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Organization Dinners: A Modest Proposal

Photo by Ibrahim Boran, Unsplash.com

This year, my wife and I attended no less than six local organization dinners in the four weeks after Pesach.  Granted this was an unusual year, as a couple of these organizations postponed their annual dinner until after Pesach, because COVID was still an issue in January, February, and March.  However, it does clearly illustrate how many dinners many of us attend during the course of the year.

With many families committed to multiple school dinners, shul dinners, Israel yeshivot dinners, political dinners, Israel-related organizational dinners, and local and national chessed organization dinners, it’s not uncommon for some of us to attend 8-10 fund raising dinners a year.  In most cases, it’s not that we get excited about attending these dinners and look forward to them; we attend them because we feel an obligation to support the organizations which plan the dinners.  So we reluctantly spend many Sunday evenings and weeknights at these affairs, secretly wishing that we didn’t have to attend them.

Of course, the reason organizations all sponsor annual dinners is simple – they are a proven method to raise money.  If there was an alternative way for these nonprofits to raise the same amount of money through other means, no doubt they would consider it.  However, over the years, nothing else has emerged.

Is there a better way?  I think so.  And I’d like to propose a possible solution – an idea that is certainly out of the box, but if implemented successfully, could solve the need for us to attend so many annual dinners.

Instead of each shul, day school, and other local nonprofit organization each planning an annual dinner, the groups would get together and plan one large gala fund-raising community event.

Here is how I envision it working:

  • A new 501-c-3 nonprofit organization would be formed in the community, with one representative from each organization appointed to serve on the planning committee to arrange for a large fund-raising dinner for everyone in the community.
  • Each organization would be allowed to name an individual or a couple as its honoree and produce a 2-3 minute video about the honoree which would be shown at the dinner. No long and boring speeches that everyone who attends fund-raising dinners hates.
  • Each organization would submit its own email and postal list of members and supporters to the new nonprofit; the lists would be deduped, and one master list would be created, to be used solely for the purpose of promoting the dinner.
  • When someone receives an invitation to the dinner, they would check off which of the many listed local organizations they wish to support and how much money they wish to contribute to each organization. There would be some minimum amount required for someone to attend the dinner.
  • Instead of writing individual checks to each organization, donors would write one check to the umbrella nonprofit organization, which would then be responsible for accounting for all monies collected and distributing the profits after expenses back to each organization.
  • There would be no fund-raising journal produced. Instead, a scroll of honor would be compiled (printed and online), listing all the organizations and all the supporters of each organization.
  • To attract more attendees, a major celebrity or politician would be the guest speaker. Perhaps Nikki Haley, Natan Scharansky, or Mayim Bialik.  Someone who people would really want to hear.
  • Organization representatives would work together to ensure that the dinner would meet their own halachic standards and reflect the image they wish to project to the public.
  • Because the amount of money might be significant for those supporting multiple organizations, donors would be allowed to split the total amount of their donation into three payments, six payments, or twelve payments. (There would be a cash flow issue that organizations would need to address in year one of this plan, but hopefully it could be better planned for in future years.)
  • Dinner expenses would either be divided evenly between participating organizations, or proportionately based on the amount of dollars raised by each organization. (One could make a good case for each method.)

This kind of jointly produced effort would certainly require a lot of organizational cooperation. But if planned well, I think it would have many advantages:

First of all, it would mean that donors could support multiple nonprofit organizations, but only have to write one large check. They would not have to bother dealing with different requests for money throughout the year.

Second, it would free up many Sunday evening and weeknights for families to plan other events with friends and other family members, because they would no longer have the obligation of attending multiple dinners throughout the calendar year.

Third, if planned correctly, this kind of dinner would not just be an evening to raise funds, but a major event that would be eagerly anticipated and enjoyed.  Instead of people feeling they are attending a dinner because they feel obligated, they would really want to attend this dinner.

Fourth, this kind of event would expose community members to local organizations they may not be familiar, and which they might want to support in the future.

Fifth, because of the excitement of planning something new and different, the dinner just might produce more total dollars for each organization than if these organizations each produced their own individual fund-raising dinners.

Sixth, there’s also a tax benefit here. If there was one community mega-dinner, instead of multiple ones, participants would not have to spend after-tax dollars for the value of the dinner more than once.

Finally, because of economies of scale and less overhead, the net profit percentage after all expenses would likely be higher with a large dinner like this compared to a dinner planned by an individual organization. So as long as the organizations were able to raise the same dollar amount, the profit for each organization would be greater by having one community dinner.

With all this said, I feel the likelihood of being able to get something like this off the ground is very small.  My strong guess is that organizations believe that they would raise more money by planning their own dinners.  They might be right.  However, that’s a shame, because I do believe that a lot of community members would prefer the model I am describing, and would be willing to give it a whirl as an alternative to the current structure.

I also think it would be difficult to get all local synagogues and day schools to cooperate with each other in this fashion, as many of them would feel they are betraying their members by working so closely with their competitors.  That’s a shame, too, especially if such a model would end up raising more money for everyone.

I’m wondering if there are any communities out there that might be willing to try something radical like this.  I for one would welcome the opportunity.

About the Author
Michael Feldstein, who lives in Stamford, CT, is the author of "Meet Me in the Middle," a collection of essays on contemporary Jewish life. His articles and letters have appeared in The Jewish Link, The Jewish Week, The Forward, and The Jewish Press. He can be reached at michaelgfeldstein@gmail.com
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