Relevance. We use this word a great deal at the Jewish Federation of Howard County. Recently, a community leader asked me what it means. I thought it was an excellent question, one worth exploring.
In order for people to donate to any cause, they want to have some sort of meaningful connection to it. What is the value of the organization as it relates to them personally? Is it something they care about? Does the cause impact them directly? Does the organization affect the community in which they live? How will a donation make an impact on their lives? Would their lives be any different without the organization? Many of these questions are difficult to answer, because as a fundraiser, the hope is that “giving” is about exactly that, that nothing is expected in return. The challenge is to make the case for giving relevant.
Relevance as it relates to philanthropy is why survivors, after a health crisis, so easily rally around fundraising for a particular medical cause. It touches them deeply and personally. Such individuals want to ensure there is money for researching a cure, for treatment and for education about prevention.
One popular dictionary defines relevance as “relation to the matter at hand.” So it begs the question: At the Federation, what exactly is the matter at hand? But in the case of donors, the relevance of something might frequently be different depending on each one’s particular point of view.
We have a donor in the Howard County Jewish community who feels to her very core that much of our efforts and financial resources should be put toward the Jewish future. Therefore, Federation programs and initiatives that have to do with Jewish education and engaging young families are relevant to her. We have another donor whose passion is Israel. He was thrilled to hear we brought an Israeli representative to Howard County this year so that Israel had a name and a face. The program, implemented in partnership with the Jewish Agency, is relevant to him. And we have married donors who want to make sure their teenagers have other Jewish kids with whom to socialize. In a diverse community, having a BBYO program associate working at the Federation is relevant to them.
The Jewish Federation is not a simply explained organization. We do so much for Jews around the corner and around the world, and so the message can easily get lost. The case for giving can quickly become something amorphous to which no one can relate. When you take time to delve into what we do, however, I know that if you care one bit for this huge thing we call Jewish community, you will find something of relevance to you.
Michelle Ostroff is the executive director of the Jewish Federation of Howard County.