Speaking of Money: The Development Function at the JCCs
Q&A with Janel Margaretta Schwartz, Chief Development Officer, Marcus JCC of Atlanta.
Background: Janel has been with the JCC for four years. Previously, she worked with UJC and was the Associate Campaign Director and Founding Director of the Mandel Center for Professional Excellence at the Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County.
Interviewed by David Posner, Vice President, Mandel Center for Excellence
David Posner: Can you describe what the state of the development function was when you first came in to the JCC.
Janel Schwartz: It was not a well-oiled machine, parts were all over the building, there was no manual, and no one knew how to build the machine.
David: What were some of the first things you wanted to achieve when you got into the position?
Janel: Well, I noticed that the agency seemed to be very good at fundraising during two particular times – for capital needs and when they were in crisis mode — but they never built a sustainable annual operating campaign. So, that was the first thing I wanted to get my hands around.
David: What were some of the tactics you used? Who did you need to engage, bring on board?
Janel: First and foremost, you have to work with your lay partners, and you have to build a strong development committee that understands development, not only in the way it functions at a JCC, but in the way it functions at other nonprofits. So, we looked at a lot of community leaders, people who had been involved in Federation, people comfortable with solicitations, going to speak on behalf of the JCC to people in their sphere of influence. The second piece was getting the department heads and staff on board with sharing information. People seemed to hoard donor lists, and didn’t share their department’s donors, so these never made it into a centralized database, and people were not thanked properly, they were not stewarded properly because nobody knew about them except for one random program director.
David: So, I imagine there were opportunities wasted in terms of engagement because the level of ask was below what their capacity was.
Janel: Correct. We wasted a lot of time, and fatigued the donors because we had multiple departments asking them for money – someone asking them for 50 dollars, and someone asking them for 5000 dollars. A lot of times, donors complained that it seemed like staff here did not talk with each other.
David: What is your overall guiding philosophy to your strategy around development?
Janel: I think the guiding philosophy behind any fundraising campaign is to get more money from more people. We wanted to figure out a way to both broaden the base and bring in more donors to the agency, at the same time elevating and upgrading the major campaign to something that was successful in the sense that people felt good about being a major donor. In a major campaign; you want people to be set apart, to feel special and be treated special, so we set out to do that as well.
David: One would think that the Marcus JCC has a standing in the community, that you were able to attract and keep major donors, and that your acknowledgement of them would be meaningful.
Janel: Right, but we hadn’t been doing that in previous years. We may have had 12 couples giving five to ten thousand or more and now we have about 48 couples giving at that level. So, we really set out to create a strong major gift campaign, but there is a big stewardship component to it.
David: Is that what they sometimes call the friend-making campaign that precedes any fundraising campaign?
Janel: No, we went out full force. We also created new messaging. The messaging here for many years was “we have amazing programs and services, come be a member.” The new messaging was built around a whole campaign called “Be Inspired, Be Invested.” We want people to be inspired by the critical role we play in the Jewish community. We introduce people to their newest lifelong friends, we involve people in Jewish life every day and in every way, we influence people to live Jewishly, we include people and value them, we invigorate people and revitalize them, and because of that you should invest in us. So, we changed the language of why you should give money here. We are really a force to be reckoned with when it comes to Jewish continuity.
David: So, the Jewish message was critical to engaging these major donors.
David: Was there any other large scale effort, perhaps about outreach to people in need? Sometimes there is a notion that large suburban JCCs cater to an affluent population, which then doesn’t need to have philanthropic support.
Janel: It is interesting that you say that. While we give $400,000 in scholarships a year, we could not figure out how to make the point that we are serving the neediest in our community, because we are not really sure that we are. So, we created the message that we matter in the Jewish community, we play a critical role in shaping people’s Jewish identity, influencing them to live Jewish lives, and instilling pride in being Jewish. That is what we ran with and are continuing to run with this year. This played well with our major donors and people who are already committed, but that was the first year of new messaging, and we now expect that it will make more of a difference. As you know, in any branding campaign, it is hard in the beginning.
David: This is a unique position the JCC has, an ability to influence a broad Jewish community and any Jews within the community. That message can be important to donors.
Janel: Yes, and also we have a very high Jewish member rate and penetration into the community. Our Jewish member stat is a little less than 90 percent.
David: You spoke a little bit about the structure of your lay committee; does that continue to this day? Do you have a development committee with a development chair?
