Tag Archives: synagogue

Food Justice and Sustainability – From KAM Isaiah Israel to Your Nonprofit

KAM Isaiah Israel Farming ImageEven as we anticipate the beginning of summer, I am thinking back to this past Sunday, May 20, 2018.  In the Jewish liturgical calendar, the day marked Shavuot, when in ancient times, Jews were gathered up to Jerusalem for the Festival of First Fruits.  In the Christian calendar, the day is known as Whitsunday—Pentecost—the day that marks when the church was first gathered.

These holy days, however, share much earlier roots, a pagan, agrarian festival marking the first harvest of the year. Our ancestors—and we who observe these festive rites—fifty days after Passover and Easter, are ever reminded of how dependent we are upon the land and its bounty.  Food was never to be taken for granted in the Biblical era. And, regrettably, for far too many in our own time and in our own country, food insecurity is a reality.

KAM Isaiah Israel

Recently, we have engaged with a client who is doing something about it.  A 170-year-old congregation, KAM Isaiah Israel, is a city-wide Reform Jewish community in the Hyde Park-Kenwood neighborhood. The congregation was founded by the founders of Jewish life in Chicago.  It is known for its dedication to intellectual inquiry and the pursuit of social justice through action, knowledge, and advocacy.  We have been engaged with this historic community to re-envision its future and raise the funds to achieve it.

Food Justice and Sustainability

A hallmark of the congregation’s social justice program is its award-winning, nationally-recognized Food Justice and Sustainability Program begun in 2009.  Through these efforts, KAM Isaiah Israel members address basic human needs and rights—access to nourishing, wholesome food, clean air and water, healthy soil—through urban farming. They have transformed the synagogue’s lawns and others around the neighborhood into food producing micro-farms, growing fruits and vegetables while distributing the harvests to those in need.

The members of the congregation not only grow and distribute food. They also teach urban agriculture and sustainability skills and advocate for healthy, local food systems and responsible energy, land and water use. This group utilizes an annual mid-January MLK Food Justice and Sustainability Weekend, annual mid-summer Farm and Food Forest School, and new Elementary School Environmental Education Initiative to create awareness, make an impact and share their knowledge.

In addition to all the good that it does, the program is a magnificent engagement tool for the congregation and has attracted people of all ages to the synagogue.  Since 2009 more than 500 people have been involved with the program. They have educated, advocated, planned, organized, planted, tended, harvested, and delivered more 12 tons of fresh produce. The work is done by an extraordinary group of individuals—members and non, interfaith, younger and older. Consequently, the program enjoys a high retention rate and a steady, annual influx of new participants.

What can you do at your nonprofit?

Aspects of the KAM Isaiah Isreal’s program are within the ability of any community to do. While a farm may be beyond your reach, it’s not difficult to establish gleaning programs or plant trees.

With an emphasis on climate change, imagine if every congregation stopped flying in cut flowers for the bimah. Instead, they could decorate with crops they had grown or gleaned, and then donated the food to a meal program. That alone would have a big impact on energy consumption. But, this community demonstrates every day the power we all have to effect change and action.

As a result, at this season when we have just marked Shavuot—the time of the giving of the Torah—the core of our values—and Pentecost—when the church was first gathered, I think back to the shared, ancient agrarian roots of these great days.  I think about how we can address the issue of food insecurity in our own communities.  And most noteworthy, I see how we can bring people together in common cause for the good of all.

We are proud of our association with the people of KAM Isaiah Israel.  If you would like to learn more about this program and how you can start something similar in your community, contact me and I will connect you with the leaders of this great social justice engagement program.

Tis the Season for Galas and Donor Dinners

Galas and Donor Dinnersby Kerry Olitzky

It’s the season once again for galas and donor dinners. And, if staff members, volunteer leaders as well as supporters, were honest with themselves, they would admit how few look forward to these events. They consume staff time, volunteer hours and generally cost a great deal of money. Yet, they continue because they are a piece of the budget that no one wants to lose.

Here are some ways to maximize your income and exposure during galas and donor dinners:

  1. Stay away from served, sit-downs for food. They take longer, are more expensive, and limit interaction between guests. Opt for buffets or passed foods and drinks.
  2. Go easy on talking heads and frontal presentations. If you have a midweek event, most of the attendees will already have had a full day. They want to be entertained by the speakers, not listen to speaker after speaker after speaker.
  3. Stay on point. Every aspect of the program should focus on the organization and its work. That includes the entertainment, and tell a story where donors and funders are the heroes.
  4. While ad journals are effective fundraising complements for gala dinners, they are usually left behind at the event and have little “half-life” to them as a result. Some organizations and institutions have moved away from print materials to digital presentations for their ad journals. While they are ecologically friendly, they too have a limited staying power after the event. Consider developing a content-based journal that people will want to keep and use following the event. Remember to assign space on each page for donor endorsements and supporters. These content-based journals should reflect the work of the organization, as well. For example, a synagogue may want to develop a guide for daily spiritual meditation. Or, a family services agency may want to create a piece around “warning signs for opioid use and abuse.”
  5. Finally, calculate the direct and indirect time and money spent  to develop a true cost for producing the event and all its components. You may find your time would be better spent on individual donor fundraising and development where you can realize a higher yield rather than on a single event. Do keep in mind, however, the social value of creating community by such events.  In the end, it is a delicate balance.

If you choose to discontinue your fundraising event, make sure that you replace the income as well as the social, community-building element. Some donors use the event as the opportunity to make their annual gift. And, while the event  may not be profitable, those individual donors who love it may be only giving because of it.