Once, there was a time when Jewish groups could fundraise with the pitch, ‘You’re Jewish and we’re Jewish and so you should give to us,’” said Michelle Ostroff, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Howard County.
That time may be over.
That’s because it would be a mistake to assume that everyone in a Jewish household is a Jew. A 2010 Jewish community survey of the county found that 29 percent of all married couples are intermarried, Ostroff said.
When soliciting in a community with a growing number of untraditional families, “you have to give a compelling reason for them to give that might not have anything to do with being Jewish, but has everything to do with Jewish values.”
As federations like Howard County’s raise funds for essential services in a changing community, shifting from an emphasis on tribe or religion to one promoting values has becomes central. The 2013 Pew Research Center “Portrait of Jewish Americans” found the rate of intermarriage accelerating, with 58 percent of Jews marrying a non-Jewish spouse in 2005-2013 compared to about 40 percent in the 1980s.
In greater Washington, about a quarter of married respondents reported a non-Jewish spouse, according to a study released this year by The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington. That broke down to 16 percent in Maryland, 29 percent in Northern Virginia and 33 percent in Washington.
To connect with non-traditional Jewish households, the Howard County federation is “mindful of what resonates with most people,” Ostroff said.
When fundraising for Israel, “we’re careful to emphasize the humanitarian and social services aspects of Israel. We don’t get into politics or the armed services.”
Donors must be made to feel as if they belong under the community umbrella. “The more that we can connect with who our donors are — knowing that they might not be comfortable with ‘shanah tovah,’ but they are comfortable with ‘happy new year.’”
That trickles down even to the image for the federation’s e-newsletter, which reaches 5,000 families. Should there be a shofar on the cover—a religious image? In the end, the federation went with pomegranates and honey.
“You don’t want to not be Jewish,” Ostroff says.
Ostroff knows her federation is writing the book on 21st century Jewish fundraising. But she said she’s not alone.
“Everyone’s trying to write the book on it. We’re looking at each other and saying, where’s the manual?”
Howard County Snapshot
An estimated 17,200 Jewish persons live in 7,500 Jewish households. Including 3,200 non-Jewish persons, the total number of people living in these households is approximately 20,400.
The Jewish population of Howard County has increased since the 1999 study, which found that 16,000 Jewish persons lived in 6,500 Jewish households.
Between 1999 and 2010, the number of Jewish households increased 15 percent, essentially matching the general Howard County rate.
Jewish Federation of Howard County raised $605,000 in its most recent annual campaign.
(Source: 2010 Howard County Jewish Community Study by Jewish Federation of Howard County and The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, conducted by Jacob B. Ukeles and Ron Miller.)