When faced with the problem of needing money for travel to Israel recently (I was to work for two years with Interns for Peace), I couldn’t obtain funding through any of the major Jewish organizations I called. Then the Hillel Director at my college had a suggestion: “Write to rabbis and ask for money from their discretionary funds.” Almost every congregational rabbi has such a kitty, he told me.
I sent out a total of 30 letters to Reform rabbis of large congregations. I told a little about myself, explained what Interns for Peace is, and why I needed money to go. I said that I value Reform Judaism’s stress on social action and tikkun olam, and that this program in Israel is my personal tikkun olam project. I stated how much I was trying to raise, and that any size donation would be helpful. I also offered to write for Temple newsletters, and/or speak at the synagogues upon my return in exchange for “sponsorship” (most rabbis said this was not really necessary since the money was coming out of their discretionary funds, but many still wished to be kept informed about what I’ll be doing). I also included a recent resume and my letter of acceptance to Interns for Peace. I followed up each letter with a phone call about three weeks later.
Of the rabbis I approached, only about one third said they had no funding to give me. The synagogue did not have a discretionary fund, or money from the fund was for congregants and in-city projects only, or, in a couple of cases, the rabbis simply had no interest. From the remaining rabbis, I got pledges between $25-$ 1000. I have actually received $2675, only $425 less than I said my goal was, and it is possible that I may still reach that goal.
Since I began my fundraising efforts, I’ve received suggestions to improve this process. I pass them along:
1) Include a couple of letters of reference to give the reader a better sense of your legitimacy.
2) Let the rabbis know of your own personal contribution, for example, if you’ve been working and saving money.
3) Explain that you have already exhausted all other resources you know of, and ask for suggestions as well as money.