Don’t take the money and run: How Israeli nonprofits should respond to donations

Nonprofits have issued a multitude of requests for funding: by mail, by phone calls made by telemarketing agencies, and by personal phone calls from their executives and board members.

Shekel money bills (photo credit: REUTERS)
Shekel money bills
(photo credit: REUTERS)
While Israel is now in limbo – waiting to find out whether the present conflict with Hamas in the Gaza Strip is over or whether there will be another round of Hamas rockets – Israeli nonprofits are continuing to provide services to diverse populations affected by the conflict. They range from Holocaust survivors who live in the South and are reliving the trauma of an earlier time, to families who evacuated border communities in search of safety.
These nonprofits have issued a multitude of requests for funding: by mail, by phone calls made by telemarketing agencies, and by personal phone calls from their executives and board members. Efforts to raise funds through the Internet and through various forms of social media including Twitter have gone into overdrive during the past month. All in all, Israeli nonprofit organizations have demonstrated their ability to reach out and touch Jews around the world.
However, many of the contributions are various forms of expressive philanthropy, the result of tugging at the heartstrings of those who care about the country and the people who live in it. Donors, contributors, supporters and others have been moved by the emotional connection they feel and their desire to provide some assistance. In turn, Israel nonprofits are only too ready to accept the funds and to use them to provide the needed services.
However, often these contributions represent a missed opportunity. A donation arrives, whether a personal check or through an Internet site, and a quick automated thank you gets sent to the donor. Little is known about the donor, about his or her motivation or connection to the specific agency. In fact, quite often the agency is under so much time pressure that it does not have the ability to follow up and find out more about the donor or why the gift was made. The stresses of providing services in a crisis situation make these often knee-jerk responses understandable; yet they sell the organization short in terms of meeting its longer term objectives and goals.
Let me suggest that these expressive contributions represent a very significant opportunity that could benefit Israeli nonprofit agencies in developing their board of directors and connecting with new donors. To take advantage of it, nonprofits have to think carefully about how they want to use their volunteer board members to acknowledge contributions and cultivate potentially important relationships.
Many Israeli board members do not understand the board’s role in financial resource development. Sure, they are willing to serve on a board of directors and offer their counsel and advice. But rarely are they interested in participating actively in raising funds for the agency’s annual budget or for special projects.
The Israeli nonprofit sector has recently made strides in the direction of educating board members about their fundraising responsibilities, but progress has been modest.
Recent developments include the creation of leadership training programs for the boards of Israeli nonprofit organizations and of training programs to assist professionals in understanding their role in developing board members, as well as an increase in interactions and connections between board members and donors from Jewish communities around the world and the nascent group of Israeli board members who understand their role in educating their colleagues about the importance of having an active and involved board that not only oversees the functions of the agency but also takes responsibility for its financial sustainability.
Coming back to the theme of today’s post, what should be the role of Israeli board members in responding to solicited and unsolicited contributions? It is common courtesy and appropriate to send a thank-you note in response to a contribution, and it is expected that the note be signed by the chief executive officer. Very often, recipients delete such notes from their inbox or throw them away as soon as they arrive in the mail. However, if a member of the Israeli board communicates with the contributor, it can open up a new connection.
Of course, facilitating such communication requires working with these board members so they feel comfortable initiating and possibly maintaining a connection with a contributor. They may find it easier to initiate this communication when the donation is from a local donor; however, it is an important vehicle for strengthening the connection with overseas donors as well. When there is an opportunity to open a line of communication with a donor, it is a shame to miss it.
If you take the money and run, you are doing a disservice to the organization that is not only missing an opportunity today but is also losing a chance at engaging and cultivating both the Israeli board member and the contributor. Through their ongoing cultivation, the Israeli board member begins to develop a new understanding of the volunteer’s role on the board, and the contributor has a chance to connect with the agency beyond just writing a check. At the very least the two people develop a relationship, making it likely that the Israel nonprofit will be able to strengthen its connection to those people who are interested in its services.
Let’s not miss a chance of thinking and acting beyond the money.
The writer runs Stephen G. Donshik Consultants, Ltd, “Strengthening Organizations and Their Leadership for Tomorrow.”