Success Story: B'nai Jeshurun pulls off a community-wide celebration for ALL generations on Givebutter Livestream

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Success Story: B'nai Jeshurun pulls off a community-wide celebration for ALL generations on Givebutter Livestream

In this video, Amanda from B'nai Jeshurun shares how they raised $13k through a community-wide celebration for all generations on Givebutter Livestream. She also shares the unexpected benefits of being pushed out of their comfort zone and into the world of virtual events—and believe me, it definitely paid off! Amanda also chats about:

  • Why they chose Givebutter as their fundraising platform
  • How they created powerful community connections in an online space
  • What made their fundraising campaign so successful (Hint: Quick payment methods!)
  • Creating beautifully branded campaign pages: tips, tricks, and lessons learned
“If we were running this event in person, when the event was over, the giving was over. I think that happens with every event. It's very unlikely that days afterward people still feel inspired to give, but that actually happened with Givebutter. We were able to send this link out to our community members and that link was clicked many, many times which inspired a lot of giving...The celebration, regardless of what it is—fundraiser, friend-raiser—it doesn't have to end when your event ends. I think that's what's so beautiful about it.”

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Full video script

Rachel: Hey everybody! Rachel here with Givebutter. Thanks for joining for another Success Story from the Givebutter community. Today, we are featuring B'nai Jeshurun. Recently BJ raised over $13,000 with a very special Livestream event that you are going to love hearing about. I have Amanda here with me to share how BJ celebrated the power of community. She's also going to tell us what made them turn to Givebutter for fundraising, as well as tips, tricks, and lessons learned, so that every fundraiser who's watching can learn how to maximize their strategy. Amanda, thank you so much for sharing your story with us today.

Amanda: Thank you for having me and giving me the platform.

Rachel: So to start, why don't you introduce yourself and what BJ does.

Amanda: Sure! So I’m Amanda Greenawalt, I'm the Director of Advancement at B'nai Jeshurun. B'nai Jeshurun is a 195-year-old congregation on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. We are a non-affiliated Jewish organization which means we don't answer to a specific movement: reform, conservative, etc. Which means that we actually attract a huge cross section of members who have different journeys in their Judaism. Which means we have a very diverse cross section of members, non-members, and viewers. One of the things that was really powerful over the last couple of months was who we've welcomed and who we've been able to access. So we're not limited to just the Upper West Side, we've kind of hit globally. We have a new member that lives in Prague right now, as an example. It's just been—the power of virtual has been a plus for us.

Rachel: Speaking of virtual, let's dive into your Celebration of Community, your livestream fundraising event. What inspired the need for that?

Amanda: So I'm sure many can identify: your planning for the year ahead starts way, way in advance. Budgeting, revenue streams, etc. We had been scheduled for a spring benefit a year before, and that was scheduled to take place on May 13th. Our first day working from home in New York was on the 16th of March. At that point, we kind of knew that there was going to be a shift that was needed. We didn't cancel right away because we weren't sure what was going to happen, and no one knew what was going to happen in April. I think we can all say that we had no idea that we were going to get to a place where we had as many losses in the community as we had, as many cases. New York was hit very, very hard and many of our community members lost their lives and lost loved ones. It felt almost insensitive to bring the same nature of what the benefit would have been, which was honoring past leadership or current leadership, and we just needed a change. At that time, we received an email: a solicitation from Givebutter and from Ari Krasner who said, “Hey, we have this great platform. It allows you to do fundraising through different platforms and through different payment modalities,” which was what I needed to hear. Like I mentioned, we're 195 years old, and sometimes I feel like our processing is the same way. We collect credit cards and checks and wire and stock transfers, but for a generation like mine, who does everything over their phone...I don't know the last time I wrote a check, you know? I memorized my credit card number, but it's a pain to type it in all the time. What he promised was this platform where people could pretty much make a donation in seconds, and it was very appealing. So as we figured out what we were going to do as an alternative to this benefit, we started exploring with Givebutter and learning a little bit more about what the platform could do for us, with the driver being “Hey, anyone can pay in a way that feels comfortable for them.” Text-to-give I think was of great interest to us in just reaching different people. We kind of paused on what we were going to do for the fundraiser and started using Givebutter on a trivia night that we were hosting for 20s and 30s, people in their 20s and 30s. People who were not members to the synagogue and had never made a financial commitment in any way but enjoyed the programming were giving $18 and $36! I would say in a meeting, “We made $72!” Which in an organization that has a $10-million operating budget is very insignificant, but for me it represented a shift in the way that people were giving. That motivated us to think about how we could bring the community together in a way that felt communal online, provided a platform for giving, and also a way that people could share.