Janel: Yes, we have a development chair and co-chair. Both are people of stature. Also, we engage members of our board to solicit. Of course, some of them are rather uncomfortable doing this, and we do not want anyone who is uncomfortable doing it, but we do have an incredible number of solicitors, as well as staff who solicit. All of the members of our executive team serve as solicitors for the annual fund.
David: Is the development chair an officer of the board of directors?
David: Have you found that the board is changing, even slightly, in its role regarding development at the JCC?
Janel: We have a unique governance structure. We have two boards – we have a board of governors and a board of advisors. Our board of governors, 100 percent know that this is their full responsibility and that they are absolutely integral to our success. The board of advisors understands and is getting there. We have recently raised our minimum gift for the board of advisors.
David: Did you find that there was a lot of focus on event fundraising as opposed to the annual campaign at the beginning.
Janel: No, we actually do very little event fundraising.
David: You know that many JCCs do, and consequently the ratio of revenues to expenses is fairly low.
Janel: Personally I think when you are raising money for an event that has another purpose, event fundraising is fine. For example, we have a Jewish book festival. This brings 15 thousand people to the JCC in a two-week time-frame, and we raise $150,000 to offset the expenses. That I am okay with, I am less okay with dinners that spend a lot of staff time, a lot of lay energy, but that don’t bring in much money. The one main fundraising event that we have is a golf tournament, and we netted over $130,000 last year. We raised $188,000.
David: Even though the ratio is fairly good for the golf tournament, usually expenses can be the majority of the revenues coming in.
Janel: Exactly, this is why we don’t really do them. It is very expensive to put an event on within our JCC. We don’t have the equipment to do it – we don’t own the chairs, the tables, the linens, etc., we would have to rent everything. Then there is the setup cost, the breakdown cost.
We are trying new things to get our message out. This year, we are doing a two-minute, I guess we’ll call it a commercial – it is something that could go viral, something that could be e-mailed, used on our Facebook page, on Twitter, YouTube, on our website, it can be embedded in e-mail blasts, and it is the message of the annual fund. So when a solicitor is making a phone call to ask someone for a gift to the annual campaign, they could send this in advance. It is the same message we would show if we were having a big event. But the cost associated with producing this is nil, and there is no cost for sending it out.
David: So, how you are using social media in support of your development function?
Janel: Well, we are going to do it this in November. We are in primacy (blackout) right now, which ends November 1. We wanted to have something to be used by our solicitors, so if they are going out to meet with someone they can play this on the iPad and say, watch this for two minutes before we talk. Even if that person had gone through solicitor training, they may have forgotten exactly what we wanted them to say; we now have a modicum of control over that.
David: You’ve talked about the large donors. How do you engage the next tier down?
Janel: The goal for the one to five thousand is to figure out how to move them to the pacesetter level, which is the five thousand plus. So, we are constantly looking at lists to see in aggregate how much they give. For example, someone who is a thousand dollar donor to the annual fund, did they also support their child’s soccer team at $250 and then did they donate money in honor of their friend at the golf tournament? All of a sudden, now when we look at them in aggregate they are more like a three thousand dollar donor. How do we bump them to that five thousand dollar level? So, we’ve invited people who are on the cusp to one of our major donor receptions. We send all of our major donors honey for the holidays, so we sent to that next tier as well.
David: Have you gone to the kind of “one ask system” that other JCCs have done? It sounds like you have.
Janel: We do for $5000 plus.
David: What are the types of things that a one-ask donor might get from the JCC?
Janel: They are recognized in any way that we recognize donors, they are recognized at the highest level. So, when we do our book festival, and we print our program and it lists all the book festival patrons, above the book festival patrons, it lists the pacesetters. It’s the same with the golf tournament, arts and culture events, same with a plaque in our lobby, which we adjust yearly. We are constantly listing them to show our appreciation for their support. They also have special signing lines at the book festival, free tickets to our arts and culture performances, special seating at receptions. When we have huge events, which require off-site parking, we have special parking areas for them so that they don’t have to worry about a shuttle bus. During program registration periods, e.g. camp, the development staff acts as concierge so that they register first and don’t need to come in person to do it. If there is something wrong with online registration, we push it through. We are just constantly asking and trying to provide the best possible service to them.
David: Did you find that when you started to do this for your pacesetters, there was pushback from your staff? Did they question you as to why these people were getting special treatment?
