This Time, It’s Personal: Considerations for Soliciting Endowment and Legacy Gifts.
Good story telling has abundant application for development work. So, like many of my colleagues, I appreciate a great story, in print, in film, or online. One of my many cherished films is You’ve Got Mail, the delightful romantic comedy directed by the late, great, and beloved Nora Ephron. If you haven’t seen it, rent it immediately! It tells the story of two business rivals who appear to despise each other in their face-to-face dealings but, unknowingly, fall in love over the Internet.
In one of their anonymous, online missives, Tom Hanks (the big bad corporate suit, Joe Fox) says to Meg Ryan (the sweet neighborhood shopkeeper, Kathleen Kelley):
“Don’t you love New York in the fall? It makes me wanna buy school supplies. I would send you a bouquet of newly-sharpened pencils if I knew your name and address.
Here, big bad Joe gets it right: There is indeed something special about the beginning of the new school year. Endless possibilities and potential exist for students, teachers, the school, and the community. Here at PEJE, for instance, our Facebook page has been awash with beautiful pictures and wonderful posts about the first few days and weeks of classes in Jewish day schools all across North America.
But how do we sustain all that energy? How do we keep the excitement going—both now, in the present, and in the months ahead, especially when talking about endowment and legacy gifts, which are all about the future?
I’ll tell you how. First, read this wonderfully funny and informative essay by Margaux Smith: Why I Love (And Feel Uncomfortable About Loving) Legacy Fundraising. Then, take a close look at your donor list and identify those people who are passionate—who are interested in “fulfilling a life-long desire to do something bigger than themselves.” Last, craft a personal strategy for each prospective donor.
Which brings me back to the movie. When Tom Hanks and the big bad Fox enterprise (spoiler alert!) puts Meg Ryan’s Little Shop Around the Corner out of business, Tom tells her apologetically that it wasn’t personal, to which Ryan responds:
“What’s so wrong with being personal? Whatever else anything is, it ought to begin by being personal.”
Being “personal” should, in fact, be the foundation of all endowment and legacy conversations. This unique way of giving represents an unparalleled opportunity for a donor to create a personal legacy that lasts forever; a powerful expression of their values, passions, and beliefs.
So, in the spirit of the Yamim Noraim, the ten-day period from Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur known as the “Days of Awe,” here are ten questions you might ask to help capture a donor’s imagination:
- What are you most grateful for in your life?
- When you think about the support you give to your school, what strikes you as most important or meaningful?
- Can you describe how wonderful it feels when you walk into the school?
- What makes your participation in your school’s community so special?
- Have you learned anything new or surprising about being part of the Jewish community through your connection to the school?
- Can you describe what the school means to you and your family?
- What do you think your school will look like in 20 years?
- What does the word “legacy” mean to you?
- Think back. What special things did your parents and grandparents do that helped to build your Jewish identity?
- Now focus on the present. What would you like to do for your own children and grandchildren to help secure our Jewish future?
In other words—don’t be afraid to get personal! Ask the leaders in your community to express their own hopes and dreams—both for the present, and for the Jewish future.
Wishing all of you a year of health, happiness, and making dreams come true! Shanah Tovah and G’mar Chatimah Tovah!
Francine Shron carries a varied portfolio for PEJE that encompasses a range of development, programmatic, and regional management responsibilities.