HOT TRENDS SPARK Heated Debate: Will Cyber Charity Have a Meltdown?

The quiet of a rare family dinner was shattered by the shrill ringing of the telephone. Noticing an odd number on the caller ID, we chose not interrupt our meal. But the caller was persistent. The ID now said ‘out of area.’ That often identifies an overseas call. Since we have close relatives living in Eretz Yisrael, as well as extended family members, I couldn’t ignore this call.

Reluctantly and somewhat apprehensively (it was in the middle of the night in Israel) I picked up the phone. A young, breathless voice asked for my husband in rapid Ivrit, identifying himself as the grandson of my second cousin (with whom we are close). All I heard was my husband’s name and the word “dachuf – urgent.” I gave the phone to my husband and anxiously tried to follow the conversation. Did something happen to a relative? What was the emergency?

I watched as my husband’s expression shifted from fear to confusion and then to annoyance. I was relieved and perturbed to learn that the ‘emergency’ was a fundraising campaign for a small yeshivah that this young boy learned in. As he explained, every boy was asked to undertake to raise a significant amount of money for the yeshivah in a blitz 3-day campaign. A generous philanthropist had pledged to double (or triple) the total funds raised if they crossed a certain threshold. Wouldn’t we want to contribute generously to this important cause?

I could tell that my husband was controlling himself as he carefully wrote down the website info to contribute and wished the boy hatzlachah. Of course he resisted the urge of telling the ‘fundraiser’ what he thought of the idea of pressuring young boys who would otherwise be sleeping to reach out to their parents’ and grandparents’ friends and relatives abroad. It was not the young boy’s fault that he was being taken advantage of in this way, especially since many other institutions were doing the same.

After several similar scenarios, I felt harrassed, so I called Hamodia. “This is getting out of control,” I said. “If this clever fundraising tool gets overused or abused, the real emergencies will suffer. This issue deserves your attention.”
(From a loyal Hamodia reader.)

By now, nearly everyone in the Orthodox community has been solicited to contribute to a “crowdfunding” campaign for a cause or organization. The method, which bases itself on raising large sums through a very broad base of what are mostly modest donations, has gained increasing popularity in recent years, relying heavily on internet based forums. Over the past six months or so, crowdfunding by one institution or the other has become what seems like a daily routine in the Orthodox world.

Largely run in conjunction with the six-year-old giant of crowdfunding consulting, Charidy, campaigns have raised untold amounts of money for mosdos and a long list of causes involving individuals who are facing dire challenges.

This relatively new approach to an old need has produced great success stories, and some think that it seems poised to replace traditional journal dinners, parlor meetings and the like.

At the same time, many in the community have raised serious questions about the effects of crowdfunding. Some criticize the use of internet and social media. Others object to what they see as the ill effects of mosdos turning their parent or even student bodies into fundraisers.

Many fear that the overuse of dramatic slogans and the labeling of campaigns as an “emergency” will dull our senses when needs arise that are indeed desperate. And, even many who are advocates of crowdfunding complain about what has become a bombardment of appeals; they question its long term sustainability.

A Successful System

While many campaigns on behalf of mosdos have elicited mixed reactions, others that have come to the aid of individuals stricken by sudden medical emergencies, or families left orphaned, or others facing unthinkable tragedies, R”l, over the past year have been able to rally the hearts and wallets of thousands in Klal Yisrael, and have been widely acclaimed.

While many campaigns on behalf of mosdos have elicited mixed reactions, certain desperate pleas on behalf of families and individuals in need have resonated with thousands, enabling their combined effort to alleviate some of the most trying circumstances.

Aron ben Chana, a 34-year-old marbitz Torah who went into septic shock and had to undergo very complicated surgery to save his life, was perhaps the most recent and clearest example of such a case.

In a matter of days, a team of 329 friends, talmidim, and family members was put together to work with Charidy to raise the funds. The first million was raised in under 24 hours; approximately $1.8 million within three days. (Please continue davening for Aron ben Chana, for a complete and speedy refuah.)

