Remembering Willie Fliegelman

When I decided to pursue a career in philanthropy, I picked one of the largest social service organizations in the country-UJA-Federation. UJA-Federation represented over 130 social service, religious, and educational agencies in New York, Israel, and around the world . It was my good fortune to work with one of the longtime  directors of the federation, Willie Fliegelman. Willie had originally started in the mail room when he was 17 years old for the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies.

The original federation supported local programs in the New York metropolitan area. The Federation’s counterpart was UJA, which supported Israel and the greater Jewish diaspora . The fundraising year was split into two parts, with the Federation and the UJA alternating events. Willie  gradually moved up the ladder to become- in order- an office clerk, assistant fundraiser, fundraiser, a part of major gifts, and eventually assistant director. He handled various campaigns including community campaigns, trades, and professions. The federation segmented various campaigns. There was a milk division, a bakers division, policeman’s division, tire and automotive division, plate glass , electrical , toy, textile, tobacco and confections, etc. Eventually the Federation and UJA merged and became a powerhouse in fundraising.

Willie hired me as a fundraiser for Long Island’s North shore, or Gold Coast. During the interview process, when Willie asked me about raising funds, I replied, “you run affairs.” Willie quickly responded, “affairs are between people, we run events.”

He explained the nuts and bolts of fundraising developing relationships and event planning. Wille was also very dogmatic and wanted things done in his own inimitable style. When someone deviated from that course, the results were not as optimal. During that time,  we planned hundreds if events. We would obtain an honoree build committees and have events that raised significant funds to support  our agencies.  One chief tool that we employed was a card calling event. We would have a program with a guest speaker. The speaker would make a pitch for contributions. The key was to immediately call people’s names and ask for their pledges. This was done in a room of their peers. It was quite effective, especially when you started out with a major contribution. But times have changed, and you cannot utilize this fundraising tool as expansively as we did in the past .

Willie recently passed away at the age of 84. He is dearly missed for his insight, perseverance, and erudite manners.  Willie Fliegelman left behind a legacy of fundraisers who continue to try and make the world a better place for all.