Building a Wider Donor Base

It’s no secret that Brandeis’s fundraising is much too slow right now and that the Madoff scheme is a big reason why.  The failing economy would be a huge handicap on it’s own, but dealing with the greatest theft in history targeted mostly toward our greatest donor base has made our situation critical.  We know that the University already has an excellent fundraising department — it was only last August that we were hearing about the record amounts of money we were taking in.  Yet the obvious questions are being asked.  Is Brandeis too reliant on the wealthy Jewish community for fundraising, and if so, how can we diversify our base of support?

Jewish sponsorship has always been fundamental to Brandeis’s identity.  It is one of our four pillars, and it connects us to the Jewish community in a way that I deeply appreciate, even as someone with no Jewish background.  Thus, any steps we would take to diversification should never come at the expense of our Jewish connection.  Indeed, it is just as important to ask ourselves how we can ensure this connection stays strong.  I’ve heard that many more conservative Jewish groups have grown somewhat suspicious of Brandeis for various reasons (most notably for Jimmy Carter’s visit), and we cannot afford to lose them as supporters and donors.  Obviously, we have to balance our Jewish sponsorship with our non-sectarianism, and I’m certainly not suggesting that Carter should not have been allowed to come.  However, we must always be clear that our goal is to expand and not to replace our current base of support.

Honestly, all of these questions are far beyond my level of expertise, and I assume that any suggestions I could offer have already been thoroughly explored.  In fact, I think it’s very possible that we’re doing everything we can to expand and that the only way to grow a larger donor base is through the passage of time.  As the University matures, more families and organizations will develop personal connections with Brandeis through our alumni.  Targeted campaigns might draw donations for people or groups who want to further specific missions, but overall I imagine that it’s difficult to find communities willing to donate to a college to which they have no personal connections.

The biggest immediate concern might be the waves of negative press coming from the Rose decision.  Many alumni seem to have rallied for the Rose, and let’s hope that they still view us as worth their donations.  Still, if you subscribe to the view that any publicity is good publicity, perhaps we can use this as an opportunity in a very public forum to ask for help from donors.  We don’t want to scare off new recruits by appearing too desperate (if it’s not too late for that already), but hopefully the Rose will prove to potential donors that the stakes we are facing are very high.  I don’t think we can construct a fundraising campaign around the Rose without looking bad; people won’t like the idea of art used as cajolery any more than art used as a slush fund.  Still, it’s not every day that Brandeis draws so much national attention, and if we can use it to point out all that we have worth giving to, perhaps we can find a silver lining.