Finally, an English speaker! That’s the response I heard when I answered my cell phone
“Finally, an English speaker!”
That’s the response I heard when I answered my cell phone and said hello, as I walked down the street in Jaffa, Israel that day. He was a 73 year old man living int the US, and he had decided to explore supporting worthy philanthropic projects throughout Israel.
His particular passion is to support Israel’s young people through higher education, especially in the fields of math, science, and technology. At the suggestion of an indirect contact, he called the engineering college where I was on staff, only to encounter a number of professionals with poor English capabilities.
When they referred him to me, he was so relieved to learn that we shared a common language. While I was on my way to a meeting in the Tel Aviv area that day, I did have some time, so I sat myself down on a bench and had an hour long phone conversation with my new friend in America.
He was interested in potentially supporting students with tuition assistance. It seemed he was new to institutions in Israel and exploring the possibilities for collaboration. Not one to rush into anything, and a shrewd businessman, he spoke, he listened, and we decided that I would follow up by sending him some information via email.
I followed through. And that is not something to be taken for granted. Amidst the cultural differences between the US and several organizations in Israel, is the approach to customer service. I saw this potential friend and college supporter as a customer, one seeking a product or a project in which to invest his philanthropic funds. And I could tell by the way he described the latent cognitive talent imbued in Israel’s gifted students that this was someone who wanted to see return on his potential investment.
He intended to invest in Israel’s future, one student at a time. Not only did I speak his language in the literal sense, but I understood that I needed to provide the customer service and representation of my organization in a way that met his expectations.
Together, we were building trust. And friendship. This was the path to a gift that will stand the test of time.
The most surprising thing I learned about him through our hour long phone conversations throughout the year was that he had yet to ever step foot in Israel. We continued our conversations, and we became real friends. And at one point toward the end of the year, he told me that a fellow philanthropist had suggested that donating and naming capital projects was really “the way to do it.”
When he told me that, I shifted gears and told him about a number of capital projects we could offer at the college. I spoke about an engineering lab, as well as an auditorium. And the weeks progressed as we continued to discuss the possibilities. And then he asked about the entire building. We were constructing a completely new classroom and student services building, and we needed funding for it. And through a year of earnest conversations, he decided to make a major gift to name the new building.
I asked him why, since he’d never been to Israel, would he invest so much in supporting projects at several institutions there. His answer was brief, but ever so meaningful. He said, “You know, I may not have yet visited Israel, but I know who I am.”
Throughout our acquaintance, we came to know one another, and he felt confident that our collaboration would be a good match, based on the respect, patience, transparent communication, sharing of ideas, follow-through, and real dialogue we had. These are just some of the many basic requirements for donor relations between Israeli non-profits and supporters, be they in Israel or abroad.
The gift is now fully paid after a number of annual installments. The building is magnificent, and the students are thriving. Every time I’m in his neighborhood, I visit with him. I don’t ask for more support. I report back to him, and I catch up with and visit my friend. He may keep our college in mind for his legacy.
It’s not for me to decide, of course.
But building the solid and lasting relationship with him has brought us to be family. And through his support of his new family in Israel, his legacy will live on indefinitely.