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Day school funders tout long-term giving
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Day school funders tout long-term giving

Lauren Merkin, a board member of the AVI CHAI Foundation, opens the ELI Training session on donor-centric fund-raising for schools, with panelists, from left, Amy Schiffman, Alison Magat, Brad Klatt, and Howard Rubin. 
Lauren Merkin, a board member of the AVI CHAI Foundation, opens the ELI Training session on donor-centric fund-raising for schools, with panelists, from left, Amy Schiffman, Alison Magat, Brad Klatt, and Howard Rubin. 

Local philanthropists served as role models as day school heads, development officers, community leaders, and fund-raisers gathered in Florham Park in pursuit of the brass ring: how to inspire the community to support endowment funding for Jewish day schools.

Close to 150 people, affiliated with 35 schools nationwide, met at the Generations National ELI Training conference that took place May 5-7 at the Hamilton Park Hotel and Conference Center.

A project of the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Learning, ELI (Endowment and Legacy Institute) is trying to secure long-term funding and scholarships for Jewish day schools, where costly tuition still remains a barrier for many Jewish families.

At a plenary session on “donor-centric campaigns,” Exhibit A in such efforts was the Greater MetroWest Day School Campaign, which has raised more than $60 million in commitments to endowments and long-term funds for the three area day schools.

Speaking on the panel was Brad Klatt, a cofounder, with his wife Robin, of the campaign.

Klatt, a Roseland real estate executive, said $4 billion is needed to fund Jewish education in this country, and that fund-raising falls about $400 million short annually of that figure.

Turning to the philanthropists in the audience, he singled out Paula Gottesman of Morristown, who with her husband, Jerry, created record-setting endowments for the Bohrer-Kaufman Hebrew Academy of Morris County in Randolph and are founding donors of the Greater MetroWest Day School Campaign.

Klatt said Gottesman is “the example you should all follow.”

Paula Gottesman and Kim Hirsh, director of philanthropic initiatives for the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater MetroWest NJ, spoke at a later panel on cultivating and working with donors. The JCF is the planned giving and endowment arm of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ.

Klatt also urged those present to work cooperatively and not to regard the donors from their specific communities as “chattel,” to be jealously guarded, or their particular schools as “silos,” with separate goals. The MetroWest campaign includes funds supporting the pluralistic HAMC, the Conservative Golda Och Academy in West Orange, and the Orthodox Kushner schools in Livingston.

Howard Rubin, a panelist with Klatt, suggested day schools deserve support from beyond the circle of parents and alumni. “We’re all involved in the community in many ways that we’re not directly the beneficiaries of,” said Rubin, who is chair of the development committee of the Solomon Schechter School of Manhattan, which opened only after his children had completed their schooling.

He added that he gets enormous pleasure from seeing others’ children at the Schechter graduation. “I know almost nothing about the school, but I see the Yiddishkeit and their menschlikheit that these kids have — and I had something to do with that,” he said.

Panelist Allison Magat, a trustee of the Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School in Baltimore, summed up a theme her copanelists had all endorsed: that giving opportunities must be provided at all levels. “I think it conveys a very strong message if 100 percent of the board have given or pledged, but there are different ways to give,” she said. “Even if your focus is on six-figure gifts, it’s important to welcome the $1,000 gifts, too.”

As they hurried to their next talk, participants were enthusiastic about the practicality of the advice they’d heard. One woman said she had already texted a colleague to share a suggestion from Klatt, to re-engage “lost” supporters by sending them a YouTube video showing their own children or grandchildren at the school in question.

Said a woman from Los Angeles, “I’m inspired to refresh our approach.”

Another local speaker was Davida Isaacson of West Orange, a fund-raising consultant specializing in planned gifts and endowment campaigns.

Cosponsoring the conference with PEJE and AVI CHAI Foundation were the Generations communities —The Builders of Jewish Education from Los Angeles, The Associated from Baltimore, UJA Federation of New York, and Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Boston.

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