Mindful Fundraising During Crisis
At the peak of physical fitness, I found myself abruptly sliding towards disability. The traumatic turning point occurred eleven years ago, during the Unsu kata - a Shotokan karate form that I was demonstrating as part of my 4th dan black belt exam.
I landed awkwardly after completing a 360° spin in the air and, even as the Kiai! battle cry echoed around the dojo, I felt a “snap” accompanied by a sharp pain in my back and knew that something injurious had just happened. Aided by the adrenaline still cruising through my body, I successfully finished the rigorous test and hurried for medical treatment.
After two decades of practicing karate including thousands of physical and mental training hours, and hundreds of gallons of sweat, that one single moment marked the start of a long complex journey of back struggle, painful physical limitations and emotional crises, and damage to my sense of ability. All the while I was accelerating in a demanding work schedule around the clock and around the globe.
Crack! It then happened again, not just once, but periodically when I least expected it, and this went on for years. One flawed movement and again I was incapacitated, lying on my back, anxious and frustrated.
As the saying goes, it takes darkness to be able to see the light. In my darkest hours, lying on my back with legs up on a pillow to relieve the physical, but not mental pain, I spent hours searching for a cure for the back crisis that gradually dominated my entire life.
Then came enlightenment. I recognized that I was in a cycle of re-experiencing the trauma of my past, always fearing its reoccurrence in the future. And so, my new journey of rehabilitation began, training my mind to be present in the here and now.
That is when I discovered the ancient teachings of meditation, which focuses on practicing mindfulness. From exhausting daily karate training, I began to learn the awaking power of slow, minimal movement – inhaling and exhaling. Awareness of fleeting thoughts. Mindful walking and sitting.
With mindfulness, vitality returned the quality of my life. The problem did not disappear, neither did its challenges pass, but living with it changed it and changed me. Mindfulness permeated into all aspects of my life, including my fundraising work, teaching NGO leaders to fundraise, and influenced my new book, Mindful Fundraising.
Fundraising is tough even for the most skillful professional. Asking for donations, even from the most generous philanthropist and for the worthiest causes, arouses feelings of reluctance and fear of rejection, as if we were supplicants begging a favor.
Using Mindful Fundraising principles helps free us from these inhibitors, helping fundraisers to be more effective, more successful and, just as important – to enjoy the process.
- Is rooted in the premise that the giver is no less a recipient than the beneficiary
- Exercises genuine empathy to the needs, wishes and dreams of the giver, not merely the receiver
- Harnesses awareness to work through the challenges and inhibitions involved in making The Ask
- Focuses on the peak of the mountain without losing sight of its base, balancing satisfaction from prior achievements with the expectation to conquer new heights
- Requires a sensitive understanding that as humans we are all impermanent beings driven by emotions, passions and fears
- Requires being fully present when meeting with the giver and listening to both the spoken and unspoken messages
According to the Buddhist principle of anicca (“impermanence”) everything in life is ephemeral. Flowers bloom then wither and fall. A day is cloudy, then sunny. When the COVID-19 crises exploded in early 2020, some drew wisdom from the aftermath of the 2008 global economic crisis. Although that crisis saw financial and economic collapse, decimating capital and devastating philanthropic organizations, the world recovered. In fact, the second decade of the 21st century was one of prosperity, with a sharp increase in philanthropy. If NGO leaders could have foreseen this rapid recovery, they would have been much less stressed at the end of 2008. Lacking the gift of prophecy, anicca helps us internalize the ephemeral nature of life and its crises.
Mindful Fundraising, whether during a crisis or in its aftermath, helps the fundraiser, the donor, and the beneficiaries of the donation. In fact, internalizing and utilizing mindfulness could help the entire world, improving the physical and mental health of us all.
The Best Remedy for When Things Get Tough:
GalilEat is a boutique company that brings Israelis and people from around the world to the homes of Galilee families, Arabs and Jews, for a culinary-social experience. Using home hospitality and food as mediums, it empowers women, promotes understanding among different cultures, and presents positive aspects of the complicated reality that is Israel.
This company, owned by Paul Nirens, provides employment to scores of families in the Galilee. With the outbreak of COVID19, Paul found himself without any customer reservations or income for himself or the families that work with him. Paul, who made aliya from Australia 35 years ago, explains: “We went from 70 reservations a month to zero, overnight.”
