Not Only on Sunday

Bailey Silverman and Rebecca Namm are in many ways typical teenagers. The best friends like to go to the mall, hang out with pals and talk on the phone.

But come Super Sunday, Feb. 22, the two Milken Community High School juniors will undertake the very adult mission of raising money for The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and its 15 beneficiary agencies, including Jewish Family Service, Jewish Vocational Service and Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters. During Super Sunday, the girls will supervise a group of high school and college students in the San Fernando Valley who will call Jews throughout the Southland to make The Federation’s annual fundraising extravaganza just that much more super.

"I feel that I’ve been lucky my whole life to have support and not be in the situation that some Jews are in, like with poverty and homelessness," said Encino resident Silverman, who, with Namm, co-chairs the Valley’s Super Sunday After Dark, a program that has teen and young-adult volunteers work the last session and then celebrate with an after-party. "It makes me feel good to give back."

Silverman and Namm will be joined by hundreds of volunteers at the Bernard Milken JCC in West Hills, The Federation’s Mid-Wilshire headquarters and in a Redondo Beach hotel. They hope to raise up to $5 million in 12 hours.

However, this year’s Super Sunday comes at a time when government funding for Jewish agencies is drying up because of budget deficits, and the soft economy has made some potential donors reluctant to open their wallets. Those dark clouds notwithstanding, volunteers remain optimistic and energized.

"Super Sunday puts a public face on The Federation," said Jill Namm, the Valley’s Super Sunday co-chair and Rebecca Namm’s mother. "This is our community building day."

Lee Rosenblum, a former campaign director at The Federation, attributed Super Sunday’s effectiveness to its ability to touch people on a personal level, if only by phone. By contrast, mail solicitations all too often end up in the trash.

Gerald Bubis, a former Federation board member, said he liked Super Sunday so much that he thinks The Federation should hold a second one every year. Instead of asking for money, though, volunteers would ask community members if they needed Federation or agency services. Bubis said such "Jew checkups" would foster a sense of community and help The Federation "humanize" itself.

"What I’m suggesting is to reach into hearts and not just into the pocketbook," Bubis said.

At least two-thirds of the nation’s 156 federations hold Super Sundays, which began more than three decades ago as daylong dialathons, said Vicki Agron, senior vice president for financial resource development at United Jewish Communities. Super Sundays have proven so successful that many federations have added Super Mondays, Super Tuesdays, even Super Weeks.

Such is the case at the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit. Last year, the group expanded Super Sunday to include Monday and Tuesday evenings. By calling people over three days instead of just one, last year’s fundraising event raised $1.1 million, $200,000 more than in 2002, said Carol Kaczander, senior campaign associate.

"It increased our opportunities to find people at home," she said, adding that the super days attracted 300 volunteers, the most in at least two decades.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington holds Super Week, which lasts four days. To generate excitement among volunteers, dignitaries such as Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. dropped by recently to schmooze and make calls.

In New England, the Combined Jewish Philanthropies in Boston sponsors so-called "Tzedakah Fairs" concurrently with Super Sunday fundraisers. The goal: to bring young families into the Jewish community and cultivate them as future givers.

At the fairs, mothers, fathers and their children receive information on Judaism’s commitment to tikkun olam or healing the world. Children can get into the spirit by decorating brown bags and filling them with food, clothing and other donated items that will be given to homeless shelters and food pantries, said Elyse Hyman, the federation’s director of community building.

Super Sundays, despite their popularity, have limitations. Mark Charendoff, president of the Jewish Funders Network, an umbrella body for 800 Jewish family foundations, said the fundraisers are "in the fine tradition of giving a half-shekel to the temple." Although they might succeed in generating money from small donors, Super Sundays typically fall short with big contributors. That’s because it takes more than a cold call to build a fruitful relationship with wealthy individuals, he said.

Irwin Daniels, a former board member of The L.A. Federation, said Super Sunday excites local Jews and helps build community. But, like other Federation fundraisers, Super Sunday might attract even more dollars if professionals handled public relations and advertising instead of lay leaders, he added.

"The Federation hasn’t properly told its story about what services are provided with the money raised and why folks should give," Daniels said. "Many Jews don’t know what it or its agencies do."

None of that is on the mind of Rebecca Namm, the After Dark co-chair.

"I’m excited and a little nervous, but think everything will turn out as planned," she said. "It should be fun."