By Cindy Mindell
In June 2014, the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford and the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Hartford launched “Aim Chai” – an unprecedented ‘think outside the tzedakah box’ campaign to build an endowment not only of money, but of ideas and volunteerism – all essential ingredients to sustaining a healthy and vibrant Jewish community for future generations. Spearheaded by co-chairs Eric Zachs and Bruche Fischman, the campaign is a collaboration of 28 area partners.
Over the past year, the Foundation and Federation have been working with 28 area agencies, synagogues, and day schools, as well as with veteran and new donors, to strengthen the Jewish communal coffers and infrastructure – to the tune of $34 million (and counting), new collaborations among organizations, and increased volunteerism.
As Aim Chai enters the second and final year of its community campaign phase, the endowment campaign leaders have been reflecting on what kind of difference the effort has made.
“People are used to annual campaigns for every cause and organization that they care about,” says Rise Roth, vice president of Philanthropy at the Jewish Community Foundation. “The idea of endowment is to help people become more aware of what philanthropy means to them and where they want to invest in the future.”
Aim Chai has fostered an increased awareness and understanding of the power of the long game, Roth says, as evidenced by the fact that some 70 percent of donors to the campaign are first-timers, and more families have set up multi-generational endowment funds. In addition, there is increased giving by board members representing the various partner organizations involved with Aim Chai.
“Board members across the entire community are really beginning to understand the difference between annual campaign and endowment and that both work together,” Roth says. “If you believe in something today, you have to believe in it for tomorrow, and vice versa: if I’m going to invest in something for tomorrow, I must also invest in it for today.”
Aim Chai’s approach can be seen as a response to the 2008 economic crisis, which transformed charitable giving behavior. “In the not-for-profit world in general, one of the biggest impacts of 2008 was that people stopped sending checks to many different causes,” says Roth. “They became much more intentional with their philanthropy: what’s meaningful to them, what they care about, and what the impact of their philanthropy will be. There’s not necessarily a decrease in the amount people are giving, but they tend to give to fewer organizations.”
Most important, Roth says, is educating the Jewish community that anybody and everybody can be a philanthropist – which is different from simply being a donor. “When you’re a philanthropist, you give a lot of thought and meaning to your gift and consider it an investment in something that you care deeply about,” she says.
For example, one of the initiatives that has emerged from Aim Chai is the Day School Transformation Fund, created by community members to encourage area day schools to work together in efforts like collaborative teacher-training programs. New community-wide adult education and leadership-development initiatives are in the works.
By establishing a culture of endowment giving and collaboration, Aim Chai has strengthened the foundation that will sustain communal agencies and institutions, says Lisa Farren, the Foundation’s marketing and communications manager. We’ve seen a shift in the community conversation: there’s a renewed optimism and hope for the future and a belief that anything is possible.”
The Aim Chai Endowment Campaign may be winding down this year, but its work will continue, primarily via the Foundation’s newly-established Center for Innovative Philanthropy.
“You always need an end to a campaign, but it’s not really an end,” says co-chair Bruce Fischman. “It’s really a beginning, because the endowment is forever.”
CAP: Eric Zachs