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Client Case Study: Bridging the Gap for Sefaria

Logo with the words Sefaria: A Living Library of Jewish Texts

The Client: Sefaria

Sefaria, a nonprofit organization that functions more like a tech startup, is dedicated to building the future of Jewish learning in an open and participatory way. In 2018, their team consisted of about 20 full time employees who mostly work remotely across the United States and Israel. That year, their website drew more than 1.2 million people to their free, ever-expanding digital library of Jewish texts and their interconnections.

The Challenge: “We Didn’t Want a Lame Duck Year”

In late 2017, the team reached a critical moment: They wanted to improve their online community engagement and begin making fundraising asks of their fairly robust email list (about 18,800 subscribers at the time). But per their new strategic plan, they wouldn’t be onboarding a full-time communications staffer for another full year.

Enter Greater Good Strategy.

Chief Operations Officer Annie Lumerman recalls, “At the time, our team was very engineer- and product-heavy; there was no one on staff whose sole focus was communications. But our audience was growing, we needed to communicate more frequently and better, and we didn’t want a lame duck year. We thought Emily Goodstein was the person to engage with us on those priorities until we could hire someone full time.”

As an online library, Sefaria’s primary goal was to get users to explore and take increasing ownership over the website. Annie explains: “The difference between Sefaria and a public library is that with the latter, you pay taxes. You walk into a neighborhood library and feel ‘this is mine, this is ours.”

WE REALLY WANTED TO CREATE A SENSE THAT WE’RE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER. THROUGHOUT THE ENGAGEMENT, EMILY CONSTANTLY RE-TAUGHT US THAT COMMUNICATIONS, MARKETING, AND FUNDRAISING ALL NEED TO BE INTERWOVEN IN ORDER TO ACHIEVE THAT GOAL. - Annie Lumerman

No two tactics illustrate this approach better than the plans they cooked up for #GivingTuesday and Chanukah that year.

After partnering with the Greater Good Strategy team throughout the winter, spring, and summer, Sefaria was thrilled with their fundraising success over the High Holidays in September: they raised over $62,000, mostly through gifts $1000 or below. But as they gathered with the GGS team for Q4 planning, they worried that this might cause an unintended, unfortunate side effect: what if the community’s generosity and financial buy-in between Rosh Hashanah and Sukkot actually led to disappointing results for year-end fundraising? It felt important to start Sefaria’s year-end asks softly — and to acknowledge how much the community had already shown up.

A Fresh Approach to #GivingTuesday

First, on #GivingTuesday, instead of asking for monetary donations, Emily suggested that Sefaria ask users for something else of value: stories of how Sefaria had made their lives better.

Screenshot from Sefaria's Instagram

“I thought, what if we ask for something besides a donation on this day that literally everyone else is fundraising?”

It was a bold risk. On #GivingTuesday, the team held their breath — and then exhaled with excitement because the ask was so well received. In the end, 81 people took the time to write and submit their stories.

“Now Sefaria can recycle those anecdotes and testimonials all over social media and in every grant proposal,” says Emily. “It meant so much that the Sefaria team trusted us enough to say ‘OK, we trust that you have our best financial interest at heart and in mind, and we’re willing to experiment with you.”

…And Beyond

“We went slow and steady through the rest of November,” Annie recalls, “and then instead of a direct ask around Chanukah, we created a Sefaria Gift Guide as a thank you for our supporters. This was my favorite project of the collaboration so far.”

Sefaria's Instagram post announcing the Chanukah Gift Guide

In the end, the untraditional tactics between #GivingTuesday and December 31 totally paid off: when Annie looked at the totals for the end of year, she was thrilled to see that the earlier fall High Holidays asks hadn’t maxed out their list at all. In fact, they had raised almost the exact same amount from individual donations less than or equal to $1000: another $62,000! And when Sefaria’s new Chief Marketing Officer came on board in early 2019, she inherited a wealth of lessons learned, a pile of stories and testimonials to use in her work, and a position of abundance rather than scarcity.

“This is why we don’t call ourselves ‘Greater Good Online Fundraising,’” Emily points out. “Yes, we did launch Sefaria’s Instagram account this year, and yes, we do offer hands-on-keyboard support for their day-to-day social media. But we are strategic partners to our clients. It has been incredibly rewarding to partner with Sefaria because they folded us onto the team and trusted us when we came up with some really unexpected ideas — and it paid off.”