One morning early in March, I finished my routine swim in the Nazareth Sports Center. Concerned by the week’s ongoing news about the government’s increasingly stringent policies to control the spread of the coronavirus in Israel, I contacted my friend Gideon Fisher, President of the Cambridge Alumni Club of Israel.
“Gideon, the coronavirus is spinning the Israeli economy into a deep crisis. We must do something for our country. Let’s think what we can do through our alumni clubs, to help Israeli companies and organizations cope.” That morning, the עם ישראל חי (Am Yisrael Chai) initiative was born.
Am Yisrael Chai is the work of a coalition of Israeli alumni clubs representing leading universities, including Harvard, Cambridge, INSEAD, Columbia, Yale, MIT, NYU, and the London School of Business. Some seventy alumni, among the best in their fields, each donated 18 (chai) hours of their expertise and time to scores of small and medium size businesses who were harmed by the COVID19 crisis.
In fundraising, there is a saying: “The donor gets as much gratitude from giving as the recipient does from receiving.” That is also the well-known secret of volunteers. During one of our conference calls with alumni club leaders, a participant commented: "There may be some people who think that graduates from Columbia, INSEAD or Yale are inoculated against economic troubles. Of course we aren’t. We too, our families, our companies and our livelihoods, have all been hit by the coronavirus crisis. However, the best remedy for this crisis is not to panic, but to help others.”
One of the companies that was helped by an Am Yisrael Chai volunteer was Galileat. “I heard about the Am Yisrael Chai project,” says Paul, “and was paired together with Susan Fisher, a senior strategy consultant. We built an action plan for coping with the crisis for the short term, medium term, and long term so Galileat can emerge even stronger and better prepared for continued growth.”
To encourage an even larger ripple effect, Am Yisrael Chai is recognizing companies that have demonstrated innovation and outstanding corporate responsibility toward their employees and clients, with the Am Yisrael Chai Corona Crown award. These companies and organizations have shown exceptional care and concern for individuals and families during one of the most difficult times our country has suffered in decades.
Am Yisrael Chai is the ageless expression of the invincible spirit of the Jewish People, it is a call for cooperation, a call for action, a call for unity. When all around us we see reasons for concern and anxiety, it is important to acknowledge our strengths, contribute when and where possible and highlight the good that exists all around. Am Yisrael Chai!
Identity and Belonging
“What would the average Israeli think about this conference?” I was asked at the Israeli American Council National Conference last month. “They’d be critical and sarcastic, and complain about these Israelis sitting by the fleshpots of America talking Zionism and patriotism. They would resent them because it’s us paying taxes and our children serving in the IDF. But this viewpoint is a mistake," I said.
When I left Kibbutz Ramat Yochanan to study in the US, it was not traumatic—neither for me nor for the kibbutz. Unlike in my parents’ generation, which considered a member leaving (let alone moving overseas!) to be an act of betrayal against the comrades, country, and the Zionist dream.
Three and a half years and two children later, we returned to Israel for many reasons, most of them rational. But one reason was not rational: my fear that my children might start calling me “Daddy” instead of “Abba.”
In the last decade there has been a revolution, both in the old attitude from my parents’ generation and in the attitude of the Israeli-Americans themselves. This revolution is led by the Israeli American Council (IAC).
So I decided to attend the IAC Conference and learn about this revolution first-hand. Before going I told myself, “Sagi, keep an open mind. Don’t pack any judgmental attitude in your suitcase. Just be there to listen, to learn, and to try to understand.”
IAC was established about 12 years ago as a local organization in Los Angeles, later expanding to over 20 chapters from coast to coast—making it one of the largest Jewish organizations in the US. My friend David Ya’ari explained: “At a time when identification with Israel on the part of liberal American Jews is gradually decreasing, Israel’s two strongest supporters are evangelical Christians and Israeli-Americans.”
IAC is active on many levels: strengthening Hebrew, Jewish heritage and Israeli culture among younger Israeli-Americans; fighting antisemitism and BDS; and, most of all – unconditional, unapologetic support for Israel.
