A Year of Extraordinary Giving

This article was first published in “Sustained!,” the webzine of the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education.

It is no secret that Jewish day schools have been the object of negative press. The enterprise, they say, is unsustainable. Tuition is too high, enrollment is too low. According to most indicators, the country is still far from economic recovery. But you wouldn’t know it from the many examples of highly successful fundraising efforts at Jewish day schools throughout North America last year. While increased financial support is not the entire solution to this very real challenge, it is one strong indicator that there’s plenty of hope for the future of day schools.

This is a story of extraordinary giving. The schools profiled here are but a small handful of examples that illustrate a positive trend. Together, the efforts of these schools represent more than $27 million dollars in philanthropic support from key communal leaders and donors.

From campaigns kick-started by generous matching gifts to broadened donor bases to 100% participation of boards, parents, and staff in annual funds, 2011 turned out to be a year of extraordinary growth and innovation—with a promise of extraordinary sustainability.

And in This Corner… The Challengers!

“The more you raise, the more people want to invest in your school,” says Rabbi Yehudah Potok, head of school at Oakland Hebrew Day School. His school received an anonymous challenge gift of $1 million toward a $2 million campaign for traditional financial aid and the school’s new “kulanu” initiative for scholarships for students from middle-income families. The donor gave OHDS until December 31, 2011, to raise its share, but with the excitement and momentum generated by the challenge, the job was done by August.

Oakland Hebrew’s dual drive toward affordability for families and long-term financial sustainability for the school captured many people’s imagination. “We had 100% parent participation,” Potok says. Many grandparents also gave, and the school received its first donations from alumni. The anonymous donor’s additional $100,000 challenge gift to match contributions from first-time donors helped build support for OHDS beyond its immediate community.

“Regardless of the 100% participation, there was definitely more buy-in into the culture of giving,” Potok says. “We got everyone involved in the effort,” adds board member Elissa Kittner.

“It’s a classic tool of fundraising,” says Adina Kanefield, development director at the Jewish Primary Day School of the Nation’s Capital, of challenge gifts. “They are amazing. They’re a fantastic tool to seek partners, and we used ours as the centerpiece for a broader, more comprehensive campaign to advance the school on multiple fronts.” Her school received an anonymous $3 million challenge gift to launch both a second campus and efforts to increase scholarships.

Click here to read more.

© 2012 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.

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