Raising money for day schools isn’t just a calling; it’s a profession. Six area day school development professionals will be getting a boost next week, as the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education holds a two-day seminar at the UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey offices in Paramus.
Entitled “Beyond the Gala,” the seminar wants to help day schools move from a traditional approach of fundraising through an annual dinner journal toward the more strategic methods of cultivating donors used by universities and other major non-profit organizations.
PEJE, which is based in Boston, expects a total of 53 professionals from 44 day schools across the country to attend the seminar, which is aimed at fundraisers with five years or less experience. A second seminar targeting more experienced fundraisers will be held in Westchester in July.
“This is another way our federation is helping to support our day schools,” said Minna Heilpern of the federation’s Jewish Educational Service’s division.
The federation will be unveiling a new strategic plan next month, and one of the four priorities under the plan is “to enhance the affordability and accessibility of Jewish cultural and learning experiences.”
With day schools in Bergen County and elsewhere seeking to make themselves more affordable by increasing fundraising, they need to change their approach to donors, says Jennifer Weinstock, strategy manager at PEJE and coordinator of the conference.
“How can we move the schools to thinking in a more strategic way about their annual campaign? Instead of simply asking people for money, we need to be talking about the values our day schools care about and how to connect to people who share those values. If you’re The Moriah School in Englewood – to take a local example – and one of your values is a deep connection to Israel, there are other donors who share those values.,” she said.
Weinstock said school board members may need to adopt new attitudes toward fundraising.
“If you’re going to be on the board of a day school, you should be supporting the school philanthropically.” she said.
“Another expectation is that all board members carry some financial development portfolios. There are so many roles board members can play, from serving as ambassadors to talking about the school in a positive way at the Shabbat table, and all of these roles are part of development. It’s not just about solicitation,” she said.
According to Heilpern, UJA-NNJ will take advantage of the presence of PEJE leadership to hold a special meeting with its leadership and Rabbi Joshua Elkin, executive director of PEJE. Elkin will share what he has learned from communities across the country about how their federations and day schools collaborate and will lead a discussion about the strategies that might be applicable locally.