ACWIS Exceeds Fundraising Goals by 25% with no Face-to-Face Meetings

Formed in 1944 to support the development of basic science research in Israel, the American Committee for the Weizmann Institute of Science (ACWIS) has raised several billion dollars in philanthropy for the world-renowned scientific research institution. A national fundraising organization, ACWIS found itself in a difficult situation at the onset of COVID-19, but was able to emerge stronger than ever with its best fundraising year to date in 2020. Read on to find out how.

Challenge

Dave Doneson, CEO of ACWIS, oversees a staff of 65, including 20 fundraisers across the United States. At the core of the team’s work are efforts to develop and maintain personal relationships with donors – work that always happened in-person. 

For Doneson and his team, the pandemic changed everything: “Over the last year and a half, everything that I knew about my business was completely removed. We had to adapt, evolve, and very quickly implement within the new constraints that were put on us.”

The inability to meet in-person presented several challenges for the ACWIS fundraisers. The most obvious issue was the need to request large contributions over Zoom, an action that felt deeply inappropriate and awkward for Doneson and his team. Beyond that, the geographically dispersed team presented a managerial problem for Doneson. Prior to the pandemic he travelled across the U.S. to join his fundraisers in meetings with donors, coaching and offering feedback. How could he coach his people remotely, all while everything he knows about his business has shifted?

Customer Profile

Solution

Once the whole team shifted to fundraising over Zoom, the strategy for success under new conditions became clear to Doneson. He had to discover alternative ways to build knowledge and share it across the team – whether positive or negative.

Shamaym’s collaborative real-time learning platform fit the bill. “The culture that Shamaym enables is all about learning as quickly as possible, knowing that it is OK to fall on your face, [but providing the framework to] get back up and keep going,” says Doneson. “I believe the core insight of Shamaym’s methodology is the correct one for continuous improvement of an organization, regardless of [the organization’s] mission. Always focusing on asking the extra question: Why are we seeing success? Why not? It forces us to have that constant internal and external dialogue, which is part and parcel of what superior teams do, whether in athletics, the military, or a business entity.”

Shamaym was a particularly good fit for Doneson’s needs because its seamless integration with existing systems allowed for a brief, six-week implementation period. “Our industry relies heavily on calendar, email, and our CRM system – where our fundraisers report on their interactions daily, something we did not want to ask them to do twice.” Shamaym’s easy to use web platform integrated with ACWIS’s calendars and email, and was further customized to operate seamlessly within the CRM. “The team at Shamaym took the time to understand our needs and made sure we ended up with the least duplication of efforts.”

Initiating an Organizational Shift 

Shamaym allowed fundamental and necessary shifts to occur within ACWIS. In the early days of the move to remote work, fundraisers hesitated about the validity of building relationships virtually. They also expressed concern about being judged by their peers or managers for the content of lessons shared on Shamaym.

The staff waited for retribution for their honesty. It never came. As individual fundraisers shared their Zoom fundraising successes on Shamaym, more people started to schedule donor meetings on Zoom. 

“Shamaym lets us amplify our strategy throughout the organization, and then learn iteratively as people scheduled and held Zoom meetings.” As staff became accustomed to Shamaym, natural resistance faded and Zoom fundraising meetings – as well as dollars – began to flood in.

Results

Record Dollars Raised through Constant Self-Improvement

In a hyper-competitive philanthropic market, ACWIS’s goal in 2020 was to raise $75 million. They exceeded their goal by 25%, raising $94 million. 

“I don’t want to underestimate how hard this was to do. Remote fundraising is the exact opposite of what our entire fundraising staff was trained to do over the last 30 years. Nobody has been doing serious solicitations and closing of gifts on Zoom. If you had told me that would happen during a global pandemic, I would have said it’s impossible,” says Doneson.

According to Donesen, using the Shamaym platform helped accelerate the closure of more than half of the largest gifts of FY2021.

Nowadays, ACWIS’s fundraisers use Shamaym more than any other tool. It offers a forum for people to talk about the work they do each day that their colleagues would otherwise not see – a place for them to share what they are proud of, and consult about issues they need help with.

“Shamaym spread like wildfire,” says Doneson. “It enables the kinds of conversations that you want your employees to have: focused on the business, focused on continuous learning, non-judgemental, geared towards more excellent outcomes, and understanding that getting there won’t be linear. New employees have been able to become part of the culture through this ongoing dialogue in Shamaym.”

“When I look at ROI, I can say without a doubt one of the single best uses of resources has been on Shamaym,” says Doneson. “It gives me information more efficiently and quickly than ever before. If I think of all the money I would have spent flying managers around that country to get that information in-person, I’m sure I’m spending much less on Shamaym to get ten times more value. Continuing with Shamaym was one of the easiest decisions I’ve made as CEO. I didn’t have to wait a year to see the impact, it was immediate.”

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