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All together now

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From left, Rena Resnick and Ray Goldberg of Solomon Schechter of Bergen County; Cheryl Rosenberg, Rav Tomer Ronen, and Laurent Bensimon of Ben Porat Yosef; Amy Schiffman of Giving Tree Associates; Jason Eichenholtz and Careena Parker of Moriah School; Brenda Ruditsky and Joshua Buchsbayew of Yavneh Academy, and Rabbi Chaim Hagler and Dov Adler of Yeshivat Noam.

Leaders of five area Jewish day schools came together last month for a joint workshop on raising money.

Yeshivat Noam in Paramus hosted the workshop, which featured fundraising consultant Amy Schiffman of Chicago. Originally, the school had planned to bring Ms. Schiffman to speak to its board. But when Dov Adler, the school’s president, mentioned her talk to board members of the Yavneh Academy in Paramus, they asked if they could come too.

“Sure,” Mr. Adler said, and Noam’s director of development, Amy Vogel, reached out to the development directors of other area day schools. All told, five schools participated, sharing the expenses of the Chicago-based consultant five ways and bringing together about 75 people to hear her speak. (Along with Noam and Yavneh, participating schools were the Moriah School in Englewood, the Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County in New Milford, and Ben Porat Yosef of Paramus.)

The workshop generated a sense of community among the leaders of the different schools, Ms. Vogel said.

Fundraising, she said, “is an isolating job” – and isolation is particularly difficult to deal with because a fundraiser frequently faces rejection.

“It was so inspiring to see all the leaders in the schools who are making asks and developing resources for financial cultivation,” she said.

Ms. Schiffman’s central message for the day school leaders: Lay leaders must take responsibility for maintaining the relationships with donors.

“Oftentimes people will say, ‘I’ll do anything for the school but I’ll not ask for money,'” Ms. Vogel said. “We need people to ask for money. The most effective way to do that is peer-to-peer solicitation – to go into people’s living rooms.”

There already have been two follow-ups to the meeting, Ms. Vogel added. She and her Noam lay leaders put together a plan to implement the ideas Ms. Schiffman suggested.

And there was a meeting with the development directors of the schools to brainstorm future collaborations.

Ms. Vogel said she doesn’t see the other day schools as competition.

“Fortunately or unfortunately, 75 percent of day school fundraising dollars come from current parents,” she said. “That’s a national statistic that’s true in Bergen County as well. So we each have our own unique group of beneficiaries, who are our parents. Other people in the community who support day school education can get excited about multiple schools, so I don’t think we’re in competition for dollars.”

With parents of present schools the most likely target for fundraising, Ms. Vogel said the challenge is “to make the case that people should make the school a philanthropic priority above and beyond paying that tuition.

“We need to market day schools as a real tzedakah priority like any other tzedakah. We have 20 percent of our students on scholarship, and we need to fund academic excellence. Tuition doesn’t cover it. The message we send is that the public schools get $19,000 per child on average; we’re delivering a double curriculum for $15,000.”

Yeshivat Noam is now in its 13th year and has more than 820 students. Its annual fundraising goal is $700,000. A much larger capital campaign so far has raised $6 million to pay for the school’s campus, with a further $13 million still to be raised.

“That’s why it’s so important to have lay leaders to share the responsibility of identifying new donors and making the pitch,” she said. “It’s an investment in future Jewish leaders, future Jewish thinkers, future Jewish doers. That’s who we’re raising in our building now.

“Many of our donors see it first hand because their children are in the school or their grandchildren are in the school. For some, it’s bringing them in for a tour and showing them the energy of the building.”

Mr. Adler said that board members can learn to raise money. He was trained in solicitation techniques when he became president of Noam three years ago. “I felt it was an important part of my role,” he said. “Now I do it all the time.

“The more face-to-face solicitation you can do, the higher percentage success rate you’re going to have. Face-to-face solicitations is the way you’re going to increase your fundraising.

“When you’re sitting in someone’s living room, and you ask them, if you look them in the eye – if they can afford it – they’re probably going to give,” Mr. Adler said.

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