Beyond the organization’s activities and messaging, I wanted to understand something about the true, deeper needs that the organization meets. Naama Or, who founded and led the IAC Boston chapter until her return to Israel last year, explained: “Most of all, IAC helps Israeli-Americans create a new identity in a supportive community that connects them to the Israeli culture they miss. It gives them a greater sense of belonging. Today one can be a proud Israeli-American, proud of one’s Israeli identity, a proud American citizen, and proud of one’s unshakeable support for Israel.”
I asked Adam Milstein, IAC's Chairman, if the success of IAC as a place where Israeli-Americans could be proud Israelis while living outside the country, is a sign of failure for Israel. Milstein was unhesitating: “On the contrary, we are a strategic asset. Through us Israel benefits from an army of dedicated soldiers, willing and able to support Israel in the States.”
I returned with five insights:
First, that throughout most of history, the People of Israel has been nomadic, not rooted in one place and working the land. I was privileged to be born on a kibbutz and to grow up in a society that broke this “tradition”—but only for a brief period. Jews leaving Israel is not a new phenomenon.
Second, that everyone has the right to live in the place that suits them. IAC makes the lives of Israelis in a foreign land more bearable, and so deserves our respect.
Third, that Israel would find it challenging to thrive without the support of the USA. Israeli-Americans fulfill a vital role in the continuation of that support, complementing the traditional support Israel has received from Jews in the United States.
Fourth, that Israel must not give any of its supporters the cold shoulder. Not former Israelis, not Jews of the Diaspora, and not Christian lovers of Israel. That would be neither just nor wise.
And last but not least, I am still thrilled when my four children call me Abba!
It's a Best Seller!
“Guy, why don’t you write a book about your army service? Nobody else has ever written a book about Unit 669.”
A crazy idea! Even crazier because this conversation took place even before our firstborn began his service. He would have no time to breathe or eat—how would he write a book?
But for almost 5 years, Guy took his father’s crazy idea seriously. From his very first day at the new recruits intake base, he jotted down in his little notebook stories and anecdotes. These stories and anecdotes became chapters, chapters became a manuscript, and thus a book was born.
“Fine, Abba. At least I’ll have something to show my children, because nobody else will be interested.”
“Guy – it’ll be a best-seller!”
“Oh, like you’re objective…”
“True, I’m not objective, but I’m right. But first finish your training. Without your combat pin, there’s no point.”
After 18 exhausting and dramatic months, Guy was awarded his pin and the book enterprise became a reality. The writing itself gained momentum and soon writing became a way of life.
Guy’s discharge from the air force neared when we met Dovi Eichenwald, CEO of Yedioth Books. Nobody knows better than Dovi what the Israeli public is reading and what makes a best-seller. We showed him the manuscript, he asked a few questions and promised to contact Guy in a few weeks regarding an answer about moving forward.
As we left Yedioth Books I said, “A few weeks?! Usually it takes months for publishers to review a manuscript. Be patient, let’s wait and see.”
Five days later Guy called to tell us his good news. “Dovi Eichenwald phoned. He said that they want to publish my book. But truthfully, I'm not sure that this really happened. After such an exhausting day, perhaps I just dreamed it. I was dozing off when he called…”
We confirmed it wasn’t all a dream – Guy’s book really was going to be published by Israel’s leading publishing house!
One of our family's sayings is “The Journey is the Goal.” The process of Guy writing the book had several distinct added benefits:
When your son comes home once every two weeks from the army, dropping from fatigue, you cannot expect to get much information out of him. Parents listen closely to every bit of what their sons reveal, hoping to learn something, anything of what is going on in their life. Guy’s stories were the window through which we could peep into his world.
Secondly, as modern therapy methods reveal, it is quite well-known, that writing is a unique tool for coping with stress and anxiety. During the writing of the book, we specifically learned about some of the most difficult and emotional rescue operations, including national tragedies, while knowing that many other operations he was not permitted to discuss. Unloading his feelings via the keyboard, following the unloading of the equipment from the helicopter, was his newfound way to debrief and confront his feelings, allowing him to continue.
The first book of its kind, written in real time, the writing of From Zero to One Hundred: The Story of a Special Forces Rescue Team took almost 6 years. Now positioned on the "power shelves" in Israeli bookstores, From Zero to One Hundred is leading Israel's bestsellers list for non-fiction. Thus, a crazy idea, falling on attentive ears, has become a reality.
