‘I’m not a professional fundraiser’
The Friendship Circle helps families of children with special needs and individuals and families struggling with addiction, isolation and other issues by offering programs and activities that foster relationships between community volunteers — many of whom are teenagers — and clients, regardless of their religious affiliation.
Founded in 1994 by Lubavitch Foundation of Michigan, a branch of Chabad-Lubavitch, an institution dedicated to the welfare of the Jewish people worldwide, The Friendship Circle has inspired the development of almost 30 similar programs in the United States, Canada and Australia.
Each Friendship Circle program is community-based and run by a relatively small staff. Here, Rabbi Levi Shemtov, executive director of the original, West Bloomfield, Mich.-based Friendship Circle, shares some of the organization’s fundraising challenges and successes.
FundRaising Success: What is your major source of funding?
Rabbi Levi Shemtov: The major source of our funding is large contributions from a founding group of supporters.
FS: How do you typically fundraise?
RLS: It’s one on one, introducing people to the organization. I don’t even ask for a specific amount when I ask people to contribute. I expose people to the organization. I bring them to a wonderful new building that we have and we ask people to support the organization. Our goal is to spread the word, bring people in on tours of the building, and then usually they initiate the idea that they want to contribute, and I follow up with them. That’s how most of the money comes in.
FS: What do you see as the benefits of operating this way?
RLS: It’s the only way I know how to operate because I’m not a fundraiser. I run the organization. This is something that I do; it’s something that I have a passion in. I’ve had more donors give larger percentages of budgets because they feel they are personally invested in the organization. So the people who donate money don’t feel like they’re donating money because somebody sold them on something or someone convinced them to do it. But rather they feel like it’s their initiative and they feel happy to do it. It lets me focus on a smaller amount of people for fundraising and have more meaningful relationships with the donors, and it frees up my time to run the organization.