Crowdfunding has been steadily growing as an important method of fundraising in America for nearly a decade, funding not only charitable causes but social action movements. It has been the mainstay of funding for some national candidates, most prominently Senator Bernie Sanders.

Charidy, the platform that has hosted the majority of campaigns for the Orthodox community, especially over the past year, opened its doors six years ago.

Since then, it has managed over 4,000 campaigns and raised over $650 million. Moshe Hecht, Charidy’s Chief Innovation Officer, told Hamodia that the company had refined the crowdfunding formula to fashion “high impact” campaigns by running them for a short frame of time, combining with a matching component, and designing “powerful messaging to motivate and inspire people to give.”

“What Yehuda Gurwitz, the founder, conceptualized and what the team developed is a unique concept that allows nonprofits to partner with a for-profit that can bring a unique perspective, and a fresh team to their fundraising,” he said.

While crowdfunding was nothing new to Charidy, the company had mostly followed the lead of the quickly evolving trends that had shifted largely to reliance on social media. The shift did pose an initial challenge to the organization about a year ago when Chassidic mosdos began approaching the group for their services.

“We started hearing from Chassidishe organizations that generally don’t have a social media presence and don’t support it, in fact just the opposite. But, instead of telling them, ‘no, we don’t think we can help you,’ we developed a whole new layer of our business based on peer to peer fundraising,” said Mr. Hecht. “We borrowed the concept and adapted it to the Chassidishe world. Chassidim might discourage communicating through the internet, but they have a very strong sense of kol Yisrael Areivim zeh l”zeh, and we used our strategies to empower individuals, whether a teacher, a kollel yungerman, or a patient in a hospital to turn that into a power to raise money.”

Since then, dozens, if not hundreds, of mosdos and causes in the chassidic and yeshivah worlds have pursued crowdfunding efforts, many with great financial success.

Rabbi Pinchas Lerner, who acts as executive director for the Boro Park-based fundraising office of Belz’s institutions in Eretz Yisrael, led his kehillah’s efforts in one of the largest and most widely publicized Charidy campaigns in the chassidic world. He told Hamodia that the crowdfunding effort had achieved a much-needed goal for Belz’s mosdos.

“Belz itself already gives the max of what they can, so as the mosdos and their expenses grow, we need to find ways to bring in more money from the outside,” he said. “Our askanim go to wealthy people a whole year and work to get donations, but there’s a limit to how many they can reach. This brought in thousands of small donations in what was almost all new money. It’s something we never could have done on our own.”

The method has produced similar results even for organizations that are much smaller. Chuny Klein, who spearheaded a Charidy campaign for Talmud Torah Boyan of Boro Park, said that he and other vaad members who are currently involved in upgrading the mosad saw crowdfunding’s potential and wanted their project to benefit from this tool while it was still at its peak.

“The success is conditional on having a motivated team, and if you have that, you have a very big chance of success,” he told Hamodia. “It’s not only about big donations but about the number of donors — the more $18 donations the better. At the end of the campaign, we had more than 4,500 donors. That’s more than the Talmud Torah ever had for any single fundraising event.”

Rabbi Moshe Margaretten, an askan from Monsey who has been advocating for prison reform for more than a decade, led one of the most unusual campaigns within the Orthodox world.

After years of false starts and dashed hopes, his team was finally on the brink of passing a major prison-reform bill at end of 2018. It was supported by President Trump and had passed the House, and had enough support for Senate passage. However, only 12 Republican senators had signed on and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was refusing to put the bill forward without further Republican support. With only a month to go before the end of the year, Rabbi Margaretten and his team needed to hire a squad of lobbyists in an effort to garner more Republican support.

“The door was closing. Ten years of work had come down to four weeks that were make-or-break,” Rabbi Margaretten told Hamodia. “The traditional way of raising money takes lots of time, to get appointments by philanthropists and raise money from them one by one, but for us it was urgent.”

With a small window to bring a decade-long effort to completion, he approached Charidy to raise the needed funds, and a matching campaign yielded a $2 million windfall.

The lobbyists hired with that money succeeded in convincing some 20 additional Republicans to support the bill, and Sen. McConnell agreed to a floor vote.

