The gift benefits the giver more than it benefits the recipient (Jewish proverb)

“I always considered fundraising to be schnorrering, like begging.  something unworthy, something that diminished my honor.  I went out of my way to avoid doing it, even when I knew it was necessary.  But after I read your book, Fundraising: The Practical Guide, I turned my opinion around 180 degrees.  Now I’m not just willing to fundraise — I’m eager,” said Zeev, a Department Head in an Israeli hospital.

At a fundraising seminar for Chabad rabbis, Yitzhak, an articulate young rabbi who heads a Chabad institution in Tel Aviv, raised his hand tentatively.  “I have a confession: When I wear my congregational rabbi hat, I feel proud, confident, respected by others.  But when I’m obliged to wear the fundraiser hat, I feel less respected and less proud of myself.”

When Shulamit, director of fundraising for a large educational institution came to me for a consultation, I asked her to role-play and ask me for a significant donation to build a new building.  She spoke fluently and knowledgeably.  After a few minutes, I asked her to stop and instead share a moving personal story with me.  After an initial hesitation, she opened her heart and told me of her hopes and dreams for her beloved daughter. This time her eyes sparkled with emotion.  Her care and enthusiasm were evident in every word.

After she finished I said, “If you speak about that building with the same enthusiasm and emotion you displayed when you told me of your dreams for your daughter, your enthusiasm and commitment will be infectious and you will be a far more effective fundraiser!”

Which brings me to Henry, a billionaire who defines his primary purpose in life as “the business of finding additional opportunities for giving.”  Henry speaks often of the joy and satisfaction he derives from his donations (which are very generous), from his meetings with recipients, and from feeling privileged to improve the lives of others, to contribute to creating employment opportunities, to improve the environment, and much more.  “Sagi, you don’t know what a pleasure that is for me!  I wish I could do more.  Donating is a source of satisfaction for me far above anything else that money can buy!”

To look directly at the person in front of you, to describe (briefly and to the point) the activities, challenges, dreams, and possibilities, to explain the need and how to respond to it—and then to invite the potential donor to join you in fulfilling the dream and doing good in the world—is simple in theory but, for most people, very difficult in practice.  Again and again I meet people who are experienced, wise, and respected in their fields, yet for whom asking for donations is torturous.  At a seminar in a hospital I asked the doctors, “What’s easier for you: asking for donations, or telling a patient they’re terminal?”  Guess their answer…

So how does one overcome the difficulty of asking for donations, and even learn to enjoy it?  Five recommendations:

  1. Remind yourself how much good can be done with the gift you are about to request, and that you are giving the donor the opportunity to participate in this worthy endeavor.
  2. Be a donor to the organization yourself. After you have given your own money, it will be easier for you to invite others to do likewise.
  3. Remember the satisfaction you felt when you yourself gave a donation, no matter the sum. If you enjoyed donating, why would you deny that pleasure from others?!
  4. Keep reminding yourself that you are practicing a sacred calling that benefits society/the country/the entire world.
  5. Remember: the worst thing that can happen is they say “No.” Then you just smile and say, “Thank you.”

Good luck!

*All names are pseudonyms

This essay first appeared in The Canadian Jewish News.

About the Author
Sagi Melamed is Vice President of External Relations and Development at the Max Stern Yezreel Valley College, President of the Harvard Club of Israel and author of "Son of My Land" and "Fundraising" - the 1st Hebrew book about Resource Development. Sagi can be reached at melamed.sagi@gmail.com.
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