Amanda: One of the things that was really attractive in terms of the Givebutter giving page was the comments that could be listed once you made your donation. We really pushed and prompted people to write words of inspiration, things that they were grateful for that they took advantage of over the last couple of months. I can say confidently that there was just a level of community even without there being any one present. The giving and the community continued, even though the event was over. That's exactly what we were hoping to do. The event itself was only about an hour long. It took place online through Zoom. We then uploaded it to this page so people could watch it in case they missed it. We were able to put supporting photographs, as you can see, and some great data analytics of what we've done to support the community over this time. More importantly, if we were running this event in person, when the event was over, the giving was over. I think that happens with every event. It's very unlikely that days afterward people still feel inspired to give, but that actually happened with Givebutter. We were able to send this out, meaning this page and a link, to our community members and that link was clicked many, many times which inspired a lot of giving. As you can see there was something that happened two days ago, and this event took place a month ago. So it's just a really powerful platform. We obviously shifted the entire nature of the event, just to reflect what had been happening in the community and happening in the world, but it felt like the right move at the right time.

Rachel: Right! Well, it's sort of serendipitous that we found each other at the right time. We had just launched livestream about that time where we had connected with you. It was very much a new landscape for us and our team as well. As we're designing in real time, you're using it in real time. But as everyone can see, you highlighted so many amazing things that make your campaign really special. Your community is definitely really engaged and your entire page is a celebration of community. It's very much oriented around what everyone is doing together, the impact that's happening as a team. I wanted to highlight a couple things I noticed when I looked at the page. Like you mentioned, you already had this beautiful event that everybody who is reading or watching should definitely click and take a look. I know I have. It's great inspiration. It's nice to see what other people do and how they run their livestream events. Everybody's different, and this one was really engaging. I loved that right when it got started, it's just lively and energetic and makes you want to continue on. You also have a summary here of your event. I don't know if I’ve seen that on any other Givebutter livestream. I just thought that's genius. Why are we all not doing that? It's simple, it's to the point, it's inspiring, and it does make people want to go back and watch that and then maybe donate again. So I thought that was really, really smart. Then also you have pictures and captions, so it felt more like a total social media experience when I looked at your page compared to others. I think that's something that lots of other nonprofits could definitely learn from because it just makes you read the entire story, including those visuals throughout. Also your promo video is amazing. I'm going to share a minute or so of the video, and then I want to hear where you got this idea with the many rooms because again, it's something that's totally original. I've never seen that and thought it was so clever. So let me play about a minute or so.

Video VO Helena: What is the impact of a community like BJ? Do I have about an hour to talk about BJ? During the last two to three months, I felt BJ was able to create beautiful, virtual services and has kept me busy and active and connected to the community all day long. It's just a lovely feeling to log in every day with many of the same who come. When I see them on Zoom I know they’re OK. Quite often, when I get on I get bombarded with five or six private chats from people. My friends writing to me and asking me questions, and I think that makes me feel very connected and very appreciated and very valued. The words that I'd like to send to the synagogue are a huge thank you. Everything that you’ve done for me for 25 years, not just in the last few months, but the way in which I feel that I've been supported and have a place to go. Even more than a physical place when we were able to go to the sanctuary, I thank our rabbis, I think our Cantor, and I thank our wonderful community. I joined BJ because...

