case studies, engagement, technology

Grinspoon Annual Conference: Sharing the Bright Spots of Effective Technology Use

0 Comments 01 December 2011

Rob Goldfarb, Development Director at Camp Laurelwood

Rob Goldfarb, Development Director at Camp Laurelwood

I presented at this year’s Grinspoon Institute for Jewish Philanthropy’s annual conference November 13-14 in Springfield, MA, and walked away impressed with some of interesting things that camps are doing with technology. Kevin Martone, the Institute’s Technology Program Manger, wrote this guest post highlighting how three camps used technology creatively to meet their goals: online/offline relationship building through blogging and Facebook, engaging current families with an unique iPad/iPhone app, and social fundraising through livestreaming a phone-a-thon.

As Kevin writes, “These camps evoke incredibly strong emotions in their alumni, campers, and parents. They need to use the tools available to harness these emotions and connect them to the real world.” Kevin’s guest post follows.

The Grinspoon Institute for Jewish Philanthropy’s annual conference brought together over 400 leaders from Jewish camps and schools to learn best practices in fundraising, strategic planning, governance, and technology. A program of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation in Western Massachusetts, the Grinspoon Institute was created to help camps with deteriorating facilities embrace fundraising as a means to ensure their long-term sustainability. A team of Mentors consults year-round with the camps to help professional staff and board leadership in the areas of fundraising, strategic planning, and governance. In addition, two of us on the Technology Program team support this work by providing the camps with technology advice and assistance to support these efforts. This year’s conference provided a forum for the camps to share their own experiences with each other. As the Heath Brothers discuss in the book Switch, we searched for those camps providing “Bright Spots” of innovation and effectiveness that they could share with the other camps in attendance.

Building online to offline relationships through the blog and Facebook page

Camp Laurelwood in North Madison, CT has done a wonderful job trying to leverage their online community to build off-line relationships. On Mother’s Day this year, the camp asked their Facebook (and Blog) community about their favorite Camp Mother experience. The Camp Mother basically dispensed hugs and support to homesick kids and other children needing some non-medical care. The blog post was their most popular ever and both Facebook and the blog received numerous comments.

They utilized a holiday-related question to engage their audience, but they didn’t stop there. Their Development Director, Rob Goldfarb, noticed that one name came up frequently – Rita Levine. He found her phone number and called Rita at home, reading the stories that were written about her. She was touched and responded by sending Rob a picture of her at camp and some of her own memories from camp. Camp Laurelwood reposted this content both on Facebook and the blog. In the end, the camp utilized this personal engagement to help solicit two major gifts toward a new Infirmary and the return of the Camp Mother position.

iPad app deepens camp engagement

Other camps are trying new technologies to reach their goals. Camp Morasha in Lakewood, PA implemented an iPad/iPhone app this year with a focus on engaging their current campers and families. Most content is automatically updated from their other online spaces (blog, Facebook), so it doesn’t create much more day-to-day work for the staff. The app was an immediate hit. 300 people downloaded it within the first 24 hours, and this number has continued to grow. Camp Director Jeremy Joszef, who designed the app, has reported a large percentage of their emails and blog posts being read via the app. Camp Morasha will be adding new features and functionality to engage alumni and respond to feedback.

Check out the snappy 45-second promotional video for the iPad app, below!

Livestreaming the phone-a-thon to increase donations

URJ Camp Eisner in Great Barrington, MA put a new spin on the traditional phone-a-thon by streaming it live on their website using UStream and Twitter. They also made it easy for their donors to post that they gave to the campaign on Facebook, including a large DonateNow button that linked to the central phone-a-thon page on their website. Their Development Director, Corey Cutler, reported that website visits TRIPLED the day of the phone-a-thon. Livestream viewers watched an average of 24 minutes each. Ultimately, the livestream experiment was successful: the number of donors increased by 20% from the previous year.

Bright spots like these highlighted the key messages we provide throughout the year in helping our participating camps reach their goals:

•    Be strategic – Consider your audience and your goals to determine how best to leverage your limited resources to maximize outreach and connectedness.
•    Be effective – Use tools to make these efforts more effective: donor databases to track and support fundraising and outreach efforts; Hootsuite, CoTweet, or other tools to schedule social media updates in advance; Google Reader, Google Alerts, and other tools to filter the firehose of information and collect the most pertinent information; etc. URJ Camp Eisner leveraged free tools like UStream, Twitter, and Facebook to vastly increase the reach of their annual phone-a-thon campaign.
•    Be planful – Prepare an annual communications plan (including online and offline channels) to ensure communications are consistent across channels; different audience segments are being well taken care of; and that resources are available to carry out expected plans all year long.
•    Be measured – Review your social media (and other channel) efforts regularly against your goal to make sure you are having a measurable impact. Before putting more effort into their iPad app, Camp Morasha made sure it was being used regularly and was actually meeting their audience’s needs. Review and refine your tactics as needed.
•    Be real – Never forget to connect your online messaging to real-world relationship-building. As Camp Laurelwood realized, in the end these tools are simply a conduit to build real relationships with your constituents. These camps evoke incredibly strong emotions in their alumni, campers, and parents. They need to use the tools available to harness these emotions and connect them to the real world.


As the Technology Program Manager for the Grinspoon Institute for Jewish Philanthropy, Kevin Martone focuses on how organizations can effectively use technology for fundraising and outreach. He has more than 15 years of experience helping organizations utilize technology solutions to meet their goals.




Debra Askanase is an experienced digital engagement strategist, non-profit executive, and community organizer. She works with mission-driven organizations to develop digital strategies and campaigns that engage, create trust, and move stakeholders to action. Debra speaks at conferences worldwide on the intersection of technology, social media, and nonprofit organizations.

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