Soon after the newly formed Associated Jewish Charities launched, the organization sought to raise funds. It kicked off its first campaign in 1920 with a dinner at the Lyric Opera House, and a lofty fundraising goal of $500,000 or the equivalent of $6.5 million today.
In addition to helping fund its 19 agencies, one of the AJC’s first priorities was to upgrade Jewish education in Baltimore. It established a licensing bureau to create and pass on teacher qualifications, standardized salaries for educators and curriculum for students and worked with teachers to improve their skills.
The AJC initiated a second campaign in 1924 with a goal of over $610,000. Dubbed “You Give, They Live,” the campaign was designed to cover the organization’s nearly $500,000 annual budget in addition to an accumulated deficit of $110,000. More than 475 men and women volunteered to solicit 18,000 prospective donors.
“Obviously the campaign must succeed or it will be necessary to curtail the activities of every organization, which means thousands of persons dependent upon these 19 organizations will receive less of the necessities of life,” read a bulletin produced by Baltimore Hebrew Congregation promoting the fundraiser.
Four years later, the “You’ve Never Said No,” campaign commenced with a goal of $590,000. Membership had shrunk by 4,000, yet the demand for services had increased. Organizers also became more fundraising savvy.
A 1928 campaign worker’s handbook included a section entitled “Some Reasons for Refusal and How to Answer Them.” If a potential donor commented that the rich should do more to support charities, campaign workers were instructed to answer that, in fact, the wealthy did contribute a lot: 80 percent of the entire income of the AJC came from just five percent of its contributors. The handbook implored fundraisers to stress that others should carry their share: “Charity among Jews has always been democratic. It should never be limited to one group.”
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