Rachel: So for anyone that's following along, I definitely would recommend that you watch the whole thing. Basically each door opens to another person's story within your community. They're all totally different, which represents the diversity of your community. I thought it really well gave me a good idea of who is a part of BJ. So what was the inspiration behind that?

Amanda: I think that whenever you're tasked with something, you have to really be clear about what the mission and the goal is of the initiative. Sometimes people get excited with the creative and they lead with the creative, like “I have this great idea and maybe we can have these doors and they open,” but the real mission was how can we share the stories with a cross section of membership, so that whoever's watching kind of sees themselves in that cross section. We did the same thing with the photos. There's a young person that's represented, who was I think four or five years old. There's a group who held a vigil outside of one of our local partners, the Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew Methodist Church, and that was in memory of George Floyd. I think that we showed that there were things happening together. One of the initiatives that we did over the last couple of months was there were a lot of “Jewish firsts” for the first time. The photo above this photo is a bunch of people in their 20s and 30s who have never made challah before, this traditional, Jewish twisted bread that you eat on Shabbat. It was so amazing to see that people participated in this way. We're so proud of this piece, of this new way of Jewish life of living at home. The first person who was featured in the video is a very wonderful woman, and one of the things that she said was “When I see people on Zoom, I know that they're OK.” I think that that communal experience exists when you're in the synagogue. You walk into services and you say, “Oh Rachel's here, that means I know Rachel's OK,” but when you don't see Rachel you start wondering, “Is Rachel OK? Is there a reason why she wasn't here?” We needed to create that space for everyone in one day, so we hosted a Zoom. There were over 400 computers on the Zoom itself at any given time. Obviously a couple people to a computer. It was a really great showing of support. We shared the video. BJ is very well known for its music historically, so we were able to feature our music director and some of our BJ musicians and vocalists in the video itself. I think one of the things that was really important in terms of coming up with the idea was what feels honest and true to what it is that we're doing? We've been strong as a community, but the strength is always going to be there and this was a moment to celebrate. Celebrate one another, celebrate how far we've come, and what work we have left to do. We also took pause at some point to recognize the people that we lost over the last three months. That's a point of celebration too because we were there and we were able to uplift one another in a time of need and a time of joy.

Amanda: I think that this page kind of lived on for us. We've never done this with a fundraiser before. About a year and a half ago, we celebrated the centennial of our sanctuary. We might be 195 years old, but our building itself was 100 years old. There was a tremendous amount of work that went into this fundraiser over a whole year's time. It was a very exclusive event, and if you weren't there, you missed out. We did have a micro-site where people could kind of see some things, and there was a journal, but it just ended when it ended. I think we learned a lot from this, from Givebutter, and from this page. The celebration, regardless of what it is—fundraiser, friend-raiser—it doesn't have to end when your event ends. I think that's what's so beautiful about it. We didn't even think about that. Tori from Givebutter asked us when she was teaching us and going through how to build the page, “When do you want the campaign to end?” I looked around at my team and I was like, “Wow, never!” I don't ever want it to end because we always wanted it to exist. We shared this on our website and through email, and we're just glad that it lives on and that other people can enjoy it. It just kind of evolved over the need and then also by incorporating the opportunity that exists. I think if we didn't have this page, there's a lot we might not have done.

Rachel: Yeah, that makes sense! Do you have any tips, tricks, or lessons learned—other than those you already mentioned—about fundraising on Givebutter?