“Charidy gave me the platform and the ability to reach out to Klal Yisrael and, baruch Hashem, we got the money to get this over the finish line,” said Rabbi Margaretten.

Shmuel Stern, founder and CEO of Compass Crew, a Kiryas Joel-based marketing firm that has acted as an agency for over a dozen of the most recent Charidy campaigns, said that once mosdos discovered that the crowdfunding system could be adapted to their clientele, the reasons for its popularity were obvious.

“Fundraisers all used to bring in the most money through a dinner, but a dinner, even with a good honoree, only brings in a few hundred people. The preparation is very long and difficult, and you are mostly left with pledges which you then have to start actually collecting,” he told Hamodia. “If it’s done right, crowdfunding can bring in huge numbers of people, you work hard but for a much shorter time, and you walk away with money in the bank.”

At What Price?

It was late at night when someone knocked at Yehudah’s* door.

“I was getting ready to go to bed, but was still fully dressed,” he recalled. “When I opened the door, I discovered my upstairs neighbor standing there. Though I try to be neighborly with everyone who lives in the building, it so happens that I have no relationship with the person who lives directly above my apartment. The only time I hear from him is in the early mornings when his alarm clock vibrates through my ceiling for what seems like an eternity. Other than that, he barely returns my greeting in the elevator.

“Yet, here he was, after 11:00 at night, standing at my door, notifying me that his kehillah had launched an ‘emergency campaign’ and urging me to take part by giving him my credit card information. I wanted to tell him that there is more to being a neighbor that pressuring someone to give money to a mosad that he has absolutely no connection to … but I didn’t.”

Despite the phenomenon’s success, many at the giving end of such efforts have far less enthusiasm for crowdsourcing. Of a sampling of a dozen or so “citizens” who had been solicited by, or asked to participate in, a crowdfunding campaign, Hamodia heard an earful of critique. Interviewees mostly asked to remain anonymous, but none shied away from expressing strong opinions on the matter.

A key to many crowdfunding efforts is a tightly limited time frame and dramatic billing — often labeled an “emergency campaign” or something similar. One Boro Park mother and grandmother questioned the honesty and long-term effects of both of these elements.

“It’s true that many if not most mosdos in our community have constant financial struggles, but that’s not an emergency. It can’t be that all of these mosdos are suddenly faced with the threat of closing their doors,” she told Hamodia. “The fact is that sometimes, chas v’shalom, the klal does have to mobilize and give quickly for a real emergency, like helping someone deal with a serious medical crisis. Abusing the term ‘emergency’ can cause — and probably has caused real damage to the cases that actually are emergencies.”

The promise of donors who will put up matching funds for a short period of time, usually 24 to 72 hours, is a common technique used to infuse a sense of urgency into the campaigns, and part of this strategy is to set a goal the organization hopes to achieve in that time frame. This element, too, the woman felt lacked sincerity and sends a damaging message.

“What we see being done is fundraisers turning these campaigns into an ‘all or nothing’ proposition,” she said. “First, the very idea is ridiculous; so what’s going to happen to my donation if you don’t reach your goal? Something tells me it will be kept and go to good use anyway. Secondly, the idea of saying that the campaign was a failure because you didn’t reach your goal belittles the donations that were received and denies the inherent value that all tzedakah has.”

For a professional fundraiser, aggressiveness is usually high on the list of qualifications. An element of many crowdfunding campaigns that are based on email or social media networks is to send not just a simple solicitation, but to send follow-up messages — sometimes quite a few of them.

Hamodia spoke to Tzvi after he had been sent the fifth email from a Boro Park cheder in the midst of such a campaign.

“If you send one email, fine. Either I’ll give something or I’ll click ‘delete’ and ignore it. Two makes you a pest, and five is outright harassment,” he said.

The concept of “peer-to-peer” crowdfunding is predicated on individuals who are associated with an organization reaching out to their entire network of family, friends, business contacts and any other remote connections. Tzvi voiced a feeling shared by many interviewees: The system puts many of those contacts in an unfair position.

