constituents and stakeholders and thinking about what comes next. Professionals and leaders have been pushed out of their comfort zone to connect and engage in ways they have not before – and the results have been inspiring. For several years, many synagogue communities have struggled to find ways to keep their membership base connected in the 21st century. Because of the creativity of so many, and because of the innovative programming opportunities and technology utilized during the COVID-19 crisis, synagogues have been able to meet people where they are (at home!) and reinforce their value proposition in so many meaningful ways.

We frequently talk about “The Synagogue of the Future”, and through this crisis, we have seen glimpses of just that. Continue the innovation, think forward, gather people around you and continue to make a difference.


My colleagues and I welcome your comments and emails. Let us know what you think.  Please feel free to contact us at The Lapin Group at 215-885-1550 or alapin@thelapingroup.com to discuss this further.

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