Established in 1901, the original purpose of the Jewish National Fund (JNF) was to enable the purchase of a Jewish state. Its early fundraising techniques ranged from the sale of JNF stamps and memorial trees planted in Israel to blue collection boxes placed in Jewish homes. The organization has been highly successful during its 106 years, playing a vital role in land-acquisition efforts, community development and the afforestation of Israel. But a good deal has changed over the course of its history and so, too, has JNF.
In addition to traditional projects, such as tree planting, the organization today conducts extensive advocacy and education campaigns and spearheads diverse ecological initiatives in Israel—everything from sustainable watershed development to fighting desertification. Importantly, JNF’s marketing department has played a vital role in the foundation’s transformation, spreading the word about its environmental leadership and continuously mining another resource that’s not so easily renewed: loyal donors.
“Our history is a plus and a minus,” says Linda Wenger, JNF’s director of marketing and communications. “Every time you tell the story, people are moved by it. But what does that have to do with people today and how do you turn that into dollars for new projects? It’s been our mission to change the perception of the Jewish National Fund with the Jewish population across America.”
Building for the Future
The challenges JNF has faced in achieving this goal are numerous. Just four years ago, the organization’s average donor was over 65 years old, says Wenger. These were primarily people who came to JNF to purchase trees planted in Israel to memorialize loved ones who had passed away. And while these individuals were an important part of JNF, the organization knew that, alone, they did not provide a solid foundation on which to build a dynamic future.