“I have a mortgage to pay and a list of yeshivos and schools I send my kids to and organizations that I have what to do with. Just because I’m your cousin or supplier, does that obligate me to support your mosad too? This bothered me about dinner honorees also, but at least that had its limits. Now, it’s like everybody I know is getting honored.”

Others extended the theme, saying that on occasion they had been approached by family or business connections to donate to causes that conflicted with their own hashkafos, or to kehillos that looked down on their way of life.

“I don’t have a problem with a kehillah having different standards than mine, but if you wouldn’t let my kids into your cheder, don’t come and knock on my door for money,” said one interviewee.

Rabbi Lerner deflected this criticism, saying that targeting one’s connections was hardly a new concept and that it has been a long accepted part of fundraising.

“There were always dinners to honor a person, and his suppliers and friends had to give to be mechabed him,” he said. “This is just a more modern version of that same idea — only it can reach a lot more people and we’re not expecting such large amounts from any one person.”

Another often-heard complaint is that while some kehillos and mosdos have pursued campaigns based exclusively on phone calls, others have been internet based, with some using various social media networks. Given that many of those selfsame kehillos and mosdos discourage internet use and hold their members to strict guidelines in this matter, the practice of internet-based fundraising has been another point of criticism.

Chaim spoke to Hamodia the night after the school that some of his children attend held a meeting with the parent body to roll out and train for its upcoming crowdfunding campaign, an effort he did not plan to take part in.

“When we registered with the school, my wife and I had to sign forms that we don’t have internet in the home and say what filters we have on whatever internet we use for work, but now we’re being told to go use the internet to make money for the school,” he said. “It’s not just the hypocrisy that bothers me. I agree with the school’s standards for parents’ homes, and I don’t think that the internet is something that should be used to support Yiddishe chinuch.”

“I have been contacted by relatives and friends urging me to donate to these campaigns,” says Shia*, a Boro Park father of 12, told Hamodia. “If the cause is an individual, or a community organization, it is one thing. But if it is a Yeshivah or Kollel, my answer is ‘come back to me when the internet campaign ends and I will be glad to give you some money.’

“I really think that those behind these campaigns don’t realize the effect this is having on the community, especially on our youth. These sites are not meant for a one-time donation; the whole idea is that people should keep on going back to their computer screen to see the funds grow. These campaigns give a hechsher to bachurim to go online. After all , it is their very own mosad behind this campaign. Once they are there, who knows where else they are going.

“Even more worrisome,” Shia adds, “is the fact that these sites include a direct link to Facebook, one of the most infamous of social media sites. Recently, I met a prominent Rav whose kehillah had undertaken a charidy campaign. I asked him if he knew about the Facebook link. He had no idea.”

Rabbi Lerner said that while Belz’s campaign did use some internet-based techniques, no step was taken without consultation with Ezreini, a division of Belz’s central beis din assigned to deal with technology-related issues.

“Belz has very clear guidelines, leaving no gray areas, and we advertised clearly that everything about the campaign would go according to those guidelines,” he said. “Technology is not something we hide from; every question is weighed seriously by our Rabbanim. Other kehillos came to see how we worked the Charidy campaign according to our guidelines, to see how they could apply it to their own.”

Mr. Hecht said that Charidy works hard to build campaigns that fit the standards of each client and has developed models for a wide range of kehillos and added that the company has made it a priority to cater to those looking to minimize or eliminate the use of internet in their fundraising efforts.

“We very much respect different hashkafos and never had any intention of teaching anybody how to do things,” he said. “Part of our own training process is to encourage each group of askanim to meet with their rabbanim to make sure they are aware of the implications, and to give their blessings for what is being planned.”

Not every major group has taken to the trend. One of the notable exceptions is Bobov-45, which has been in the process of raising money to finish off their new girls’ school building, as well as beginning a project to purchase a large building for its cheder, and several of its key fundraisers were enthusiastic about the prospect of using crowdfunding to lighten their burden. Yet the kehillos’ Rebbe, Harav Mordechai Dovid Ungar, shlita, took a different approach.

