Master Fundraiser Forum Offers Fascinating Perspectives

By Shimmy Blum

Overcast skies, misty air, and heavy traffic jams could do nothing to dampen the spirit of the nearly 125 attendees at the Master Fundraiser Forum held last month at the DoubleTree by Hilton in Fort Lee, New Jersey, hosted by Bottom Line Marketing Group. Founders, executive directors, and fundraisers affiliated with schools and nonprofit organizations of all sizes converged upon the hotel for a full-day program offering them the chizuk, vision, and tools to be most effective in their work. The camaraderie between attendees and their mutual respect of the common cause to help Klal Yisrael’s communities was visible in every aspect of the program–including the amiable schmoozing and networking throughout the day.

With his infectious good nature and sense of humor, Rabbi Dovid Goldwasser, shlita, rav of Khal Bnei Yitzchok and noted author, opened the program and spoke of the positivity and dedication necessary to be successful in the field, and offered practical tips to help achieve that goal. Rabbi Goldwasser related a poignant story where he met a veteran fundraiser and asked him how his “avodas hakodesh” was going. The man was downcast and refused to answer; it turned out that he was on his way to resign due to his inability to raise funds in today’s tough economic climate. However, after being reminded by the rav how holy and valuable his work was, he continued working that day and saw a level of success that he hadn’t seen in years–and stayed on. “Hashem could help us rise above all statistics and limitations,” Rabbi Goldwasser concluded. “All we need to do is dream and not give up.”

Rabbi Bieler, founder of R. Bieler Consulting, has decades of fundraising and outreach experience on behalf of institutions like Yeshiva University and Ohel. Rabbi Bieler spoke of the tremendous benefit vs. cost ratio of courting the support of major donors and detailed some of the steps to accomplish that. He related the fascinating story of how Ohel courted the support of philanthropist Harvey Kaylie, who was impressed by an Ohel foster family, began by contributing small toy clowns for an Ohel event, and eventually dedicated a major summer camp campus. Some of the points touched upon by Rabbi Bieler were how to identify potential major donors, familiarize them firsthand with the organization’s work, and cultivate a long-term relationship in a professional manner. “We kept one of the Kaylie clowns in the office to encourage us when we had a difficult day,” he remarked.

Yitzchok Saftlas, president of Bottom Line Marketing Group, has decades of marketing experience with hundreds of organizational, political, and corporate clients and is the visionary behind the Master Fundraiser Forum. “Marketing is the way you spread your message,” he summed up succinctly. In his PowerPoint presentation, Mr. Saftlas showcased various ad campaigns, newsletters, and other projects and examples, in order to illustrate the tips and ideas that he shared. Some of the principles that he expounded upon were balancing creativity with effectiveness–the need to produce materials that will impress donors, yet effectively communicate the cause.

While sitting down to lunch, Dennis Eisenberg, director of Torah Umesorah’s Leadership and Fundraising Academy and president of DME Partners, spoke of the unique breadth of the forum. “It makes you know your craft and everything that’s married to it–the whole package in one day,” he said.

In order to give attendees a rare window into the mind of the donor, the forum allotted one prized slot to someone on the other side of the fence. Due to a medical emergency, the original philanthropist speaker, Richard Jedwab, CEO of Silk Tree Capital Partners, was unable to attend. With barely 48 hours of prior notice, Bottom Line scrambled and sought a qualified fill-in. They were able to secure Jonathan Gassman of Gassman Financial Group and G & G Planning Concepts to take his place.

Mr. Gassman is one of only several hundred Americans who are certified as a “Chartered Advisor in Philanthropy,” and he advises many high net-worth clients on their philanthropic activities. With a perpetual smile on his face and quip on his tongue, Mr. Gassman kept the audience spellbound throughout his presentation, during which he interacted with audience members.

He spoke of various aspects of appearing professional and successful to wealthy donors, while being 100% transparent. But perhaps the most memorable part of the presentation was when he told the audience not to despair or feel slighted by a donor who refuses to donate. He inscribed on the board “SW3/N” which stands for: “Some Will, Some Won’t…So What! Next!” Something every fundraiser can relate to!

Norman G. Gildin, president of Strategic Fundraising Group, who has helped raise millions of dollars for organizations like Ohel and the Metropolitan Jewish Geriatric Foundation, spoke about the evolving model of fundraising events, which maximize donations and minimize expenses. Mr. Gildin detailed some of the more recent innovations in this area, such as text message donations and VIP receptions.

The “Fundraising Inspiration Workshop” offered a variety of time efficient tips and perspectives. Rabbi Eliezer Stern, CEO of Yeshiva of Spring Valley, who led a capital campaign to build an 11 acre campus, spoke about the siyata d’shmaya he encountered every step of the way–despite entering the field without a fundraising background.

Noted entrepreneur Shea Rubenstein, executive vice president of the JCC of Marine Park, elaborated on the successful fundraising efforts of the JCC’s Project Mazon, which helps families with their grocery bills. Mr. Rubenstein spoke of some of the methods that enabled the organization to receive automatically recurring donations and familiarize powerful elected officials with their work.

Marty Siegmeister, national sales manager for Allied Importers, has spent his life in the food and beverage industry. Mr. Siegmeister spoke about various successful wine-related fundraising methods, including wine tastings and vineyard visits.

At the forum’s keynote address, Rabbi Simcha Scholar, M.B.A., M.A., renowned executive vice president of Chai Lifeline, held an open talk with the audience, sharing some of the lesser known aspects of his journey building the prestigious organization. Rabbi Scholar stressed the need for honesty and gave the attendees lots of chizuk on how to advance past the inevitable setbacks. He related one particularly painful anecdote when Camp Simcha lacked the necessary funds to open, and one major donor turned down the opportunity to assist because “sick children don’t grow.” Rabbi Scholar takes an entirely different view of the pained holy neshamos he helps, b’siyata d’shmaya. “I look at the pictures of the children in my office, and I get to see why I’m doing this,” he explained. v

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