Now It’s Your Turn to Protect and Defend
You were born 19 years ago, during the first months that we lived in Hoshaya; for us, you symbolize our decision to make this community our permanent home. And now you too, Ari Benartzi, our third child, are enlisting in the IDF. You will join the ranks of your sister who is serving as an officer, and your brother who has just finished his service. The smell of uniforms and military sweat has yet to dissipate from your shared bedroom, and now it’s set to make a return.
The sand and dirt will return as well. When your older brother came home from the army at the end of the week, with a bag full of laundry, prohibited from telling us how his uniform got so dirty, Ima would try to guess what he had been doing by the color and smell of the grime on his uniform, just before she stuffed it into the washing machine. It looks like she will have to keep on guessing.
The night before Ari enlisted, his brother wrote him the following note:
The thought of my little brother joining the army, makes me truly emotional. You, whom I still think of as somewhere between 8th and 9th grade. And it seems as if it was only a few days ago that we were talking about karate, high school, the Ma’ale Gilboa yeshiva, watching movies and now—suddenly—you’re trying to squeeze your feet into those black boots, running breathlessly to beat the clock. My little brother is marching with giant steps into Israel’s crucible of adulthood.
For my part, I’d like to offer you some advice, even though it’s only been a few weeks since I was in uniform:
In the army, it is important to act with restraint. Even when your commander is wrong and it seems like everything is being run by fools. There will come a time when it is your turn to be in charge. In the meantime, watch closely, stay quiet, and learn
Everything passes. Even when it feels like the sun isn't rising, grit your teeth and remember the good times, and keep on moving. Remind yourself that there is nothing that hasn’t already been done, and people weaker than you have made it through what feels at that moment, to be impossible.
You must have already heard me say this, but you finish the army with three things: scars, friends, and experiences. Try to avoid the first as much as you can. The second you will gain in ways you cannot yet even imagine. And as for as the third, they begin as burning pains and freezing cold, but later on they become transformed into unique experiences that few people in the world can claim.
Brother, walk through the gates of your new base with your back straight and your head down, as befitting of a new recruit to the toughest unit in the IDF. I hope you enjoy every moment (including the suffering), and please don’t forget, when you get your few minutes of free time in the evening, after you have finished with your call to Ima and Abba, to phone your roommate of 18 years. I’ll be waiting.
Much love, Guy.”
Ari, the State of Israel is a miracle of modern age and almost impossible to explain in rational terms. It's difficult to even perceive its greatness from here on the inside. To attempt to understand the period in which we have the privilege to live, it is helpful to take a step back and see it through a historical lens—from a metaphysical perspective. This way, we can begin to see the form of this marvel emerge, gleaming and shiny, from under the layers of criticism, cynicism, frustration, and exhaustion that are so characteristic of day-to-day Israeli society.
But this is a wonder that needs to be guarded, and the privilege of being part of it comes with a price tag. And now it’s your turn to protect and defend. We’re proud of you, becoming a new link in the multi-generational chain of those who bear this burden and keep our beloved country safe, and in the same breath we also want to remind you to first and foremost, keep yourself safe. May the Lord bless you and safeguard you. May the Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you. May the Lord turn His countenance to you and give you peace.
Go in Peace, and Return in Peace,
“Ultimately, the aim of karate is to make us better people. In karate, we seek constant improvement. We always aspire to be a bit better than we were the time before… that’s why karate doesn’t have a rank of 10th Dan… the search for perfection is like walking towards the horizon…”
A group of sweating children standing before me. Kicking, blocking, punching, shouting… They have heard these words repeatedly from me. Sometimes I thought that they did not understand what I wanted from their young souls. After all, they came to karate practice just to learn how to fight… or so I assumed.
Ten years later. Palmachim Air Force Base. The end of a training course for an elite unit in the Israeli Air Force. One of those units that bear the heavy responsibility of defending the narrow skies of the State of Israel.
Two weeks earlier I had received an unexpected text message from O., a smiling blond 22-year-old from Hoshaya. I had been privileged to teach O. karate for 10 years, during which time he had excelled and had even become a karate assistant-instructor himself. O.’s text message read: “Sagi, as our course comes to an end we have been asked to invite people who have been influential in our lives to a special evening at Palmachim. Would you be able to come?”
It was scheduled for the evening before I flew to the USA, so the timing was not exactly ideal, but how could I refuse such an invitation?!