“We had a whole plan set up to make three or four million dollars and finish the building. We’ve had a very hard time; it seemed like this would be the answer. We even had matching donors lined up, but the Rebbe heard the details and said no,” Benzion Yosef Reinhold, an askan for Bobov-45, told Hamodia.

“He said that our kehillah’s takanos only permit internet use for parnassah and although we could have technically said that this campaign should fall under that category, the practical result is that we would weaken the whole kehillah’s regard for the takanos by taking the mosdos and using them as the platform to look for heterim in this struggle.”

Mr. Reinhold said that although it sounded like the Rebbe’s direction would have stifled the group’s fundraising efforts, he felt as if their efforts were blessed as a result of forgoing the planned campaign.

“We just kept on trying to raise money the old-fashioned way by going to gvirim and we never had such a successful year as this one,” he said. “In two weeks, we had the whole amount that we thought we were going to make with the campaign. We listened, and we got a lot more siyatta diShmaya. There’s no other explanation for it.”

Everyone a Fundraiser

Part and parcel of the crowdfunding system is harnessing all those involved in a particular organization and turning them into a team of fundraisers. The preparation for such campaigns is typically marked by some sort of mass gathering to motivate the parent body or kehillah members, about the importance of the cause and how essential their role is to its success.

One Boro Park Rebbetzin who has been involved in raising funds for needy individuals and families for many years said that, while she felt the torrent of campaigns has deadened people’s senses, the concept was “phenomenal.”

“I used to knock on doors or make phone calls for hours and if we got $800, that was a lot,” she told Hamodia. “Sending out an email or whatever puts much less pressure and you reach so many people that you can literally raise millions even without anyone giving a large amount. My only criticism is that they have to be spaced apart from each other a little more.”

Yet, some parents and members of kehillos did not welcome the idea of filling in for executive directors.

“I was very uncomfortable to put people I know and do business with in an awkward position, but I wasn’t given much of a choice in the matter,” said one father who had emailed his contact list at the behest of the cheder that his children attend. “I’m very happy with the cheder in general and I hope they can raise all the money they need, but I pay my tuition and it’s not right to force me into being a fundraiser.”

Rabbi Lerner defended the practice of mass-mobilizing members of a kehillah to help in crowdfunding efforts.

“People have to understand how much they get from their Chassidus and that they have an obligation to help sustain it,” he said. “You may be uncomfortable and it may be hard, but you also have to realize that this is your Yiddishkeit and it’s something that [one] has to do.”

Others noted that they had been put off by several campaigns that took yeshivah bachurim or kollel avreichim away from the beis medrash so they could make phone calls for their respective institutions.

“When does a bachur have time to do this; either during seder or bein hasedarim,” said one Boro Park mother. “If it’s during seder, he should be learning and not be sent to make calls to raise money. Even if its bein hasedarim, that time is meant for eating their meals and possibly unwinding, which is also valuable and should not be taken away from them.”

The interviewee raised another point, reinforced by a recent fundraising call from a great-nephew in Eretz Yisrael, that bothered her even more.

“This eidel boy had all the lines of a professional fundraiser,” she said. “These campaigns take innocent yeshivah bachurim and turn them into aggressives solicitors who are quickly becoming comfortable with the idea of putting pressure on people much older than themselves.”

The Way of the Future?

Supporters and detractors of the system alike largely agreed on one point: It is highly unlikely that crowdfunding in the Orthodox community can be sustained, most citing the sheer number of campaigns that launched over the past year as the main reason they predict that the trend will expire sooner rather than later.

“The Charidy campaign worked very well for Boyan this year, but we will have to reread the situation before we do it again,” said Mr. Klein. “It seems like every day someone else is doing it, so it probably will lose effectiveness as a platform, but you never know. With the right pitch and an energized team, it could still work.”

Yet, those who have worked on facilitating crowdfunding campaigns feel that, while adjustments would have to be made over time, the system would not fade.

“In my opinion, it’s here to stay,” said Mr. Stern of Compass. “It could be that they will have to start offering something, like a raffle or prize like what you see by a lot of dinners, but it won’t go away.”

Mr. Hecht said that since the beginning of Charidy, he had seen other communities go through a similar “evolution” in their use of crowdfunding that he felt was already occurring in the Chassidic and yeshivah world.

