I only vaguely remember a Chasidic story that influenced my feelings about fundraising (and if you’re aware of the citation, please let me know!). The gist of it is that a certain rabbi has a relationship with a wealthy donor. One day, the rabbi sees the donor learning in the study hall (beit ha-midrash). The rabbi is surprised because this individual doesn’t usually visit the study hall. So, the rabbi approaches him and asks why he is studying. The donor replies that he is trying to become more learned. But the rabbi responds that there are those whose job it is to sit and study and those whose calling is to give tzedakah, to fulfill communal needs through their philanthropy. And, the rabbi states, this individual’s specialty is philanthropy.
This story makes a profound point (although I would never discourage any individual from learning Jewish texts). Being philanthropic should never be taken for granted or assumed to be any less a deep spiritual act then Jewish learning, which is accorded high status in Jewish culture. Some will disagree with me on this point, but especially when donors literally have thousands of choices, we had better treat donating to Jewish causes with great appreciation.
Additionally, when I first began working as a congregational rabbi, I had an outstanding Senior Rabbi and mentor, Rabbi Kass Abelson (still my rabbi to this day!) who was actively involved in fundraising. Among the many things which I learned from him was that the rabbi is in a unique position to help sustain the congregation financially (Also, see Rabbi Kipnes’s comment on my last post for additional reasons for rabbinic involvement). It was usual for him to solicit funds from a congregant along with another synagogue member who had already “given to the cause.”
So I’ve always enjoyed engaging in conversations about dreams for a better Jewish future and positively changing Jewish lives with existing and potential donors. For me, those conversations are about inspiring someone to do more good, listening to their aspirations about the Jewish future, sharing my own vision about Jewish life and creating a partnership around those hopes. I’ve grown in that process and I hope that I’ve helped many generous individuals grow in their connection to the Jewish community and its potential for ongoing great achievement.
Rabbi Hayim HerringTags: Fundraising; synagogues; funding; fund development; philanthropy