This article was originally published in The Jerusalem Post on August 16th, 2023, written by Adam Milstein and Elena Yacov.
Nonprofits across the wide-ranging Jewish philanthropic spectrum face a common challenge: fundraising effectively without compromising their impact.
In the philanthropic world, driving and tracking results is difficult. The Jewish nonprofit community is no different. This challenge is particularly painful for small and medium-sized nonprofits – many of which cannot afford professional fundraising teams yet must stay laser-focused on achieving their missions in an insecure financial environment.
In the United States, the work of these organizations is more important than ever. Antisemitism is on the rise, Jewish communities struggle to engage the next generation, and organizational legacy models are failing.
The constant pressure to fundraise often distracts the leaders of the small and medium sized nonprofits. The time and resources needed to endlessly fundraise takes priority and redirects the necessary work required to drive change towards their actual missions.
Without the resources to hire professional fundraisers, talented executives are forced to spend more and more time calling and engaging with donors, when they should be running operations, building their teams and executing their action plan. This problem is only compounded by the abundance of Jewish nonprofits across the country whose missions overlap, crowding out access to donors.
This current fundraising paradigm creates three major challenges for Jewish nonprofits:
First, the constant need to appeal to donors leads to mission creep. When it comes to fundraising, focus drifts as nonprofit leaders feel pressured to appeal to different donors, to make promises they cannot keep and take stances misaligned with their organization’s core mission.
For nonprofits to be more productive and efficient, they must remain focused on their mission and their leaders must remain results-oriented to create meaningful and long-lasting impact.
Second, the focus on fundraising in Jewish nonprofit management causes operational issues. Fundraising efforts carry high administrative costs. And they require nonprofit staff to spend ample time and resources on galas, fancy marketing materials, and travel – each with excessive costs. This diverts time and money away from each organization’s key focus—driving impact for the Jewish community.
Nonprofit leaders tend to get caught in a vicious cycle. Their continuous focus on fundraising merely to sustain operations diverts from their organizational missions. Too many philanthropic endeavors have transformed from impact-focused entities to cyclical fundraising operations.
Third, nonprofits with aligned goals end up competing for the same donors’ dollars. This competition strains relationships between groups that should be collaborating. The fight for donors and dollars not only incentivizes wasteful inter-organizational pettiness, but it can also lead to conflict.
Too often, donors prioritize PR “victories”, and competing organizations claim false successes to appeal to donors and supporters. Organizations won’t collaborate for fear of losing their donors in favor of their partner organizations, and zero-sum frameworks prevail.
Underlying these challenges is an unfair reality: It’s often not the organizations with the most impact that get the funding, but those with professional graphic designers and the glitziest marketing. Organizations with meager impact but impressive PR capabilities thrive, despite doing little to advance their cause.
Meanwhile, nonprofits that strategically work behind the scenes or those who focus resources on their programming rather than on marketing struggle to make ends meet. All too often, funding in the Jewish nonprofit world comes down to a popularity contest.
A New Paradigm
To make a real impact and combat antisemitism in America, we need a new fundraising model. One that empowers Jewish nonprofits and encourages them to spend more time on their missions and less on fundraising. The new paradigm should also create financial incentives for Jewish nonprofits to work together.
This new paradigm can be based on the vision of the Impact Forum, a network of likeminded philanthropists who come together to vet, select and support nonprofits who align with the mission of fighting antisemitism, supporting the State of Israel, and championing American democracy.
At the Impact Forum, selected small and medium-sized organizations are provided with a platform to fundraise, network with donors, and create lasting relationships allowing them to focus on impact rather than on fundraising. For many organizations this platform is a lifeline.
In return, the Impact Forum philanthropists urge nonprofits to work together, collaborate, build synergies, and execute joint campaigns.
One organization that presented at the Impact Forum a few years ago secured major financial support and created a long-lasting relationship with a donor who provided six figure grants over several years.
In another case, Impact Forum philanthropists invested in an early-stage nonprofit that fights antisemitism using cutting edge technologies, fully funding the groups’ first year operational budget.
The Impact Forum also runs a Venture Fund program, through which donors can support a group of 10 vetted and selected organizations with one single donation. Funding to the selected nonprofits is provided specifically for capacity building and collaboration amongst the group. Funding collectives rather than singular organizations enhances the capabilities of each organization individually and creates a multiplier effect with greater impact for the Jewish community.
Jewish and pro-Israel nonprofit professionals, visionaries and supporters are essential to the Jewish future. But effective campaigns need more than just goodwill. It takes money to achieve big wins for the Jewish community. To secure these victories for Jews and for Israel, we need to free nonprofits and their leaders from the burden of fundraising and allow them to maximize their time on causes like combating the delegitimization of Israel (BDS), antisemitism, and extremism.
By incentivizing nonprofits to work together and using solutions like the Impact Forum network to help relieve the fundraising burden, we can help make this a reality.
This op-ed is published in partnership with a coalition of organizations that fight antisemitism across the world. Read the previous article by Shawn Eni.