“In the beginning there’s a novelty and an excitement and basically everyone is a potential giver to every organization, but what happens then is that it gradually gets more targeted and that’s why it’s sustainable,” he said. “As we have already done in other communities, it’s important that we work together to make campaigns that hone in on a more focused group and that are more respectful, which is something that is already happening here.”

Nevertheless, Mr. Hecht emphasized that like in previous communities, the campaigns got stronger and stronger because the process of exposing the masses to a series of large scale crowdfunding campaigns is valuable not only for those causes that profited from them but in shifting the community’s mindset in the long-term.

“Even though campaigns can’t appeal to everybody forever, people’s hearts and minds have been opened, people have probably given tzadakah more actively in the last six months than since the Mishkan was built,” he said. “A new culture of giving has been created where even if people revert back to focusing on their own organizations, they’ll be giving more money than they were before, and that’s not such a terrible outcome.”

One Boro Park mother who, like most interviewees, had been targeted by no shortage of crowdfunding efforts, said that while she understands the need to raise increasing amounts of funds, and adds that collecting tzedakah is something that “no one should be embarrassed of,” those considering such campaigns should carefully consider not only the immediate financial benefits, but the effect their actions could have on the public’s attitude to this mitzvah.

Tzedakah is one of the foundations of Klal Yisrael and a necessary piece of keeping all of our mosdos and kehillos afloat,” she said. “At the same time, we have to realize the risks we run by pulling out all the stops and saying that we need to raise money at all costs, and weigh that against how beautiful and holy it is when we raise tzedakah in dignified and sensitive ways, without pressuring the potential donor.”

*Name has been changed.

_ _ _

Crowdfunding Central: The Ins and Outs Of Crowdfunding

With Tobey Finkelstein

by Dini Harris

Mrs. Tobey Finkelstein was one of the first to harness crowdfunding for Jewish causes. She shares stories of the first frum forays into this realm, and gives us a glimpse into what goes on behind the scenes of such a campaign.

Starting Out

Mrs. Finkelstein’s career began when she was still single and fresh out of college. She was working for a not-for-profit publishing company established by Rabbi Shimon Apisdorf and Rabbi Yigal Segal, which gave her a taste for Jewish non-profit work.

When the second intifada broke out in 2000, her unique blend of entrepreneurship — mixed with concern and desire to help — pushed her to do something for Jews living in Israel.

“I decided on a solidarity project at a kid level,” she says. “I had an idea about making the world’s largest Rosh Hashanah card, and I ran with it.

“I sent out fax and email invitations to schools and camps, and was inundated with Rosh Hashanah cards. We got about 40,000 cards from all over the world! People were looking for positive ways to connect with what was going on in Israel.”

“I scrambled to research what to do next. I asked exhibition companies how to connect the cards, and the neighborhood kids pitched in to do the gluing and pasting.

“At the end, the project was huge. The card was about 3,200 feet long! El Al sponsored the flight that took the card from New York to Israel. We had a send-off ceremony on September 4, 2001, at New York’s city hall with Mayor Giuliani.

“The reception ceremony was in Yerushalayim on September 12 — yes, just a day after September 11 — so you can imagine that it was very intense and emotionally overwhelming.”

Next on the List

For the next while, Mrs. Finkelstein worked for non-profit organizations, including AJOP and the OU. Then, when she progressed to being a wife and mother, she went low-key, doing marketing for an internet-based company.

From the sidelines, she observed developments that merged her two areas of expertise: non-profits and online marketing. In particular, she followed the development of crowdfunding platforms.

“Initial crowdfunding sites were created as business tools,” she says. “They helped small companies find investors that would fund their business ideas.

“But crowdfunding was quickly co-opted by non-profit organizations, who realized that these tools would allow them to raise money without the printing, postage and marketing expenses that are part and parcel of traditional fundraising.”

In 2009, Minnesota’s first online giving day caught her attention in a big way.

“It was extremely innovative at the time,” Mrs. Finkelstein says. “The results blew everyone away. More than $14,000,000 was raised in this 24-hour period. So much was earned that the foundation hadn’t prepared sufficient funds to cover all the credit card processing fees.”

