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.


For those of us deeply involved in entrepreneurial or nonprofit causes, how much do we think about fundraising? As one of those procedures that we know we must undergo for a greater good, but can’t help dreading in the hours leading up to it? Or as an activity that is best left to others- something we can delegate to others within the team or organization while we busy ourselves with what seems like an affair that is more immediately important?

I guess a better question would be, why is fundraising a facet of nonprofit and entrepreneurship to which many people have an aversion? Is it because… we perceive it as boring?

Fundraising provides mutual benefit for both the fundraiser and the charitable giver.

In an op-ed article for the New York Times, social scientist, musician, and author Arthur C. Brooks argues that fundraising is not all-so bad. In fact, he argues that it can be fun. The op-ed, aptly titled “Why Fund-Raising is Fun”, is how Brooks presents his case. He starts with an anecdote that involves him asking a class of aspiring entrepreneurs a question related to fundraising- nothing too different than what I did to start off this post. Specifically, he asks the group how many of them are looking forward to fundraising, and understandably, gets zero cries of enthusiasm. He explains to them why this should not be the case, and goes on to use some interesting data to inform the reader about his thoughts. HIs extrapolation is also quite profound.

Brooks begins by telling us he detected his own patterns in the data he was given. He found that those who donated money often ended up with more money (post-gift giving of course). He said he passed this data off as “meh”, but when he told university professors about it, they were unsurprised because it just confirmed what basic psych had already figured out: that people who gave charitably are generally happier than those that do not. Spending on oneself usually just has a marginal impact of self-happiness, but spending on others has results in a much greater increase. This is, simply put, because giving money or resources to worthy causes bestows a sense of responsibility, self-efficacy, and meaningful impact upon the giver.

So how does this translate into fund-raising being fun? Brooks argues that the fundraiser has the tools to tap into the psyche of a giver and show them the virtues of giving. By convincing someone with the means to use their financial resources not on themselves (resulting in less happiness), but instead on noble causes (more happiness), the fundraiser achieves a great deal of enjoyment from it.