Fundraising is not for the faint of heart, and should never be undertaken unless you are convinced of the importance of the cause
Irecently took part in one of those ubiquitous crowdfunding campaigns. This particular campaign did not feature matching grants, which multiply the value of each contribution two- or threefold, or a brief window of time to increase the excitement. But otherwise, it was the same formula of dedicated volunteers reaching out to thousands of friends and strangers.
I gather that many have already grown weary of these proliferating campaigns. But they do have their positive points, quite apart from the fact that they still seem to be effective means of raising money for strapped institutions and organizations. For one thing, especially where there is a matching element, they provide thousands of non-gvirim the feeling that they are also contributing and playing a crucial role in a large campaign, for which they would never have been solicited previously. They also allow hundreds of volunteers with energy to participate. Not so long ago, a group of teenagers manning a bank of telephones in my neighborhood raised enough money to start construction to replace the current prefabricated shul.
These campaigns offer those institutions that cannot afford a full-time fundraiser or director of development a means of meeting their expenses. And they can be an ideal way to publicize a very good organization and the idea underlying its work.
The representative of the company managing the campaign in which I participated told us at the outset that whatever we committed to raise we would likely achieve. I pledged to raise NIS 100,000, on the assumption that I had two partners who would together carry forty percent of the burden. Wrong. I had apparently not made my expectations clear enough to my would-be partners.
Though I did not feel legally bound by my bravado — the sum pledged represents the better part of two years of Mishpacha columns — the prediction that I would work feverishly to reach my goal proved dead-on. Over three days, I sent out close to 100 individualized e-mails to friends and acquaintances, and found myself obsessively checking my page to see how I was doing.
The experience was not as traumatizing as my colleague Yisroel Besser's recent stint as Parent of the Year. Unlike Sruli, I did not feel compelled to tell "former friends" that they can spend the money they saved by not purchasing a journal ad to take their new friends out for dinner. But I learned that fundraising is not for the faint of heart, and should never be undertaken unless you are convinced of the importance of the cause.
I wish I had spoken earlier to a friend who frequently raises funds for needy members of his shul. He estimates that he gets about a six percent response rate, even though he knows everyone whom he solicits. That would have helped a lot, as I found non-responses of any kind more difficult to deal with than negative ones. Each time a friend did not answer, I wondered whether I had just lost a friend by asking at all.
The best preparation would probably have been a thorough hashkafah shiur. Whenever a friend did not respond or contributed far less than I had hoped for, I had to remind myself of something I heard via my wife from Rebbetzin Tzipporah Heller many decades ago: You should never be disappointed, certainly not angry, when someone fails to fulfill a request that they had no halachic obligation to perform.
I tried to work with the assumption that everyone has a certain amount of maaser kesafim to distribute, and all that I was doing was expanding their range of options in how to allocate money that does not really belong to them. On the one hand, that meant I had no cause to complain if their priorities in distributing their maaser kesafim differed from my own.
On the other hand, the assumption that I was only asking for money that does not really belong to the person solicited alleviated my guilt feelings about approaching friends. Thus emboldened, I even managed to summon up the courage to ask a couple of friends to find me speaking engagements in their city and to solicit them for donations within a matter of days. I hope they understood I was only expanding their tovas hana'ah (the value of the right to decide, for instance, to which Kohein to give terumos).
One of my sons, who has participated in a few such campaigns for his yeshivah, kept urging me to personally call my friends, as a means of applying pressure. But that is exactly what I wanted to avoid: My hope was to persuade donors that I was offering them the opportunity to participate in an important mitzvah, and not abusing our friendship to extort their hard-earned money. Only in less than a handful of cases where I received no response from a very close friend did I call or otherwise note the lack of response.
As draining and tension-producing as the campaign was, it did produce several salutary results, even beyond the success in reaching its ambitious target. One was the heartwarming response of each and every one of my children. But the most important was the lesson it provided in Hashgachah Pratis. My initial estimates of who would give and how much turned out to have been far too optimistic.
Though I knew personally almost every one I sought donations from, two of the three largest donations came from good Jews whom I have never met and who had never heard of the organization in question. One of those received my original e-mail from his mother, who had already given herself. The other was from the brother of someone whom I last saw about 15 years ago, who told me to send material to his brother.
But the best was last. I was on the phone with someone whom I had written a week earlier without response, about an unrelated matter, and somehow I managed to summon up the courage to ask him whether he could match his previous year's donation. He replied that he could not, but added quickly, before my balloon completely deflated, that he would more than quintuple it.
That response I had never dreamed of.
It's Not So Simple
In general, I think parents are often too hard on themselves when a child does not exactly follow the script. Any parent of a large family knows that each child is born with his or her own personality. Most of us are hyperconscious of the mistakes we have made, but a great deal more goes into the people our children grow to be than just the parenting they receive, including their own free will.
But I can think of at least one behavior that would leave me feeling like an abject failure as a parent. If I were on a bus and saw one of my children fail to get up for an elderly person, I would be mortified. I don't expect the yeshivos and Bais Yaakovs to teach this lesson, though surely they should reinforce it. Concern for others, kindness, respect for the elderly are lessons that have to be absorbed with the mother's milk in the home. These must be the "givens" that every verbal message and every parental behavior proclaims.
Nevertheless, twice in recent weeks I went over to someone who had just vacated his seat on the Jerusalem rapid-transit train — one a yeshivah bochur listening to a shiur on his earphones and the other a chassidic yungerman who practically forced a middle-aged woman to take his seat — to compliment them on their actions. Both looked at me with amazement, and muttered something about "zeh pashut (it's obvious)."
Indeed, that's how it should be. But just a few days earlier, a sprightly woman in her mid-eighties had harangued me at a family gathering about four instances in which bochurim had not risen for her or for someone of similar vintage, despite a clearly posted sign, "Mipnei seivah takum" (which in one case, she noted, was even in the weekly parshah).
Not everyone absorbed the message at home. And that's too bad.