SARASOTA-MANATEE & THE DESERT | Virtual Events & The Power of Community Collaboration

Dec 15, 2020

Spotlight on The Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee and The Jewish Federation of the Desert. We speak with Ilene Fox, Senior Philanthropic Officer in Sarasota-Manatee and Kevin Giser, Director of Community Impact in the Desert. We learn about an inspiring collaboration of multi-Federation teams dedicated to best-in-class events with premier content, speakers, and more for their giving society level donors.

How did you start working on this cross-community collaboration?

ILENE Our Sarasota-Manatee CEO Howard Tevlowitz and the Desert CEO Bruce Landgarten had an existing relationship from JFNA in-person conferences, missions, and more. Early on during the pandemic, they knew there would be no JFNA GA this year, which is where we all originally made our national Federation relationships. I have had the good fortune of going to JFNA conferences and missions. I already knew that the best of the Federation system comes from working with colleagues. I looked forward to group meetings that COVID put a pause on!

KEVIN I mean in March 2020, Bruce asked what Zoom was. We have come a long way. To make up for the lack of in-person gatherings, we started happy hour zooms with other organizations. Then we realized that Jewish Federations could work together as well. We started with our network of Intermediate-sized Federations. We came together to see what we could do in this virtual environment, and ideas were born out of just getting together!

What problem did these events solve?

ILENE We both use Lion of Judah and Pomegranate events to thank our generous donors. We typically have cards for donors to make their gift, and these events bring in a huge portion of our campaign. Many of our Lions and Pomegranates make their gift using  the event response cards. Following the event, it is very easy to follow up and confirm the gift. In Sarasota we have 100 lions coming to the event, and that is $500,000 of our campaign right there. We couldn’t afford not to do something for our Lion of Judah and Pomegranate giving societies. A few months ago, a lot of our KDS donors got to benefit from the virtual Michael Douglass on His Jewish Journey event hosted by UJA Federation of NY. We dreamed of another incredible speaker and knew that it would not be possible unless we worked together.

KEVIN For the first time, we could do something bigger than ourselves as well. As seasonal communities facing the reality of flight restrictions, we had to step up, and step together. We are both relationships based communities. As Ilene mentioned a huge portion of our campaign comes in through the Lion of Judah and Pomegranate events. On top of that, our entire campaign necessitates gathering and stewarding gifts throughout the year, even though we do not always live in the same place as our donors year round. We need to always keep our seasonal donors included so that when they return, they still have faith in the organization.

So how did you do it? What are key takeaways and processes, applicable for Federations of all sizes?

ILENE Mayim Bialik and Jason Alexander came up as big name speaker ideas from the start. While there is no reason for Jason for example to hop on a plane to a tiny community in the middle of nowhere, we do have a reason for him to come in virtually to meet with five Federations at once! Because of the honorarium for larger speakers, we felt nervous about making this collaboration possible. We needed enough partners for the events to make it worth it for all of us involved.

KEVIN Sarasota-Manatee and the Desert we were partners from the get-go from our existing relationships. We also knew we needed to scale up, so we reached out to colleagues. Bruce sent out an email to CEOs of intermediate Federations. Through our existing personal connections, we were able to piggy-back on each other and expand. We now have seven partner Federations for Mayim Bialik and five partner Federations for Jason Alexander.

ILENE That said, we had to be careful. We had to wait until we knew we had enough partners on board before we could submit contacts of offers. We had to respect everyone’s budget and not hyperextend. To do this, we had recruiting meetings to see which Federations has serious interest. They also had to have faith in the two of us to pull this event off! We are like co-team leaders for these events. Even though it is a collaboration, we are carrying the weight.  At the same point I was nervous because we had all these Federations believe in us then we had to get the contact signed!

KEVIN To make this partnership work between so many different communities, we had to make a series of decisions that would remain consistent across the board. And, we had everyone agree to respecting these parameters from the onset. For example, we had to keep ticket price, donor level, and more standard. In this case, we did not charge for the event, and every community had to agree on that. We never made money on the couvert for this event anyway, as it always just covered the cost of the event. We both have always included Pomegranates in our Lion of Judah events, so we did that as well.

ILENE We had communities agree in writing with their invoices, since we were all responsible for one-another since we were sharing the event, and so no one exceeded budget, and because Sarasota-Manatee was the name on the contract. We also decided on universal marketing materials which made a lot of sense given the restrictions of the representatives for some larger name speakers’ agencies. Some Federations, especially the ones that are Intermediate or Smalls, do not have experience working with agents, contracts, marketing requirements, or other specifics that come along with major speakers. Because of my personal experience, we were able to streamline the process for everyone. For example, we were able to get the main photo and biography approved for marketing. Using the approved bio and photo, each Fedeeation was able to design their own invitations as long as they were sent to us for approval.

How do these events help campaign from a dollar and donor standpoint?

KEVIN For the first time, we were able to reach out to some communities with which we share residents and donors. We have some donors who are joining the event who represent TWO communities! It increases their pride to see their communities represented as a part of this event. We just had to make sure that all communities understood that we have to respect that the collaboration would work only if we respected the two gifts from donors to their two communities—not on or the other. We are not competing with each other; we are supporting each other! In Palm Springs When we ask for a gift, we also always incorporate an upgrade. We explain specifically what we are doing in the community that requires that upgrade, and why it is worth so much to each project.

ILENE In Sarasota, we use response cards which begin conversations for the gift. Last year at the Lion and Pom event, I spoke about increasing my own gift and endowing my gift, which inspired others.

We also have started conversations about TOTAL recognition for the future.

During these events, how do you “Tell the Story” of Federation, and particularly in these instances, the “Story of the Collective”?

ILENE Simone Knego is the past chair of National Young Leadership from Sarasota-Manatee. She will be the moderator for Mayim. She is a national leader who can represent and tell the story of all Federations. She also knows how to make it more personal. For example, she will let Mayim know what Federations she is talking to!

KEVIN I was able to bring Zoom expertise to the collaboration. We will have donors participate in 15-minute pre-event breakouts with their communities. It is a chance to engage and spotlight individual communities, jazz it up and make it personal. The donors will be able to see each other’s faces, see who else gives at your giving level, and celebrate each other. We also have a tradition of honoring those donors who have passed, so we will do that. In the past we have given roses to LOJEs, and we will probably mail them something. We have very motivated donors who want to attend this event. We know a lot of people are not as familiar with zoom, and so we have scheduled times for a lot of donors to practice joining Zoom events with us in advance of the main event. We will also find a way to include donors who cannot attend the virtual event, although most can, since it is virtual!

As you look towards the future, what do you hope to come of these types of collaborative events? How can we apply this model in more communities?

KEVIN These events are the new normal for collaboration and should be the normal for smaller communities. Together we can have incredible speakers and inspiration from national leaders. We can do so much. We can share board training, and work as a collective. While we said the power of the collective before, we make It real now. There were times as smaller Federations that we thought we were the only ones. Now we know, from this gift from this unprecedented situation we find ourselves in, that we can do more together than we ever imagined.

ILENE We are collaborating with new communities that we just didn’t know about before! 

Ilene Fox and Kevin Giser will join us for a zoom session to talk about these programs on APRIL 13th at 12:00 PM (ET)//9:00 AM (PT). Register below.