Alison Betts is a member of the Phoenix Wexner Heritage 2009 class and works in International Marketing for American Express. She is the Co-Founder of the “PJ Library” initiative in Phoenix and can be reached at

Jason Israel is a member of the Phoenix Wexner Heritage 2009 class. Jason is President of Hayden Properties, an investment and development firm focusing on healthcare for seniors. He is Co-Founder of the “PJ Library” initiative in Phoenix and can be reached at

Did you know that there’s a Fundraising for Dummies book? Well, neither did we. So, as a friendly public service to all budding fundraisers out there, here are six lessons we learned the hard way, so you don’t have to.

By way of background, we had the opportunity to go to Aspen last summer to attend the Wexner Heritage Summer Institute as part of the Phoenix class of 2009. During a dinner party, we met Harold Grinspoon, the philanthropist who founded programs such as B’nai Tzedek and the PJ Library. Harold expressed to us his interest in launching the PJ Library Program in Phoenix. (The PJ Library is in over 125 communities around North America and sends free Jewish-content books and music on a monthly basis to children from age six months to five, six, seven or eight years depending on the community). Then he hinted that we ought to consider taking on the project.

Lesson 1: Seize every opportunity. One of the many challenges facing the Jewish community in Phoenix is the question of how to get unaffiliated families more engaged. The PJ Library program resonated with us because of its proven track record of engaging unaffiliated Jewish families. So, upon our return from Aspen, we decided to bring the PJ Library to Phoenix, despite neither of us having any experience in charitable fundraising, grant applications, donor prospecting, or launching a program of this magnitude. How hard could it be?

Apparently, it’s hard. 

Lesson 2: Listen to your elders! In these challenging economic times, we decided to seek advice from experienced people in our community, some of whom are former Wexner Heritage alumni. We were fortunate to receive thoughtful and helpful guidance on how to develop a strategy to bring the PJ Library to Phoenix (and we also got a few raised eyebrows when we mentioned the kind of money we needed to raise… but we persisted).

Lesson 3: Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. The consistent message we received was to stop seeking one large donor, but rather branch out and build a network of smaller donors to support the program. This advice enabled us to have greater community involvement, while safeguarding against the possibility of a devastating setback resulting from the loss of a single donor. 

Lesson 4: Don’t be afraid to pull out the big guns. With support from community leaders and Jewish agencies in Phoenix, we began reaching out to key donors and were eventually able to gain their financial support with a little help from the man himself, Harold Grinspoon. He flew to Phoenix to have lunch with our key donor prospects. We’re not going to lie to you; his gesture went a long way… 

Lesson 5: Respect the professionals! With key donors in place and most of our funds secured for the first three years, we started working with our two Jewish agencies (The Bureau of Jewish Education and the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix) to devise a plan for launching the program. We learned the delicate art of collaborating with multiple Jewish agencies while respecting their goals and opinions. The agencies helped us to hire a local staff person and work with the PJ Library head office to launch the program in Phoenix. We quickly learned to stand back and let the professionals do what they do best… execute Jewish programs.

Lesson 6: Celebrate the wins! So, with funding (almost) complete and a wonderful team of Jewish professionals supporting the effort, we finally launched the PJ Library program in Phoenix at the annual Yom Ha’atzmeut celebration. The launch was a great success and families are actively signing up for the program. The Jewish News of Greater Phoenix has already run several articles about the program and there are now more than 20 community partners working with us to make the program successful (including Jewish agencies, synagogues and pre-schools).

So… here are the stats:

            Our target audience: 3,400 Jewish families in Phoenix with young children

            Our 3-year fundraising goal: $260,000

            Funds raised to date: $190,000, enough to accommodate 1,700 families (and if we get a waiting list… we’ll go raise more money to include more families)

            Life lessons learned: 6

            Grey hairs accumulated: Jason = 4; Alison = 0

            Jewish agencies that we now respect on a new level: Dozens!

            Sense of accomplishment: PRICELESS