I arrived at the Air Force Base with my son Ari, who will soon be drafted into the IDF. Every graduate of the course had invited someone who had influenced his life. In total we numbered some twenty “influencers,” one of whom was a Holocaust survivor and the grandfather of a graduate. In a meeting with Brigadier General S., the base commander, we were all very moved as we listened to the grandfather describe in a quavering voice the direct line from the Nazi death camps, which he had barely survived, to his grandson, who was about to serve at the vanguard of a proud, confident Jewish army.
At the reception (chocolate truffles on an army base?! Only in the Air Force!) we met Major M., O.’s direct commanding officer. I asked Major M. what characterized O. He answered, “Throughout the entire course, O. sought perfection… he always tried to be a bit better than he had been the time before… the principle that guided him during exercises was that of constant improvement…”
I listened to the commander’s description with a broad smile of pride and satisfaction on my face. Major M. did not understand why I smile. But O. himself understood my proud beam very well. He explained to his commander: “That’s exactly what I heard Sagi say, over and over again, for almost ten years when he was teaching me karate. The seeds he planned in us during karate practice are bearing fruit now, in the army.”
I asked the Major to repeat his words and videotaped it to show O.’s parents, who had encouraged, supported and helped him with every step he took along his path. And to myself I said in thanksgiving: “Indeed, these are blessed seeds. Happy is the people whose sons are such as these!”
Prayer, Charity… and Selling a Used Car
“Listen, Ali, it’s Ramadan, your holy month. On the Muslim holiday of Ramadan, as on our Yom Kippur, the Gates of Heaven are wide open and prayers are more likely to be answered. You pray in Arabic, I’ll pray in Hebrew, and with God’s help, someone will want to buy Betsy’s old car.”
There are those who enjoy selling used cars. I am not one of them. Once my wife’s car celebrated a decade of existence and began to groan, “It’s time to sell me,” we bought her another car and I asked Ali Abu Rumi, our dedicated mechanic who is renowned for his exemplary customer service, to sell the old one for us.
Weeks went by and not one buyer called. It was a Friday when Ali called to update me in pessimistic tones: “Sagi, I don’t know what to tell you. I took your vehicle to all kinds of public areas and put a big "For Sale" sign on it, but not a single prospective buyer called. There’s nothing to be done. The used car market is very weak at the moment. It’s tough to sell any used car, let alone one as old as yours… If you like, I can give you a few thousand shekels for it if you’re anxious to get rid of it.”
I was almost tempted to sell it to him for a nominal sum, but then I decided not to give up and suggested getting God involved – after all, who can help if not HaShem?
“But Ali,” I added after I suggested praying, “it’s not respectful to bother our God (whom we call different names but who, it is reasonable to assume, is the same deity) with something as trivial and unimportant as selling a used car. God is very busy with far more important matters, so if we want help from heaven, we must pledge to give charity.”
So on that Friday I pledged that if we sold the car for a reasonable price, I would make a donation to a charity to be determined by the two of us.
The next day, about an hour after Shabbat ended, Ali Abu Rumi phoned me at home. “Sagi, you won’t believe it! I prayed and God answered. I had taken your car to Hoshaya to pick up another vehicle for servicing. I parked it for 5 minutes at the side of the road, and half an hour later I got a call from someone who wanted to buy it – a neighbor of yours called Tsur!”
And that is how my neighbor Tsur came to phone us to buy Betsy’s car for his daughter. A short negotiation was sufficient to reach agreement. The next day the car was sold and ownership transferred, to the satisfaction of all involved – including those who received my donation.
And I draw three conclusions from this story:
One: Never despair, even when selling a very used car in a very weak market.
Two: Nothing is better than giving charity for advancing a cause up on high.
Three: When a Muslim and a Jew pray together, especially on a Shabbat in the month of Ramadan, the prayer resounds more loudly than two prayers said separately.
Teaching Navy Seals to Swim
“You want me to teach Chabadniks to fundraise?! That’s like teaching the Navy Seals how to swim! They should be teaching me!” I said, astounded, when approached to lead a fundraising workshop for Chabad emissaries.
