A recent book on fundraising in Israel by Sagi Melamed shows that some truths about human relationships are universal, and that the successful fundraiser must work above all on building good relationships with donors.
An experienced fundraiser himself, Melamed began his development career as a fundraiser for Tel-Hai College. He now runs MASIG, a fundraising consulting firm he founded, and is the author of the first book on fundraising written in Hebrew, Gius Tromot, or Fundraising: The Practical Israeli Guide.
In Melamed’s estimation, there are some big-picture factors that shape the fundraising landscape in Israel: it is a relatively young country, so much of its wealth is new. Its economy originally leaned in a heavily socialist direction, but is now largely capitalist, creating more wealth but also more need among institutions that used to be supported by the state.
In addition, Israeli institutions have experienced a shift in the giving patterns of international (and especially American) donors. Whereas in the previous generation, it was enough for fundraisers to speak in a general way about issues such as “Zionism, wars, making the desert bloom, Jewish soldiers,” today donors are asking for greater specificity in the requests they receive. The new generation of Israeli fundraisers have had to rethink their strategy.
But aside from some features unique to Israel’s situation, much of the advice that Melamed offers would make a successful fundraiser in the United States, or anywhere else. According to Melamed, fundraising is “not about asking people for money,” or about “the weak asking the strong.” Rather, in “healthy fundraising . . . You’re inviting someone with the means to join you in fulfilling a dream, fulfilling a vision.”
What Melamed identifies as the best approach is what is commonly called “relationship fundraising.” Rather than approaching donors in a transactional manner, fundraisers should see donors as partners in a shared mission—one plays the role of seeking the funds, the other plays the role of providing them, but they are both working towards the one goal of accomplishing the organization’s mission. Though a fundraiser should always be respectful of donors, creating a servile relationship is the quickest way to scare off a donor, whereas creating a friendship centered on a commonly held goal can result in many years of giving.
In addition to approaching donors as partners, Melamed identifies a few key characteristics of a good fundraiser: Anybody working in development needs perseverance, since the vast majority of requests will end in rejection. A fundraiser should be able to speak on a variety of topics and be a good listener—donors generally have very little time, and the ability to both share interesting things with them and make them feel like their time was well-spent are key for securing future meetings with them. And finally, fundraisers need “to have integrity, to be there for the right reasons.”
Though Melamed’s book is the first practical guide to fundraising written in Hebrew, much of his advice is valuable for development directors anywhere in the world seeking to build successful relationships with their donors.