By: Melissa Bienenfeld
MyTzedakah staff in Conversation with Rachael Fried, Executive Director of JQY
Melissa: What have you done as an organization to engage “next generation donors” to care about giving to JQY?
Rachael: At JQY we generally don’t frame supporting us as “tzedakah”. When you support JQY, you are building a community and joining the movement to create something beautiful with us. The community we serve is often overlooked, but it is one that we believe deserves to be celebrated. We like to focus on the community building aspects of support, rather than a charity case. We also truly believe based on our own experience and based on research trends into Millennial giving, that the next generation donor wants to work collaboratively and be a part of something bigger. That’s why trends in crowdfunding have taken off so well- because we (Millennials) want to join together, use all our collective resources and make change. Our donors become part of the JQY family, and by treating them as such, we have found successful ways of engagement.
Our core mission is to empower JQY members, and by allowing others and potential donors into our community, we are opening ourselves up to celebration, support and community expansion- that’s what it’s all about.
Why is it important for you to engage young leadership and what are the most effective ways of doing so?
Engaging young leadership is what we are all about. Not only do we serve youth, but our donors are primarily Millennials and younger. It happens to be a generation issue that makes it more likely for someone under the age of 40 to care about and support our cause. Without our younger donors, well, we just wouldn’t have that many donors. Our most effective ways of engaging donors is by empowering our members and alumni to share their personal stories. When personal stories are shared, they become ambassadors for our cause, this is our most effective storytelling and engagement tool.
How do you envision Jewish Philanthropy changing in the next 20 years?
I think we live in a subscription society- the things we used to just buy, we now subscribe to on a monthly basis (think Spotify, Citibike, and Zipcar).. Why shouldn’t our philanthropy follow this trend? That’s why initiatives like MyTzedakah are so important. Jewish philanthropy is often still based on dated tools.The sooner we embrace these technological tools, the easier it will be for us in the long term. For an organization like JQY, we are excited to embrace any type of innovation that comes our way and we hope you join us in the movement to bring technology to the ancient and timeless Jewish value of tzedakah.
In addition, just like media and tv has evolved (think about Queer characters on tv shows like Friends versus Greys Anatomy), we envision the Jewish world evolving in support of our life-saving work. We are confident that our future is bright and can’t wait to see what we accomplish together.
What are your biggest strengths and challenges in fundraising?
I would say that our strength and our weakness are one of the same. We have very few larger donors- the vast majority of our budget is made up from many smaller donors. On the one hand, this means that we do not rely on any single donor who could easily pull funding. On the other hand, the more large gifts we bring in, the more programming we are able to provide.
If you knew that a significant portion of your yearly budget came from smaller donors that were recurring on a monthly basis, how would that transform your fundraising strategy and operations?
Most people may not realize that cash-flow can be a real struggle for smaller nonprofits. There have been times over the course of our history where we knew we had money coming in, but practically we needed that money sooner than it came into the bank (like a pledge for a donation or a grant supporting our work). If I knew that our budget was evenly split over the course of 12 months, and came in similar to the way one’s salary comes in, we would be able to effectively plan in a way that would transform our operations.
In addition to that, when a donor commits to us monthly, even at a smaller amount overall, that is the biggest compliment to us. It means they ideologically support our work and want to see us succeed. When we have people celebrating us, and cheering us on, that gives us all the strength in the world to continue building up this community.
If you had an unlimited budget, what is the next project JQY would pursue?
My dream is national expansion, with real community centers where we could support and provide programming all over the country – and continue our virtual programming for people in more remote communities. In addition to that, we want the Jewish Orthodox community to view us as a resource. We have particular expertise in mental health support as related to the Queer Jewish community. Leaders need to understand where they can help, but more importantly, where they cannot help, and to turn to us for guidance. So often, Orthodox institutions call us for help, but don’t want anyone to know that they have used us as a resource. My dream is to work proactively and productively with all these institutions with public support from the community, maybe even having club hours at day schools.. If I had an unlimited budget, that is the network I would aim to build. Our goal is not inclusion to the point of no longer needing to provide resources, we always want to offer something special to our population, as we have unique needs. But we do want to work together and productively with the wider community in celebration of that uniqueness.
You serve a niche community- what message do you feel needs to be heard to help people understand the importance of your mission?
Many people don’t understand how critical the work we do at JQY is. We have heard people time and time again say things like “well if Orthodoxy is so bad, why don’t they (queer teens) just leave?” What is missed by this question is that they can’t just simply leave. A closeted 14 year old cannot just tell their Orthodox parents that they would now like to attend a non-Orthodox school or synagogue.
More importantly, they should not have to leave. There are those who are fighting and will do everything they can to remain a part of the community that they love and call home. And there are those who fight to leave and live their lives elsewhere. Regardless, this is not a choice that anyone should be forced to make. If our answer to a teen who is facing rejection is the binary choice of either being queer or Orthodox, we are not doing our job to empower future generations, we are not building a stronger Jewish people, and we are not treating our youth with the dignity and respect that they deserve as human beings.
We need to make sure that no Jewish teen, from any denomination, has to think that they can’t tell the people that they love who they are. And no one should ever need to leave their own home in order to feel pride.