A couple of weeks before Rosh Hashana, I waited for my suitcase at Munich Airport with other El Al passengers. The wait lengthened and passengers started to get impatient. Next to me stood Oren, a young Chabad emissary, with his wife and seven children. Seeing the “captive audience,” Oren pulled out a shofar and confidently announced, “We’re in the middle of Elul, the month of Selichot (forgiveness), the perfect time for tikkun (repair),” then blew a long, piercing tekiya. As the shofar blast echoed around the German airport terminal, I watched the faces around me. Almost every expression changed from irritation to tolerance, from short-tempered to smiling.
While he stuffed his shofar back in his bag, I asked Oren where they were going. “We’re heading back to a remote area of Mexico.”
“How do you support yourselves?”
Oren glanced at his wife. The rebbetzin, smiling, answered that for the first few months they almost starved, eating only fruits and vegetables. Then the miracles began and now they are fine.
That is one of the secrets of Chabad: each emissary is self-supporting, relying on work, business initiatives, and donations. The parent organization provides virtually no funding. When a university, hospital, or any other fundraising organization considers sending someone overseas, it must earmark money to support the fundraiser. Whereas Chabadniks first fly to their destination (at their own expense), start their work, and then… God will provide. And in most cases, God does indeed provide.
The thousands of Chabad emissaries constitute by far the largest fundraising organization in the Jewish world, motivated, for the most part, by a powerful faith, a sense of mission, and trust in divine providence and miracles.
I did not always appreciate Chabad. Their "Mitzvah Tank" that would come to Hoshaya and blare “Mashi’ach!” down the street, irritated me. The Chabad passion for spreading Judaism everywhere and at any time, did not always square with my secular kibbutz upbringing.
But over time, I learned to appreciate and even like them – largely thanks to family trips abroad. When we needed kosher food and a place for Shabbat or holiday – we could always rely on Chabad. After a while, my children would ask to join them for a Shabbat. It was part of the vacation experience.
Chabad provides far more than just Judaism. When an Israeli is robbed in Argentina – Chabad helps. When an Israeli gets into trouble on a trek in the Himalayas – Chabad emissary comes with the rescue helicopter. Chabad emissaries provides assistance in places where no other Israeli or Jewish organization is found – not the Foreign Ministry, not the Mossad, not a Jewish Federation.
More than 4,000 Chabad emissaries worldwide, without institutional support, wrestle for every Jewish soul. Y., a leader of a major Jewish community in the USA, told me: “A few years ago we built a beautiful Hillel (home on campus for Jews in universities) for $5,000,000. Today the Hillel is half-empty, while Chabad has just built their fourth Chabad House, in a part of the city with hardly any Jewish families. In a few years there will be lots of Jews there…”
We cannot yet fully assess the influence of Chabad on the Jewish people. But it is clear that Chabadniks are at the forefront of the modern struggle to safeguard the Jewish spark around the world. Their way is warm and inclusive, and has proven itself successful.
And of course – we can all learn a lesson or two from them - about fundraising.
The Gift Benefits the Giver more than it Benefits the Recipient (a Jewish proverb)
“I always considered fundraising to be schnorrering, like begging. something unworthy, something that diminished my honor. I went out of my way to avoid doing it, even when I knew it was necessary. But after I read your book, Fundraising: The Practical Guide, I turned my opinion around 180 degrees. Now I’m not just willing to fundraise - I’m eager,” said Zeev, a Department Head in an Israeli hospital.
At a fundraising seminar for Chabad Rabbis, Yitzhak, an articulate young rabbi who heads a Chabad institution in Tel Aviv, raised his hand tentatively. “I have a confession: When I wear my congregational rabbi hat, I feel proud, confident, respected by others. But when I’m obliged to wear the fundraiser hat, I feel less respected and less proud of myself.”
When Shulamit, Director of fundraising for a large educational institution came to me for a consultation, I asked her to role-play and ask me for a significant donation to build a new building. She spoke fluently and knowledgeably. After a few minutes, I asked her to stop and instead share a moving personal story with me. After an initial hesitation, she opened her heart and told me of her hopes and dreams for her beloved daughter. This time her eyes sparkled with emotion. Her care and enthusiasm were evident in every word.
After she finished I said, “If you speak about that building with the same enthusiasm and emotion you displayed when you told me of your dreams for your daughter, your enthusiasm and commitment will be infectious and you will be a far more effective fundraiser!”
