Last week I attended a seminar of college directors and Jim Ward, the Interim President of the Phoenix Symphony and John Graham, the president of Sunbelt Holdings, and a board member of the Phoenix Symphony, the ASU Foundation, and dozens of other boards, spoke on the topic of development, fundraising, and the importance of transparency in the financial dealings of the organization that one is trying to raise funds for.
The basic recipe for success in fundraising is based upon building trust with donors by showing them a detailed picture of the financial status of the organization one is trying to raise funds for, making everyone understand the needs of the organization, and explaining why the organization is important, vital, to the well being of the community.
Pardes’ failure to be transparent in their financial dealings, their failure to make their IRS 990’s available to donors, means that the donor has no idea what is going on and it is possible that the donor may be donating to an organization that may well be on its way out of business. Now in practicality, I am sure that Pardes makes this information available to a major donor who would want to see this information. But the fact of the matter is, the giving matrix is a pyramid, with very large donors (usually one or two) near the top of the pyramid, and then the base is made up of many mid-level and smaller donors. By not being forthright about their financial status, the smaller and mid level donors are disconnected from the process, and generally, the apathy about giving is accompanied by the thought that if one does not know what is going on, the the one or two larger donors will step forward and therefore, my money is not needed.
Four years ago, when I served on the Pardes development committee (before I stepped down over the corruption at the JTO and Pardes’ continual membership in the JTO), I, and several other members of that group brought up the need to initiate an endowment campaign, but this was not a priority at that point in time, and it was a mistake made then and really sad that no progress has been made on that front. The FAQ that came home last week is the first time that I have ever even seen the concept of an endowment mentioned publicly. My guess is that Pardes probably lives hand to mouth, hanging by a thread financially, and the reason that they do not disclose their financial status is that they are fearful of what people would think if they knew the truth. Unfortunately, all private schools are having a difficult time, and I think that if Pardes would be more transparent about their finances, they would have an opportunity for everyone to understand their needs and for everyone who loves Pardes to step forward and contribute. Otherwise, aside from that warm fuzzy feeling you get from giving to a Jewish School, donating to a school that hides its financial status is like giving money to a marginalized individual who is panhandling and tells you he won’t spend the money on drugs.
As a note, JSA and the Federation disclosed their IRS 900 forms, and they should be commended.
The issue of transparency extends to other areas as well. How many parents of the 40+% of the students who are Reform Jews are in favor of Pardes becoming Pluralistic? How many Rabbis in the Reform movement here in Phoenix think this a good idea? Where is the public display of support for this? Why does debate, which essential for the success of Pluralism to succeed (as identified on the Ravsak site), find a deaf ear at Pardes?Why does Pardes, which has, with their JSA merger, done everything to stifle debate? Is debate only healthy when the debate goes your way? I continue to urge all parents who want more information about this, or members of the donor community who have question, to vote with your pocketbooks, withhold donations, tuition payments, and re-enrollments (and evaluate the many fine public school alternatives) until the community gets a better picture of what will go on at the new, improved Pardes.