Cover Story: All for One
The organization's donor attrition was driven, in part, by a dynamic continental population on the move, but an additional reason is the organization's historical focus on dollars — rather than donors — raised. Smolyar says the organization focused on netting gifts from larger-dollar donors rather than growing the donor base, something he says often seems easier than running a disciplined direct-marketing campaign that aims for a broader base but lower-value donor. According to Sussman, it's been a real challenge to get people within federations to understand why it's important to grow the donor base.
"The short-term goal is to grow the donor base with the expectation that in the long run the revenue will follow," Sussman says. "But one of our other goals for our community is to build our community, so therefore we're also looking for participation and people to feel like they're part of our community."
Participating in the annual campaign reflects the enduring Jewish principle that donating to a communal fund is a central act of community membership.
"We're an organization whose mission is to build community, and the act of participation in an annual campaign — coming together with thousands of other people — is something that has value in and of itself regardless of the amount of money one raises," Galperin stresses.
Thanks to Galperin's and Sussman's efforts, the attrition trend has been reversed at the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, and the federation is increasing its donor base.
"It's sort of a truism — it's much easier to retain a customer than to get a new one. So we've always looked to the database that we have and the people that were contributors to us who may have contributed this year and didn't contribute the previous year to see if we can re-engage them, reactivate them, reinvolve them," Galperin says.