Which brings me to Henry, a billionaire who defines his primary purpose in life as “the business of finding additional opportunities for giving.” Henry speaks often of the joy and satisfaction he derives from his donations (which are very generous), from his meetings with recipients, and from feeling privileged to improve the lives of others, to contribute to creating employment opportunities, to improve the environment, and much more. “Sagi, you don’t know what a pleasure that is for me! I wish I could do more. Donating is a source of satisfaction for me far above anything else that money can buy!”
To look directly at the person in front of you, to describe (briefly and to the point) the activities, challenges, dreams, and possibilities, to explain the need and how to respond to it—and then to invite the potential donor to join you in fulfilling the dream and doing good in the world—is simple in theory but, for most people, very difficult in practice. Again and again I meet people who are experienced, wise, and respected in their fields, yet for whom asking for donations is torturous. At a seminar in a hospital I asked the doctors, “What’s easier for you: asking for donations, or telling a patient they’re terminal?” Guess their answer…
So how does one overcome the difficulty of asking for donations, and even learn to enjoy it? Five recommendations:
1. Remind yourself how much good can be done with the gift you are about to request, and that you are giving the donor the opportunity to participate in this worthy endeavor.
2. Be a donor to the organization yourself. After you have given your own money, it will be easier for you to invite others to do likewise.
3. Remember the satisfaction you felt when you yourself gave a donation, no matter the sum. If you enjoyed donating, why would you deny that pleasure from others?!
4. Keep reminding yourself that you are practicing a sacred calling that benefits society/the country/the entire world.
5. Remember: the worst thing that can happen is they say “No.” Then you just smile and say, “Thank you.”
*All names are Pseudonyms
What Would Ima Do?
A couple raises four children. They wake the children in the morning, check their schoolbags, make sandwiches, go to all the parent-teacher meetings (well, to most of them), clean up after them, buy them winter coats and summer sandals, peep in on them while they sleep, comfort them in the middle of the night after a bad dream, take them to the doctor, drive them to extracurricular activities. Sometimes they are angry with them, sometimes proud… but they always care, always concerned, always love.
Sometimes the children listen to Abba and Ima, and sometimes they don't. And sometimes they do not seem to be listening but it turns out they listened after all. Ima tells her daughter repeatedly: “Make your bed, clean up after yourself, how come you didn’t clean up…“ and it seems to be a lost cause. But ten years later, her daughter comes home from her army base for Shabbat with her officer ranks on her shoulders, and after she has returned to the base on Sunday morning, Ima discovers she has left her room so neat, you might think it had been cleaned by a chambermaid at a 5-star hotel.
But at some point Ima and Abba understand that raising children does not involve reciting a list of Do’s and Don’ts. That what they preach does not have much value. Instead, value is found in the signals parents convey via what the child sees, hears, feels, and understands. The things Ima and Abba actually do. The values they truly espouse.
Ima wakes up early every morning to run in the fields. Twice a week she leads a running group of women who had not believed they were capable of running until they met her. And suddenly these women are really running, rain or shine, amazing themselves and their families. Sometimes Ima comes home from a morning run limping a bit. “How far did you run this morning?” asks Abba. “Not much. About 20 km,” Ima answers and goes off to organize the house.
Then one day Ima has a birthday. Their four children prepare her a present: a journal to record her ideas and dreams. And in the journal each child writes a dedication to Ima.
The younger son, who is enduring a physically and mentally rigorous military training, wrote:
“This week, while I was swimming across the gulf at night … after a very long and challenging swim, when I felt like there was no more oxygen left in my body… I thought of you, Ima. About how you take upon yourself challenges that at first everyone thinks are impossible but then, after you met those challenges, they seem almost easy… I thought of how you always strive to improve… and then – I got a cramp in the middle of the swim! The thought ‘What would Ima do?’ popped into my head. Ima would definitely have thought – of me. And that’s what I did. I thought – of you. I thought very hard about you, and about other things that are truly important to me, and I kept on swimming until my cramp subsided.”
For 19 years Ima raised her son. She prayed for him, wondered what from everything she has said and done, he keeps in his heart. And when he is exhausted and has a muscle cramp during a night swim training, he looks for a meaning, a reason for what he is doing and the strength to keep on swimming – so son asks himself: “What would Ima do?”