I am sure many of you can relate: as president of the board, I had the “honor” of making our traditional end-of-year appeal at the trustee dinner last week.  Here in L.A., most other day schools have made their trustee dinners into pure “stewardship” events to thank donors.  In recent years, we’ve gotten more grumbling from major donors that we should consider doing the same and abandoning the appeal.  After all, hasn’t everyone present already given a significant gift to be a trustee?  I had a pit in my stomach when I reached out to a few donors who reiterated they weren’t thrilled to be asked . . . again.  So how is it that, in 15 minutes, we raised close to $600,000 of new money?

It began with a clear vision of what we were raising for, including new coding and robotics programs.  It helped that, for several years, we’ve established credibility by making good on ambitious plans that get funded at the trustee dinner.

The next key to success was sharing our plans with a few key people before the event, so that we weren’t starting cold that night. Thankfully, the coding curriculum caught the imagination of a parent in the school who was inspired to make a new major gift, in the form of a matching challenge. 

When the young parent announced his gift at the beginning of our appeal, the same people who had been genuinely unexcited minutes earlier were sufficiently moved to rethink the feeling that they had already done enough. One offered $18,000 increments as long as others would match him.  This, in turn, led to two people who we weren’t sure were going to contribute at all.  A group of younger parents pooled together for a third $18,000.  Another board member offered a second six-figure matching challenge, and all of a sudden, we were more than halfway there. 

The best part for me was the help of a good friend with a quick sense of humor who lightened the earnestness of my ask. Being able to balance the passion with comedy kept the atmosphere loose so the giving flowed nicely. We sailed along, funding a new Torah Sheh B’al Peh curriculum designed by Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon and several 21st century collaborative learning spaces, exceeding our $500,000 goal and probably having more room to go when we hit a lull and called the appeal. 

I share this in hopes it may be helpful. Also, I couldn’t have done this without my fellow Wexner comrades, including Eric Edidin, who will be starting with Los Angeles 15 this summer, and Gail Katz and Yosi Finn, from Los Angeles 09.

I’m sure the issue of having an appeal will come up again next year.  Is it old school? Yes.  Does it work?  You better believe it. 

Harry Nelson is married to Dorit Naftalin and is an alum of the Wexner Heritage Program (LA 05).  They have four children, Ami, Noa, Aiden, and Leila, and a sufficient supply of single malt whisky to survive the reimposition of Prohibition. Harry advises healthcare companies on compliance and business strategy for a living.  He is board president of Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy in Beverly Hills, California, and is involved with an ever changing group of other organizations, including, most recently, Kahal Chasidim She’aris Yaakov, Eshel, and the Jewish Student Union. Harry can be reached at hnelson@nelsonhardiman.com.