Amanda: Tips and tricks. I think that it's helpful if you have...so when we were going to do an original event, we would have done direct solicitation to some major donors, and those gifts might have come in at $5,000 or more. I think that people historically have not given that amount when they're just giving online to an event like this. I think a tip I might offer is to plant a couple of donors you know you were planning to solicit at first. If we knew that someone was going to give $1,000 we would say, “Hey, can you get us rolling and give $1,000 to the Givebutter site so that everyone can see that you've given and it'll inspire others to do the same.” I think another opportunity—which is really wonderful—is after you make a donation through Givebutter, you have multiple opportunities to let other people know that you've made the gift. Of course, the supporters show on the side of the screen, but you can email someone and tell them that you gave, you can post to social media and say that you gave. There is this team function that wasn't appropriate for this type of event, but I think that, in the future, to let other people know I'm raising this amount of money. It feels like a motivation. But I really think the personalization of being able to do text-to-give which motivated other people to share the link. Then also to share through email or social media inspired other people to give. Again, we've never had that opportunity before. If you know that someone was interested, it just presented a whole new modality for giving.

Rachel: Right, right. I really like that you pointed out the lead gift that can often be overlooked in the rush of pulling together a virtual fundraiser, but it really does get the ball moving. I'm glad that you pointed that out. Also, it sounds like you're saying it was an integrated solution. For other fundraisers, keep that in mind. Don't limit yourself. There are many, many, many different features that you can utilize, even just in terms of the way you collect the funds. Like you said, whether that's text-to-give, a digital wallet...tons of different options for people to give and why limit it? You know?

Amanda: I think that another thing that impressed me about Givebutter is we wanted to be able to offer a ACH, Automated Clearing House, as a payment method and it doesn't exist yet through the Givebutter platform. But through a simple email I was able to say, “Hey, can you guys let me know if you're interested?” and immediately I got a response that said, “Absolutely. We’ll let you know. We're growing and we'll find more ways to do this or that.” It just felt like I could always access someone if I had a question. If I wanted to change or customize something on the page it was done almost within a day. I think when you're working with a new platform, it's a little difficult to get people on board. I will say in terms of tips and tricks, I got a little bit of pushback from some of my leadership who said “We don't know what this Givebutter is. What is that? No one's ever heard of that before.” And my argument was “At one point no one had ever heard of YouTube, and at one point no one ever heard of Venmo, and no one heard of Facebook. You just haven't heard of Givebutter yet, and at one point in time, everyone's going to be using it.” We were one of the first to push ourselves out there on this platform, and there wasn't any resistance from our community members. No one said, “I have no idea what this is. I don't know if I should give because it doesn't say B'nai Jeshurun at the top.” There was clearly an opportunity for us to brand and put colors and logos in places that made it feel like it was ours. I feel like it's a new way of doing things, and in a time where people can't gather, we have to just step outside that pocket of comfort and say “What if we just do it differently this time? Let's just try,” and I was grateful that they let us do it because it clearly was successful and now everyone's talking about it.

Rachel: Thank you for saying that. To close, I am wondering—I love to ask this question because I think that those who are listening might also wonder—what would be your word of advice to any fundraiser on Givebutter that is following along right now? What would you say to them if they're just about to launch their own?

Amanda: I would say ask for forgiveness, not for permission. Like I said, stretch beyond the pocket of comfort. Try it. If you've never done this type of fundraising before, this is the world that we're living in, and you have to get a little uncomfortable with something that's new. It's really easy to learn. It's very user friendly. It's kind of a what-you-see-is-what-you-get platform. Nothing's hidden and the second you make the change it appears, which feels really validating. I think it's okay to just go with it. I think your community, your customers, your constituents, or whoever it is you're trying to bring money in for will really enjoy it once they are in it.

Rachel: Excellent words of advice. Thank you so much Amanda for joining us today, for representing, and sharing your incredibly inspiring story. Your community is resilient and it has wowed us -- we cannot wait to see what the future holds for your team and your entire community.

Amanda: Our team is amazing. We couldn't have done it without them. Special shoutout to the Advancement Team: Jen, Nick, and Shira for making this happen. And thanks to everyone at Givebutter for making it so simple.

Rachel: Thanks, Amanda. Take care.

Amanda: Bye!

View campaign: B'nai Jeshurun's Celebration of Community

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Written By

Written by
Rachel Mills
Rachel is a fundraising and marketing consultant for nonprofits whose aspiration since she was 16-years-old is simply this: help others, help others.