Janel: No, I am firm, and I have worked hard to shift the paradigm of the staff. They get it now. They understand we are trying to get as much support as possible. They also understand that their $500 donor is now a $5000 donor to the agency, and they still contribute the same amount to their program, but that the agency now has a net of $4500. I also make them feel good that they are the ones who brought this person to the agency.
David: As JCCs come to rely more on the development dollar, there has to be an understanding that just as you would invest the resources and expertly manage your fitness center in the best ways, there is also a methodology behind how you engage, acknowledge and reward donors.
Janel: Absolutely, but I am also coming at this with a real fundraising perspective – I worked for the Federation in Palm Beach and the Federation in Boca, where the community was made up of people who were the haves and the have-nots – although I hate saying that. Everybody is not created equal in the arena of fundraising; there are – luckily for non-profits – some people who can afford to give a lot more than others and when these people are giving more, they often will expect to get more. As development director, my job is to make sure that they get it. I know this doesn’t sound great, but it is the reality of what we do.
David: People who fundraise for causes they believe in don’t have to feel apologetic about that. It is what we learned when the president of Lincoln Center, Reynold Levy, said, I have no problem asking people for a million and above gifts, because I believe in the product.
Janel: It’s true; if they say no, they say no. They aren’t hurting my feelings.
David: You spoke a little bit about your development staff. What type of positions do you have on staff?
Janel: I have me, a deputy director of development, who makes sure the internal processes and procedures are working, that everyone is in proper communication inside, so that I can meet with donors. I also have two senior development associates who focus on everything from the annual fund to grant writing, corporate sponsorship, Federation allocation paperwork, United Way paperwork. They work with individual departments, work with the book festival, golf tournament, sports league sponsors, they work with all the big fundraising opportunities we have in the building. Also, we have a data manager.
David: Are the two associates also the ones who act as ombudsmen for major donors?
Janel: We all do.
David: How do you work with senior leadership, including the exec? And what is your expectation of their role in the development process?
Janel: I work well with them. They are our partners in the process. Obviously, we may look to them for consultation and advice, but also look to them to be a partner in the process and make some of the asks, and in some of those key relationship building with the donors. Yes, I see it as a very close relationship.
David: So, it is just not that the executive director says, I have a development director to raise funds and I can do other things.
David: What do you need to know about a JCC to make your role effective?
Janel: You have to know everything that is going on in the agency, because you have to act as a spokesperson, just as much as your marketing and PR department does. So you need to know about all the programs, number of people in each program, you need to know the changes, when things are working and when they are not working, you should even know what department directors are thinking about so that you could keep that in the back of your mind when you’re meeting with a donor. We really need to know everything.
David: Is the development department responsible for the annual report of the JCC?
David: Even though the annual report is geared towards a lot of the people who make donations, and is a way for them to see what the agency is doing?
Janel: For sure, but you can’t rely on information once a year. You always need to know what is going on. We sit down at the beginning of the year with every department and ask how many people are signed up for this, how many people are doing this, what was your success rate with this, how many scholarships have we given. This information is important; it doesn’t matter whose ultimate responsibility it is, it just needs to get done.
David: You need the information in order to successfully make and keep donors involved and feel good about their investment into the JCC, because they are not required to park their money at the JCC.
Janel: Especially because most of them for years were never really asked. When I first came on board, community leaders would tell me these stories of how the JCC was their whole life when they were growing up – they played basketball every Sunday, they went to the camp, their kids went to the camp, and then they didn’t give money because no one asked. They may have been asked to put their name on a building 25 years ago, but that was the end of it. It was capital and then it was done. It is sort of reinventing the wheel, but it has to be done.
David: We all strive to create financial sustainability in our operations in our JCCs. We haven’t really talked about that.
Janel: It is always on the radar screen but gets pushed to the back burner. When we worked with a group of lay leaders to ensure that we were employing the best development strategy, the decision was that endowment was a sequential priority, not a simultaneous one. We had to get annual giving up to speed before we could move on. We should not be doing both at the same time, so we are getting the annual underway and next year will be our big pitch for endowments, and I will wrap this into being part of the capital campaign.
David: But capital for endowment purposes only.
David: Okay, Janel, thank you so much. You mentioned your daughter earlier, how old is she?
Janel: She is eight years old.
David: Other children?
Janel: She is all I can handle.