In a wireless world in which the concept of connection is changing, the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh is employing the tried-and-true phonathon as part of its march into the future.
“A form of Super Sunday goes back to 1922,” Adam Hertzman, director of marketing for the Federation, said of the annual funding drive that took place last Sunday at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh. “Back then it didn’t look like a calling campaign, because there weren’t phones. [Instead] there would have been an annual event in which they tried to get people out or tried to visit people to get donations.”
Since Federation’s phonathon began, the program has undergone many alterations. The participants changed, the calling devices were updated, and even the length of the event has adjusted. At points, the drive lasted several days. During other periods, as in recent years, Super Sunday has occupied a single day.
The goal has remained the same.
“It’s all about community,” said Jeffrey Finkelstein, Federation president and CEO. “It’s a chance for lots of volunteers to contact lots of community members and ask them to be part of supporting our communal infrastructure.”
On the morning of Dec. 18, David Jacobson picked up his cellphone and began soliciting on behalf of the Federation. Jacobson, dressed in shorts and dripping with sweat, explained that he discovered the phonathon while exiting the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh’s gymnasium.
“I was here playing basketball this morning and decided to stop in and see what’s going on,” he said.
After observing members of the Federation’s beneficiary agencies working in tandem, Jacobson praised the camaraderie.
“It’s nice to see the entire Jewish community coming together,” he said.
“In this corner there are representatives from Yeshiva [Schools], and over there, Hillel JUC,” David Chudnow, Federation’s marketing associate and a first-time Super Sunday attendee, pointed out. “Everyone is working together. It’s really exciting.”
At a table surrounded by eight of her students, Avi Baran Munro, Community Day School’s head of school, modeled calling techniques. She encouraged the students to speak slowly and clearly and remind potential donors of the many reasons to support the Federation.
“Whatever they’re connected to, it’s part of a larger community,” said Munro.
But apart from supporting the Federation’s annual campaign and ensuring that dollars raised trickle down to the beneficiary agencies, Super Sunday immediately benefits its student volunteers, explained the head of school. “This is a great opportunity for students to learn how to work for the community.” It also helps students “develop speaking skills, overcome shyness and reinforce an understanding that the Federation supports our organizations.”
Volunteers of all ages benefit by participating in the drive, said Finkelstein. “By asking people to give to support the annual campaign, we’re asking them to invest in our community, and in the process they become stronger parts of that community.”
According to Federation tallies, more than 300 volunteers had registered for this year’s Super Sunday.
Looking around at tables encircled by dialers, Emily Farkas remarked, “It’s a packed room, so that’s great.”
But what especially stuck out to Farkas was the volume of young participants.
“It’s hard to say no to a sweet little voice,” noted Farkas, who counted this year’s Super Sunday as one of several that she has supervised in recent years as a Federation staff member.
Super Sunday raised $208,232, said Hertzman, bringing the annual campaign total to $6,414,993 against a goal of $14 million. The total does not include a one-day match of $25,000 from an anonymous donor for new and increased contributions; the Federation received the entire match by exceeding the amount of increased donations.
A total of 528 people donated to the Federation on Super Sunday, Hertzman added, an increase from the 408 who donated last year. The Federation runs on a fiscal as opposed to a calendar year.
“This is an amazing way to raise money,” said Judi Kanal, Super Sunday chair. “It works beautifully.”
Look for more photos of Super Sunday in the Dec. 30 edition’s Community page.
Adam Reinherz can be reached at email@example.com.