Mrs. Finkelstein was electrified. “I knew that if it worked in Minnesota, it would be even more effective in the Jewish community.”

Good Works in Baltimore

A few years passed and, Mrs. Finkelstein, now living in Baltimore, heard that the Jewish Caring Network, Baltimore’s organization that supports families dealing with serious illnesses, was running its annual walk-a-thon fundraising campaign.

“I reached out to the organizer,” Mrs. Finkelstein said, “and asked if the organization would be willing to add an element of crowdfunding. She said, ‘Yes, but we don’t know how.’

“That was perfect for me. Neither of us had anything to lose. I used Crowdrise, an existing fundraising platform, and invited everyone who had signed up for the walk-a-thon to create their own fundraising page, which they sent to their personal contacts.

“The organization’s goal was to raise $10,000. I pushed the goal to $30,000. In the end, we raised $72,000 through the crowdfunding site.”

Matching Campaign

“The next permutation of my crowdfunding role,” says Mrs. Finkelstein, “was a campaign that I did for the small Chabad preschool my children were attending.”

“It started with my growing interest in day school tuition. I couldn’t find an answer to the conundrum: How can a day school provide a quality education with funding limited by tuition? The equation doesn’t work.

“I was working in the school when I did the campaign for the Jewish Caring Network. Rabbi Elchonon Lisbon, who was the school’s executive director at the time, asked me to do something for them. But I didn’t think that style of campaign would work for the tiny school.

“A few months later, Charidy launched its crowdfunding platform. It added the ‘matching-timed’ model, meaning that every donation to the campaign was quadrupled by donations from major donors, and the entire campaign happened within 24 hours. This was a huge innovation in crowdfunding models, and no one had seen it yet.

“I saw the platform and told Rabbi Lisbon, ‘Let’s do it. This will work for you.’

“The school had never done any fundraising, and we had no idea how to set a goal for the campaign. I looked at the budget and estimated that the school needed $40,000, and set that as the goal.

“I knew he could do it. In the past, one of the school’s biggest donors had given $1,800. I told Rabbi Lisbon to ask him for $10,000. He came back to me in a daze, ‘He said yes!’

“We rallied the parent body, decorated the school, made a logo and printed t-shirts. We made a call center in the school so we could all make our phone calls together. The whole school community was geared up for it.

“We raised $40,000 in the first hour and a half and ended up raising $60,000 for this tiny preschool with a very small community of parents.”

What Next?

Mrs. Finkelstein was excited about what she had helped accomplish for the Jewish Caring Network and for the Chabad preschool, but she still had her sights set even higher.

“I approached Charidy,” she says, “and asked if they had ever done a combined campaign — for multiple Jewish organizations at the same time.

“They weren’t ready to do it yet, but meanwhile I reached out to Rabbi Yitzchok Lowenbraun of AJOP and asked if he would be interested in promoting a joint campaign.

He was willing to try, so six months later, I spoke to Charidy again. At this point, they were more experienced and confident, and we did it with them.

“Our goal was to raise $1,000,000 collectively for kiruv organizations across America during a ‘Kiruv Giving Day.’ Twenty organizations participated. Each one set their own individual goal, some $50,000 and some $100,000… and we did it. We raised $1,400,000 for kiruv in 24 hours.”

Now What?

Since her first successful efforts, Mrs. Finkelstein has helped many organizations run their own effective campaigns.

Mrs. Finkelstein acknowledges that though it has only been around for a relatively short time, the luster of crowdfunding in the Jewish community is starting to tarnish.

“There’s always donor fatigue,” she continues. “Before, there was donor fatigue with mailings, donor fatigue with dinners, and now there’s some level of donor fatigue with crowdfunding.”

“But something is going to change,” she says optimistically. “Someone is going to think of an innovation that will make things interesting again. And, hopefully, when that happens, our community will embrace the change and we’ll be able to continue benefiting from crowdfunding. Crowdfunding is bringing in more money more efficiently for our organizations. It’s a windfall.” n