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If you don’t help…

This weekend Jews celebrated their silliest holiday. Not that the story of Purim itself is silly, an all too familiar story of an evil man who tries to annihilate the Jews in his country. Of course you know the outcome. The old joke about every Jewish holiday… they tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat.

Purim however is unique in how we are commanded to celebrate; to get so drunk we can’t tell the difference between Mordechai (the hero), and Haman (the bad guy). Kids dress up in costumes, like Halloween but with the emphasis more on heroes than on ghouls. We also send gifts of food (of course) to friends, give tzedaka (loosely translated as charity…more on that in a future post), and have a feast (of course).

There is an amazing lesson for fundraisers embedded, almost like a journalist, in the heart of the Purim story. The full story is in Megillah Esther, the Scroll of Esther. In short, it goes like this: The king’s wife disobeys him and he decides he wants a new Queen. Mordechai talks Esther into applying for the job, and she gets it. Mordechai also overhears a plot to kill the king and exposes it. The King’s evil chief of staff doesn’t like Mordechai or the Jews for a variety of reasons and talks the King into a proclamation allowing them to be killed. Mordechai talks Esther into convincing the King to change his mind. Not only does the King do so, but realizes how evil his chief of staff really is and has him hanged, along with the man’s 10 sons.

Of course, as in all things, the lessons are found in the details, not the summary. A good reason to read the book instead of the Cliff Notes, or Spark Notes. In this case the detail we are looking for comes from Mordechai’s approach to Esther.

I could tell you that when Mordechai tries to convince Esther to save the Jews, he takes the straightforward approach, the one that most of us might consider. “If you don’t save the Jews, we will all die.” There. Straight, To the point. Guilt laden. What more could you ask for? Perfect for the fundraiser too. “If you don’t help us build the new community center, generations will live without it”. Of course, I can’t tell you that that is what Mordechai said, because he didn’t.

Instead, Mordechai takes a different approach. Perhaps a bit bizarre when you first see it. He says to Esther, “For if you remain silent now, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place … (Esther 4:14).

Of course! The old, “if you don’t do it, then no big deal” approach. “We don’t really need your help, but we’re asking anyway.” Excuse me? Where is the power in that? How is that going to compel involvement?

Last week I met with a board of directors that is looking to build a community center. At that meeting I was asked about a member of the community, not /component/option,com_jcalpro/Itemid,28/extmode,flyer/date,2300-10-01/”>cialis 20mg tablets present, who happens to be well connected and thinks he can raise most of the funds without professional help. And if the project becomes too big, then not only won’t he fundraise, he won’t make a gift himself. “How will you work with him?” I was asked.

I told the story of Mordechai. Just as the Jews were saved, the community center will be built. This man will need to make a choice as to whether it will be built with his help or without it. Like Esther, most volunteers and donors, want to be a part of something bigger than themselves. They want to be remembered for doing something rather than be forgotten, having done nothing.

Will some say “no thanks,” or take their money and go home? Of course they will. Not every donor or volunteer you try to engage will want to be a part of your plans. But it is human nature to want to be a part of big plans and to be remembered for our contributions to successful projects. It’s been that way for more than 2000 years. Read all about it in the Book of Esther. In fact, on Purim, Jews are supposed to listen to it not once, but twice. The whole megillah. Perhaps that’s why they are such good fundraisers.