What Does Relational Judaism Mean for Camps?

by Jodi Berman

With the recent success of Dr. Ron Wolfson's book Relational Judaism: Using the Power of Relationships to Transform the Jewish Community, the Jewish world has begun to think in earnest about the ways we engage with people, and the effectiveness of what we have been doing so far.  The wisdom of fundraisers, as Ron rightly indicates, has always been that the more personal we can make experiences and interactions, the more likely we are to be successful in building relationships.

Jewish camps have a unique opportunity; as a camp professional or board member, you have many ways to connect with and get to know your donors, potential donors, alumni, and others who are invested in preserving and sustaining the Jewish future.

Here are some ways to leverage your resources to create relational moments for current and potential constituents that go beyond simple event planning.

  • Tie experiences to a childhood memory. If a donor or prospect attended your camp, see if you can find photos from her time there. If there is a tradition that continues at camp to this day, invite her to experience it anew through adult eyes. Tapping into that visceral emotion allows you to share camp in a relational way.
  • Tie experiences to a future desired outcome. If you want to build a new sports field, host an adult or family sports day at the camp.  If you want to build new cabins, walk the individual around the camp and dream together.  If you want to create something new or scale something to be bigger, connect the donor to caring about the outcome with a personal, shared experience.
  • Build opportunities for real engagement. Does your prospect have a particular passion or expertise? Ask him to invest time and effort into your project. If you engage people, they will lead.  And if they lead, they will give.
  • Ask donors to build relationships on your behalf. Whether acting as ambassadors to other potential families, communal organizations, or Foundations who can invest in you and partner with you, or simply getting your name out into the community, a donor who sells you to others, sells you to herself at the same time.
  • Connect to a person's other passions. Do you know people who are particularly zealous about environmentalism, childhood obesity, Jewish education, Israel, or any other passion? Ask questions about these issues and identify ways to connect them to the work that you do at camp.
  • Provide access to something that the person wouldn't likely get access to on his or her own. This may be other people who support you or people who can act as mentors or business connections. It could even be a Jewish ritual he may not know how to do on his own. There is nothing wrong with investing effort in a potential donor, since you are asking him to invest in you.

The more opportunities for personal and real connection, the more your relationships will be authentic. Just as you don't ask someone to marry you on the first date, you don't build a relationship with a donor by asking for money or time during the first meeting. Think carefully about how you allocate your year-round staff and board members. How might they reach out to potential donors? How might they steward existing camp donors personally and authentically? In the world of relational Judaism and fundraising, everyone has the potential to build important, meaningful relationships to the benefit of the camp.

One final note - building these relationships can sometimes be daunting because we are afraid of seeming like we have a hidden agenda. My advice is that people won't believe you if YOU don't believe you.  You must cultivate a keen and genuine interest in the people who can and do connect to your camp. It's OK to be transparent about your desire to raise funds early on in the relationship. There is no need to pretend otherwise.  As long as your enthusiasm and passion comes through, it will translate to the people you are cultivating and will have only positive effects.

Jodi Berman is the President of Berman Leadership Strategies.  She provides consulting, training, leadership development, and Executive Coaching and is the Executive Director of Synagogue 3000.  Contact her at bermanleadership@gmail.com.